Lucky. Looking back, that’s the only way that head women’s tennis coach Richard Gallien can describe his 22 years at USC.
In his time as a Trojan coach, Gallien earned accolades as five-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, leading his team to 10 finishes in the national top 20 and four Pac-12 titles. But this season will be his last as a Trojan after he announced his retirement earlier this month.
It’s a bittersweet goodbye for Gallien, who carved his own legacy into the women’s tennis program. But as he comes to the end of his road with his team, Gallien feels that he finishes his time with his team with no regrets.
“I tried to give my all to the team, to the school and to my players,” Gallien said. “It’s meant so much to me to work in this type of environment, with these types of people, for so long.”
For all his life, he loved USC.
Gallien grew up as a fan. His role model and childhood hero was former USC Athletic Director and quarterback Pat Haden, and Gallien watched his idol play in every game on Saturday. When his family came to Los Angeles for games, Gallien always brought apples to the Coliseum to feed Traveler, the school mascot.
His path, however, didn’t take him to USC at first. Gallien attended Pepperdine University on a tennis scholarship, then stayed to become a coach. He was close to taking a job as the head men’s tennis coach when Haden called to give him an offer to coach the women’s tennis team.
If he wanted a job at USC, he had it. Gallien took the position and never looked back.
Before coming to USC, he’d never coached women before. Gallien wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but he quickly found that while it was different from his past job, it was exactly what he wanted.
At a school such as USC, sports like women’s tennis often fly under the radar, overshadowed by football and basketball. Yet Gallien found that his athletes still bought into the mentality of being a Trojan, attacking each day with an edge for competition.
“The kids on the football team, they play in front of 100,000 people,” Gallien said. “The kids on the tennis team, they don’t have that environment pushing them on. But they’re still so remarkable, and they’re so incredibly lucky.”
Gallien’s presence made an impact on the program from his very first season. He stepped into the position at a time when the Trojans were struggling to find their place in the then-Pac-10, and quickly rose to notch a 367-144 record with the team.
His team reached this level through a mentality of flexibility. Gallien recognized that each player who joined his team would be different, bringing their own method of attack to the game. If he tried to force every player into a specific style of play, he knew that he would risk limiting their talent.
Instead, Gallien focused on developing each player individually, allowing them to play to their strengths in order to win. In a sport like tennis, he said, it is vital to let each player develop their own approach.
“[Tennis] is boxing without gloves,” Gallien said. “There’s no timeouts. There’s no substitutions. The clock cannot save you. I have a lot of admiration for the girls. They risk so much physically and emotionally.”
It wasn’t always about winning. Not for Gallien, and not for his team.
Whether he was approaching a practice or a championship game, Gallien felt that the most important thing was to make sure that his athletes felt fulfilled both on and off the court.
He believed in the little things, like taking his team on a trip to South Bend for the Notre Dame football game every other year, playing a friendly match against the Irish the night before and then attending the game the next day. These are, he believes, what truly makes a team — camaraderie and trust, not statistics.
As a coach, his highlight reel consists of little moments as well as championship games. Gallien is quick to remember the morning of the Final Four in 2015, when former player Gabriella DeSimone invited him to attend a Mormon service with her at her home church in Texas. The team lost later in the day, but the memory of a quiet morning spent with one of his players remains as one of the best memories of his career.
No matter what, Gallien emphasized that his focus as a coach was in providing each of his players with the best possible college experience.
“Coaching is an enormous privilege,” Gallien said. “I always wanted them to feel like I’m looking out for them. The collegiate experience … it’s special, and I always wanted them to get the very most out of it.”
In the end, Gallien says, tennis has defined his life.
He grew up in a low-income neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, taking public transit to tennis lessons several days each week. Tennis gave him a scholarship to college and a job for when he graduated; it’s how he met his wife, Lisa, and built his family. And for the last 22 years, USC tennis has been his constant.
Gallien isn’t sure where his future will lead — the tennis court or elsewhere — but he knows that he will always remain anchored to tennis and USC.
“It’s given me everything,” Gallien said. “It really has given me everything, and I couldn’t be any luckier.”