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Catching up with Bob Gaughran, one of M-A’s most legendary coaches

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on August 24, 2012

former Menlo-Atherton water polo/swimming coach Bob Gaughran

Not many high school coaches achieve legendary status, but former M-A water polo/swimming coach Bob Gaughran is the exception. During his tenure (1958-65), he coached two Olympians — Dick Roth and Greg Buckingham — and won 18 sports titles while at the school. His one failure: He couldn’t convince Lindsay Buckingham to forget about the guitar and start swimming. (Nor could the coach who succeeded him; Buckingham went on to Fleetwood Mac, not water polo, fame.)

We caught up with Coach Gaughran recently in Pinecrest where his family has owned a vacation home for years. He’s been retired now for 16 years from his post at Santa Ana College, the job he took when he left M-A, though he continues some involvement with the National Coaches Clinic. While he reminded us of his local roots — he graduated from Sequoia before he headed off to the College (now University) of the Pacific where he was a classmate of another legendary M-A coach, Ben Parks — he was much more at ease talking about the guys who played for him than his many records and honors.

(For the record, among his accomplishments: California State Water Polo Player of the Year in high school; holds career scoring record of 340 goals from his time at Pacific; Member of UoP Athletic Hall of Fame, USA Water Polo Hall of Fame, M-A Hall of Fame, alternate to the 1956 and 1960 Olympic team.)

“The M-A years were great,” he said. “Lots of memories. I remember one dual meet against Paly when Tod Spieker was goofing around in the locker room. He fell and caught his eye on the corner of a locker. Dr. MacKensie was there [son Jim played for M-A] and stitched him up, and Tod won both the 200 & 400 freestyle. Next day, his eye was swollen shut. Tod was just one of the great kids who played for me.”

Given the disappointing results of this year’s U.S. Olympic water polo team, our talk turned to that sport.

“Water polo at the college and beyond level is so physical now,” he said. “It’s gone to the international style of play. For that reason, I enjoy watching high school games more.”

He continued: “The Olympic showing had to be a blow to all the U.S. players who’d gone to Europe to play professionally and then came home to represent their country. Those good eastern Europe teams have a great talent pool to draw from. There’s no football or baseball to compete with.”

Returning to his days at M-A “and all those amazing guys,” he told the story of one claim to fame that was more fiction than fact: “Tom Lipton’s father worked for [the news wire service] UPI at the time. When we beat Santa Clara, he wrote in his story that we were ‘national champions.’ Of course, there really wasn’t such a title, but it sounded good!”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jim Coffis August 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I remember when M-A were the “national champions” also Coach Gaughran who let a little kid swim in the pool even when it was closed.

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