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For former Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio, when it’s time for retirement ‘you know’

arizona-volleyball-head-coach-dave-rubio-retirement-you-know Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

At one time, former Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio thought he would retire when he hit 60. When that age approached, he wasn’t ready. Six months shy of 64, he finally was.

“When it’s time, you know,” Rubio said. “The last couple of years have been, I think, more challenging than the other years since COVID is happening. And there’s a lot of variables that go in with making a decision like this, but at the end of the day, I think when coaches get to the point where I am, you just know that it’s in the best interest of everybody and certainly, personally it was in the best interest of myself. But a lot has to go into the program, too. When you devote so much of your life to the program and to the athletic department, you really want what’s best for the program, as well. And it becomes less self-serving and becomes more like, I really want to be able to hand it off and end the career in the right way, but also put it in a position where it still could continue to be successful. And so those were the things that I considered and were really important for me.”

The process had been underway for about three weeks before it was announced, but the succession plan of handing the program over to long-time assistant Rita Stubbs had been developing for longer than that. Rubio had suggested it to Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke when he signed a contract extension last year.

All that was left was to tell his team. Rubio said that he needed to let them know what was happening, but there were things beyond the nuts and bolts he wanted them to understand.

“I wanted to make sure that they understood that it wasn’t anything that they had done,” Rubio said. “It was just time for me to step aside and time for new leadership and a new vision for the program. And everyone gets to that point. Doesn’t matter, we’re all fighting Father Time, and then we’re all gonna get to that position. And I just want to make sure it was pretty clear in their mind that I wanted the most for them and the most success for them.”

Rubio has watched several of his contemporaries retire in recent years. He spoke about some of those feelings in an interview with Volleyball Mag and expounded on it with the local media.

“I think that like in anything when there’s a generation gap and you’re an older person and you’re working with younger people, there’s sometimes a disconnect,” Rubio said. “That was certainly one of the things that for me was the gap was getting bigger because I was getting older, and the kids never age now. And so, it was really more difficult for me to communicate with them and relate to them and one of the driving forces for me to get to the decision I came to was, I just wasn’t as effective as I used to be and I didn’t want that to happen. I mean, the program deserves more than that.”

His influence on younger coaches will still be felt at Arizona. It starts with Stubbs, who he calls “family.” She was on his team for three years and on the sidelines with him for 19 and says that he saved her three times.

“He saved me as a player,” Stubbs said. “He saved me when he believed in me to be a coach when I had no desire to be a coach, but he said, ‘You can be a great coach.’ And then when he brought me back from North Carolina, so my heart, it goes out for Dave. I can’t say enough about him.”

It also lives on across the street at the beach volleyball courts where head coach Steve Walker has built a successful program. Walker spent nine years as an assistant for Rubio, including serving as associate head coach, before being given his opportunity to build a beach program from scratch.

“I always felt like I would return home, which was Southern California at the time, but thankfully, Coach Rubio...brought me on staff as the volunteer assistant for the 2000 season, and ever since then, just struck up a relationship that’s going to be lasting as long as we live on this planet,” Walker said.

For Rubio, there are a lot of things to look forward to. First, he said he wants to spend more time with his wife and three children. He wants to be a volleyball fan. But he wants to have some fun, too.

After 31 years in the desert, Rubio is still a California guy at heart. He came into his final press conference wearing a Hawai’ian shirt and carrying a surfboard. Heading to the beach to surf is on the agenda.

After that, he told Volleyball Mag that he would eventually probably gravitate towards the club volleyball circuit. He is especially interested in working with very young kids.

“The wonderful thing is not a lot of coaches get to get this step down when they want to and kind of end it on their own terms,” Rubio said. “And when that happens, there’s just so many great feelings that go with it. I mean, there’s no contentiousness. There’s only just wonderful feelings about how things are with the people, the administration, the former coaches, the staff and so I just feel really fortunate to be able to kind of put myself in a position to do what I’m doing right now.”

Full Dave Rubio retirement and Rita Stubbs introductory press conference