If there was a Mount Rushmore for USC head coaches, one could imagine Howard Jones, John McKay and Pete Carroll occupying three of the four slots. But who would have thought that the coach that might be the hardest to recognize would also be the winningest of them all: Jovan Vavic.
Using the word “successful” to describe the past 19 years for Vavic while in charge of USC men’s and women’s water polo programs would be an understatement. With 12 national championships combined (eight men’s and four women’s) during his tenure at USC, Vavic has the most team titles of any USC head coach in school history, which perfectly complements the 12 National Coach of the Year awards he has won.
Over this time, Vavic has solidified himself as one of the top water polo coaches in the country, accumulating a 420-64 record with the men and a 440-132 record with the women. Also, with last year’s two national championship wins, he has led both teams to national titles in the same school year four times, (1998-99, 2003-04, 2009-10).
With the men proving victorious year in and year out, Vavic has continuously had to keep his players motivated and has done so using a simple yet effective approach.
“We just really focus on each day of training at a time and believe that we are going to win every game,” Vavic said. “My coaching staff and I approach every year differently, according to our different strengths on offense and defense. I also like to differentiate some of our training sessions so it doesn’t get repetitive, while not forgetting what allowed us to get to the top.”
Jovan, however, is not the only Vavic to leave his mark on the USC water polo program; it seems the sport runs in the family.
Vavic’s son Nikola enters his senior season at USC just 48 goals away from taking over as USC’s all-time leading scorer. That should be a manageable figure, considering he set a USC record with 83 goals last season en route to being named the National Player of the Year, MPSF Conference Player of the Year and a Peter J. Cutino Award finalist.
The father-son duo led the men to a perfect 29-0 season and their fifth consecutive national championship in 2012, concluded by a 11-10 victory over crosstown rival UCLA. The 2012 team boasted a program-high nine All-Americans in all and enters 2013 as prohibitive favorites to win it all once more.
The Vavic connection does not stop there. Jovan’s daughter Monica, who is a junior, also holds her own in the family as the star of the women’s team that captured a national championship in 2013 after defeating Stanford 10-9 in a sudden death overtime thriller.
Just like her brother, Monica was decorated with postseason awards — she was named the MPSF Player of the Year as well as a Cutino Award finalist. She led the Women of Troy in scoring last season with 77 goals, tallying the third-most goals in a single season in USC history.
In all, 2012-2013 was a magical year for the Vavic trio. Over the course of the year, the men’s and women’s teams combined to post a staggering 56-1 record. The family not only swept the MPSF awards (with both men’s and women’s player of the year awards and two coach of the year awards), but boasted two Cutino finalists and two All-Americans.
Nikola and Monica also participated on their respective U.S. National Teams, while Jovan served as the interim coach for the men’s team, where he led Team USA to a FINA World Championship qualification.
When asked about the impact Vavic hoped to make on his children as their coach, Vavic’s answer was consistent with any father’s hopes for his children.
“I hope they’ve learned the value of hard work, which is one thing that I really stress,” Vavic said. “I’ve just always told them that if they work hard, good things would happened to them.”
The family’s time together at USC is soon coming to a close, though. This will be the last year the trio will be a part of the same program, as Nikola is set to graduate in the spring.
For Jovan, who has guided his children toward becoming star collegiate water polo players, nostalgia is setting in before the season has even begun.
“The time goes by really quickly so I am going to try and start enjoying it more,” Vavic said.
The Vavic trio has plans for yet another successful season in their final year together, with the goal of winning one more national championship. With Nikola and Monica both being early Cutino candidates, they could become the first brother-sister duo to win the award.
None of this, however, would be possible without the coaching of their father Jovan, who continues to build on his legacy at USC — establishing a winning tradition that dwarfs all others.
Follow Darian on Twitter @dariannourian24