Pepperdine Director of Athletics Steve Potts to Retire at end of 2024 school year

By Bert Leeson

Steve Potts

MALIBU, Calif. – Steve Potts (JD ’82) announced Wednesday that he will retire as Pepperdine University’s director of athletics at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve as the director of athletics at Pepperdine and to work alongside some of the most talented and dedicated coaches, staff members and student-athletes,” said Potts.  “I am proud of what we have accomplished during my time as the director of athletics and am energized by the prospective continued and renewed success for all of our teams with significant facility upgrades on the horizon. The best is yet to come for the Waves!

“I have been blessed to occupy positions at both the Caruso School of Law and in Athletics during my time at Pepperdine. I am grateful to former president Andrew Benton, president Jim Gash, senior vice president Tim Perrin, and former director of athletics John Watson for their support and encouragement. I am especially grateful and thankful to Caruso School of Law Dean Emeritus Ron Phillips for more than I can ever begin to state. He has been my mentor, supporter, advisor, encourager, and friend for more than 40 years, and I will always cherish our friendship. May God continue to richly bless Pepperdine University and the Pepperdine Waves!”

Potts has overseen one of the nation’s most successful Division I-AAA programs as director of athletics for nearly 13 years, assuming the role in January 2011.  A long-time administrator and professor at Pepperdine, he had returned to Malibu in July 2008 as the senior associate director of athletics after serving as the director of athletics at Lipscomb University for eight-and-a-half years.

Throughout his career at Pepperdine, Potts has fully embodied what it means to be a Wave, living each day committed to serving Pepperdine’s staff, coaches, student-athletes and fans faithfully and with purpose.  Under his guidance, the department has continued to place a unique focus on its commitment to Christian values, to the academic well-being of all its student-athletes and to competing for championships.  Consistently leading a life of purpose, he has propelled the department’s coaches and staff to prepare students for success by challenging them to think differently to find their purpose, serve others and lead by example.

Under Potts’ leadership, Pepperdine has earned the I-AAA Athletic Director’s Association All-Sports Award (given to the top-performing non-football school in Division I) three times (2011-12, 2021-22 and 2022-23), while finishing in second place three times (2016-17, 2018-19 and 2020-21) and finishing in third place twice (2014-15 and 2017-18).

Since becoming director of athletics, the Waves have won 63 conference regular-season or tournament titles and captured the 2021 NCAA men’s golf national championship.

Pepperdine has rated as high as #58 in the end-of-year NACDA College Directors’ Cup standings (in 2020-21), which includes all Division I schools.

Under Potts’ direction, Pepperdine began sponsoring the sport of women’s beach volleyball, which won the inaugural AVCA national championship in 2012 and again in 2014, and finished second in the 2017 NCAA Championships.

Most of the other Pepperdine teams have also posted remarkable accomplishments during Potts’ tenure:

  • The baseball team advanced to a Super Regional for the first time in 2014.
  • In 2015, the men’s basketball team made its first postseason appearance since 2002. The Waves won the postseason College Basketball Invitational in 2021.
  • In 2018-19, the women’s basketball team won 20 games for the first time since 2010 and won its first postseason game in the modern era.
  • In addition to winning the 2021 national championship, the men’s golf team finished the shortened 2020 season at #1 in the rankings and reached the NCAA semifinals in 2022.
  • The women’s soccer team matched its best-ever finish by reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 in both 2014 and 2021.
  • The women’s swimming and diving team won back-to-back PCSC titles in 2022 and 2023.
  • The women’s tennis team had its best-ever finish in 2021, making it to the national championship match.
  • The indoor women’s volleyball team made it to the Elite Eight for the second time in program history in 2011.
  • In 2019, the men’s volleyball team won the MPSF title and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, and then repeated as league champions in 2022.
  • The men’s water polo team won the inaugural Golden Coast Conference Tournament in 2016, then won it again in 2019 and advanced to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1997.

Pepperdine’s various facilities have been given a facelift under Potts’ leadership, increasing the level of branding and recognition of the Waves’ great athletic history.

In March 2020, an AthleticDirectorU study that identified the top Division I athletic director hires ranked Potts 14th out of 229 schools that had changed ADs over the past decade.

Before his time at Lipscomb (2001-08), Potts spent 17 years at Pepperdine. He began teaching in Pepperdine’s law school in 1983 and from 1990-99 he served as the associate dean of administration and an assistant professor of law.

Potts is a native of Nashville and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Tennessee-Martin in 1979. He then went on to earn his doctor of jurisprudence degree from the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law in 1982.

He and his wife Jaimie (’81, MA 89), an elementary school teacher for 42 years, have two sons, Tyler (’13), director of partnership sales for the Los Angeles Rams, and Tanner, a Georgia Law School graduate and director of NIL and strategic initiatives for University of Georgia athletics.