April 12, 2006
Twenty-five years ago, Steve Houghton was debating his future. Getting ready to start working on his dissertation, Houghton was deciding between becoming a history professor at a small university or taking over the head coaching position for the Iowa men’s tennis team.
Looking back at his career, Houghton can be proud of what he’s accomplished and the decision he made.
Houghton started his career as a player for Iowa during the late 1960s, early 1970s. He lettered three times and recorded a career winning percentage of .727 (40-15). However it was something he accomplished his senior year that he’s most proud of.
“My senior year, I won a Big Ten individual championship,” he said. “And, that same year, our team finished 19th in the country. That was a big deal, at that time, for a northern school. Also that same year, our team grade-point-average was 3.53, which was the highest of any sport at any school that year.”
After he finished his playing days, Houghton stayed at Iowa to pursue a graduate degree and become the assistant coach for the men’s team. He was also an adviser to students in the College of Business. However, when it came time to begin working on his dissertation, Houghton decided to follow other dreams.
“The head coach wanted to retire and thought I would be the next head coach. So I decided to take the tennis job with the idea that I wouldn’t necessarily be here for a long time,” he said.
Despite intentions to move on, Houghton found his home in Iowa City.
“Both my wife and I are from Iowa City. We went to high school together. Both sets of grandparents are in town. We had four kids here. We love Iowa City and love that our parents live in the same town. I was born in Iowa City. That’s one of the main reasons I decided on coaching rather than a professorship. I knew I’d be living in Iowa City. If I had taken the academic route, I wouldn’t be in Iowa City,” he said.
Throughout his career, Houghton has achieved much, on and off the court. In addition to teaching his players how to improve their game, he’s helped in their academic pursuits. His team has consistently held a grand point average above 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale).
“Tennis is a big factor in recruiting, as is academics. As a coach I really do care about that. We’ve always had outstanding students who have gone on to success in the business world, law and medical school. Most have not gone on to be professional tennis players, but have found success in other aspects of life,” he said.
With 25 years of coaching, Houghton has great memories. There are two that will stick with him forever.
This season’s match against Minnesota came on the date (March 4th) Houghton took the job 25 years ago. In addition to playing the match, a surprise party was planned for him.
“My wife was involved and everyone kept the secret. A large number of my former players attended from all over the world. Of course most were from the United States, but there was one from Sweden and one from Ecuador. They had a banquet with about 140 people who had come back for the occasion. That was probably the one thing, when I’m done, that I’ll remember most. It was like having a retirement party before you retire. It meant a lot with all those guys coming back,” he said.
Another event Houghton will never forget involves former Hawkeye tennis star Tyler Cleveland. After Cleveland won the Big Ten singles championship, Houghton and Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby, wanted to honor Cleveland’s accomplishment. It happened during halftime of an Iowa/Michigan men’s basketball game. Cleveland was presented with his trophy while the crowd of 15,000 cheered.
Houghton still has many things to look forward to in his career. After waiting patiently, the team finally has new outdoor courts and indoor facilities are under construction. Not only will this help his team play to its potential, but also it will help with recruiting. It also will be a benefit when Iowa hosts the 2008 Big Ten championships.
Looking back on his 25 year career, Houghton can be proud of what he’s achieved.
“My career record is almost .500. I was 275-275 at some point this year. In terms of on-court performance, average is the best way to describe it. However, at the banquet, I learned what I’ve received in return has been way above average. It’s been a wonderful experience.”