Heading into the 2005 men’s volleyball season, Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy knew he had a special squad, spearheaded by three-time — eventually four-time — All-American Sean Rooney. But Dunphy, already the owner of three national titles and an Olympic gold medal (1988) by this time, knew he needed one final ingredient.
He needed a setter.
Jonathan Winder entered the program that year, and Dunphy could tell immediately that the kid would be the one. Even then he could see qualities in Winder that said “leader.”
“When he came here, he was pretty mature for an incoming freshman,” said Dunphy, who remains involved with the Waves program as head coach emeritus. “I saw some qualities in him that I didn’t really see in a lot of first-year types.”
At one point, Dunphy said, he asked Winder who would lead the 2005 team to a national championship. Naturally, Winder responded, “Sean Rooney.”
“I said, ‘No. He’s just going to flip the coin,’ ” Dunphy continued. “ ‘You are.’ ”
Dunphy turned out to be prophetic. The Waves won their fourth — and final — national title under his watch (Pepperdine also won a title in 1986 while Dunphy was on sabbatical working with the USA men’s national team).
That wasn’t the end of Dunphy’s prodding of Winder. The veteran coach often dropped hints about Winder one day becoming a coach himself. Now he’s the Pepperdine men’s coach.
Winder played pro in France, Germany, Greece and Romania, and he was also a member of the USA national Team from 2007-12 and a 2012 Olympic alternate.
After his international playing career ended, Winder returned to the sidelines, first as a men’s assistant in 2013-14 under Dunphy. He then was an assistant with the women’s team at Washington under Keegan Cook and also the head coach of the Fresno State women from 2018-21.
Now, Winder — the 2007 national player of the year — is back at his alma mater and ready to uphold the tradition of the Pepperdine men. When David Hunt left after five seasons to be an assistant women’s coach at Texas, Winder was named Pepperdine’s men’s coach May 20.
Winder said coaching the team he played for became his dream job. He didn’t necessarily feel that way at first, but, he said, he learned what made the job the stuff of dreams.
“I think it has evolved over the years. When I was at Pepperdine, it was a dream school,” he said. “Seeing Marv and how much respect I had for him, it was like, Marv has the dream job. He lives the life. He lives in Malibu, coaches at Pepperdine, wins national championships.
“Things have ebbed and flowed over the years, but it just kept coming back to who I am, and the dream job has evolved from being winning national championships and having fancy locker rooms. It’s more about: Who are you working with?
“I have tons of respect for the new president at Pepperdine, Jim Gash, and the athletic director, Steve Potts, and the other coaches on Pepperdine’s campus … It has become the dream job as I have understood what is important in life, and I have understood what is important in coaching.”
Winder said he got into coaching primarily because he likes to mentor young people. He said he enjoys helping them through a crucial juncture in their lives.
And, along with some X’s and O’s, he said the ability to connect with people is what impressed him most about Dunphy. He hopes to bring that to the Pepperdine sidelines.
“I think anybody who has ever interacted with Marv will tell you they feel like Marv’s their best friend,” he said. “He’s just so good about making people feel valued and understanding their role.”
Winder said he understands his role perfectly: to maintain the Pepperdine men’s volleyball tradition.
Between Dunphy’s retirement after the 2017 season and Winder’s hiring two months ago, David Hunt shepherded the Waves to a measure of success — three NCAA Tournament berths in five years (the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the pandemic) and the national semifinals in 2019.
Winder said he is definitely aware of the pressure of his position. But he looks at it more as responsibility.
“The burden I feel mostly is to the alumni,” he said, “to uphold the tradition that is Pepperdine volleyball and to develop Olympians, to develop national champions, to develop high-character individuals who go on and work in finance or as doctors and lawyers. Whatever it is.
“There’s 40 years of tremendous men who have gone through that program. That’s the responsibility or the burden or the stress that I feel.”
Added Dunphy: “He knows how the game is played at the highest level … And he knows Pepperdine University. He wants to be good at what he does. That’s a good trait to have.”
During Winder’s time at Fresno State, the Bulldogs went 56-47 and produced a program record four Mountain West all-conference selections in his first season (2018). Two of them, seniors Taylor Slover and Haile Watson, earned all-conference honors for the first time under Winder’s watch.
Fresno State had three more all-conference honorees in Winder’s second season, including Mountain West Newcomer of the Year Desiree Sukhov.
This will be Winder’s first time coaching a men’s team since he was an assistant under Dunphy in 2014. And, despite the differences in the way the men’s and women’s game are played, Winder doesn’t think there is much difference in how they need to be coached.
“Whether you’re male or female, you know what needs to be done,” he said. “Just being able to communicate what it takes, then teaching the skill to meet those standards and to meet that level of performance.
“At a high level, people want to win. Competitiveness is competitiveness. Doesn’t matter who you are. The drive to succeed and the drive to achieve is the same.”
Winder hasn’t had much of a chance to see his players on the court. He does, however, believe it is a group that can compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Waves finished 19-10 last season, 7-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, and lost to UCLA in the first round of the conference tournament. Tops among the returning players are 2022 All-MPSF honorees Bryce Dvorak, Jaylen Jasper and Jacob Steele.
Jasper, who transferred from Stanford, ranked sixth in the conference last season with 3.57 kills per set. Dvorak was second in assists per set (10.80) and aces per set (0.47), and Steele averaged 2.51 kills per set and hit .330.
“I know there are some really good players, and it’s been fun to watch them on film,” Winder said. “The standard is the standard at Pepperdine. It’s always to be in the mix to be the best team at the end of the season.
“I’m just excited to battle with this group and make them better than they were before, to give us a shot at the end of the year to be in the mix. That’s where you want to be.”
Dunphy, the man who built Pepperdine men’s volleyball into a national power, is pleased to see his protege at the helm. He used the word “comfortable” when asked how he felt about Winder’s taking over.
He said Winder is “more than ready.” But that should be no surprise. Dunphy saw that almost 20 years ago.
“I think he learned a lot from (being at Washington and Fresno State),” Dunphy said. “He had all those great qualities before he went to those places. The elite ones learn from their successes and their failures, and I’m sure that he did.”