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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Steve Houghton, the dean of Big Ten men’s tennis head coaches and a University of Iowa graduate, announced his retirement Monday after 47 years as a UI student-athlete and coach, including 33 seasons as head coach.
Ross Wilson, who joined the program last season as an assistant coach, has been appointed interim head coach for the 2014-15 season.
During his tenure, Houghton amassed 354 victories — the most of any coach in school history. Houghton coached 20 All-Big Ten performers and his players received 109 Academic All-Big Ten accolades. He coached Big Ten singles champions and ITA Regional singles champions, and several of his players played professional tennis, including Tyler Cleveland, who reached the top 300 ATP in the world.
“Steve Houghton has been a tremendous leader and mentor for Hawkeye Athletics for many years,” said UI director of athletics Gary Barta. “His retirement will leave a void, but he is stepping down at a time when the tennis program has momentum and his legacy is strong.
“I’m grateful for Steve’s wonderful service and wish he and Leora a healthy and enjoyable retirement.”
In addition to coaching the Hawkeyes for over three decades, Houghton had a successful playing career at Iowa (1969-71), lettering three years and winning the No. 5 singles title at the Big Ten championships. His career Big Ten singles record was 21-6, and his career winning percentage of .727 (40-15) is the second best in school history.
The Iowa City native, graduated from City High School and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa.
“First of all, I want to thank Bump Elliott, Bob Bowlsby, Gary Barta, and Jane Meyer for hiring me, supporting me and allowing me to choose my time to retire,” said Houghton. “I’ve been privileged to coach great student-athletes who were also wonderful guys and to have worked side-by-side with terrific people in the UI Athletic Department for 33 years. I feel that I leave our tennis program in good shape with a lot of momentum and in the hands of a terrific young coach in Ross Wilson.”
“I want to congratulate coach Houghton on his retirement,” said Wilson. “He has represented the University of Iowa with honor and integrity while having a lasting effect on the lives of many student-athletes. I was recruited by coach Houghton 13 years ago and was drawn to visiting Iowa because of his passion for the Hawkeyes and his affable personality. He has been a friend and mentor to me over the past 13 years and I cannot thank him enough for the opportunity to be his assistant coach.”
Since taking over the program in 1982, Houghton led the Hawkeyes to 13 winning seasons. Two years after taking over the program, the 1984 team won a school-record 21 matches and finished fourth in the Big Ten. Mike Inman and Sunil Reddy earned All-Big Ten laurels. In 1989, Houghton was named NCAA Region IV Coach of the Year.
“He’s been a great ambassador for the university,” said former student-athlete Jay Maltby (1987-90), who holds the program’s career record for singles victories (73). “I think everyone that played for him looks back and thinks that those were some of the best years. The camaraderie amongst the team and the alumni events were fantastic; those are all things that we’re all still talking about 20-30 years later. That’s a real testament to his character.”
“I’ve been privileged to coach great student-athletes who were also wonderful guys and to have worked side-by-side with terrific people in the UI Athletic Department for 33 years. I feel that I leave our tennis program in good shape with a lot of momentum and in the hands of a terrific young coach in Ross Wilson.”
Steve Houghton, UI head coach of 33 years
Over the past five seasons, Iowa defeated 22 nationally-ranked teams, including 15 opponents in the nationally recognized Big Ten Conference. Houghton also guided his student-athletes to success off the court recently, as the 2011 Iowa team earned the ITA All-Academic Team Award.
Houghton coached many outstanding student-athletes at Iowa, including Cleveland, Claes Ramel, Martin Aguirre, Tom Derouin, Klas Bergstrom, Mike Inman, Stuart Waters, Christian Bierich, and Bart van Monsjou.
“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Coach Houghton the past five years; not just as a colleague, but as a mentor and friend,” said UI women’s head tennis coach Katie Dougherty. “He ran his program with the utmost integrity, caring only about his players and helping them on and off the court.”
Cleveland became the first player in conference history to earn consecutive Big Ten Player of the Year awards in 2000 and 2001. He is one of only two Hawkeyes in school history to earn all-Big Ten honors all four years of his career (1998-2001). He was also the first men’s tennis player to be named UI Athlete of the Year, earning the distinction in 2000. Cleveland’s other honors included 2001 Region IV ITA Farnsworth Senior Player of the Year, 2000 Big Ten Sportsman of the Year, 1998 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and 1998 Region IV Rookie of the Year.
The doubles team of Ramel and Aguirre earned Iowa’s first-ever national ranking, climbing to as high as 25th, by the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Association. In 1989, the duo became the first Hawkeyes to play at the NCAA Championships. They still hold the school record for best doubles record at No. 1 in a season (17-6).
Houghton has coached two Davis Cup players at Iowa – Aguirre from Ecuador and Rudy Foo from Malaysia. Bryan Crowley won the Rolex Region IV championship in 1995 and was ranked first in regional singles action, before falling to career-hampering injuries.
Not only were Houghton’s players students of the game, but they were also students in the classroom. Houghton’s players consistently maintained a grade point average above 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale).
He was a member of the 1971 Iowa tennis team that recorded a 3.53 team GPA, the highest of any NCAA team in any sport that year. That team also qualified for the NCAA championships, after a third-place Big Ten finish.
A member of the Iowa Tennis Hall of Fame, Houghton is involved with the Iowa City Tennis Association and has worked with the Iowa sports school’s tennis program since its inception. He has also served on both the NCAA ranking and selection committees.
Houghton and his wife Leora have been married for 43 years and have four children: Cari (husband Bob Everhart), Jeff (wife Michelle), Jon (wife Annie), and Scott. They also have eight grandchildren.
“I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife and four amazing children who embraced being the children of a coach, with all that entails,” added Houghton. “I look forward to spending much more time with them and our eight grandchildren.”