For 15 years, Rance Brown commuted 66 miles from Laguna Beach.
The then-volunteer assistant coach for UCLA women’s tennis had to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to drive to campus, but spotting former Lakers star Kobe Bryant running along the Newport Coast Drive made the drive worth it.
“I made more money teaching in the private sector than I did (at UCLA) when I first started,” Brown said. “If Kobe can do it, I can do it, I used to tell myself.”
Brown worked at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club as the director of tennis prior to taking the position at UCLA, coaching elite juniors for 20 years from 1977 to 1996. His players won over 25 national titles and he placed around 75 players in NCAA Division I tennis programs.
In 1993, Brown would come to Westwood to watch Keri Phebus – a UCLA commit who Brown had coached since she was 6 – where he first encountered current coach Stella Sampras Webster.
“That’s kind of how we met,” Sampras Webster said. “He had a lot of credibility coming in from the private sector.”
In 1995, Phebus became the second-ever woman to win both the NCAA singles and doubles titles in the same season. She garnered 144 singles wins over her four years, setting a program record for the most overall victories in singles play in UCLA history.
Phebus said Brown has a genuine love for the game and a passion for his players.
“(Brown) is one of those coaches that would give you the shirt off his back,” Phebus said. “If I needed to warm up, he’d be out there at 6 a.m. He believed in me, therefore I believed in myself.”
When then-head coach Bill Zaima retired in 1996 and Sampras Webster was promoted to head coach, she said it was a natural transition for Brown to become her assistant coach.
“I always felt that we were co-head coaches because of his knowledge of the game,” Sampras Webster said. “We had that respect level and he’s very loyal.”
In 2005, Sampras Webster took the fall off when she was giving birth to her twin girls, Sophia and Savannah. Brown took over as the temporary head coach and led the team in the fall season. He handled the recruiting for the following season and landed the top-ranked class in the nation.
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