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Pepperdine University Director of Athletics Steve Potts to Retire Following Spring Season

Pepperdine director of athletics Steve Potts in front of Firestone Fieldhouse trophy case.

Steve Potts (JD ’82), who has overseen one of the nation’s most successful Division I-AAA programs as Pepperdine University’s director of athletics, will retire at the conclusion of the 2023–24 academic year. Potts has led the Waves in this role since January 2011 and will conclude his tenure after almost 14 years in the position.

“Steve Potts’ legacy as an alumnus and administrator has left an indelible mark on the deep tradition of athletics at Pepperdine University,” says president Jim Gash (JD ’93). “Guided by his desire to develop exceptional student-athletes and his deep faith, Steve’s judgment and perseverance has led the Waves to victory both on and off the court. I am profoundly grateful for Steve’s wisdom and fortitude throughout his tenure at Pepperdine and wish him the very best in retirement.”

Pepperdine director of athletics Steve Potts with Derek Hitchner

A Nashville native, Potts earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Tennessee-Martin in 1979 and went on to earn his juris doctor degree from the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law in 1982. Prior to his position as Pepperdine’s athletic director, Potts spent 17 years at the University as an administrator and a professor. He began teaching at the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law in 1983, and from 1990–99 served as the school’s associate dean of administration and an assistant professor of law. Potts returned to Malibu in July 2008 as the senior associate director of athletics after serving as the director of athletics at Lipscomb University from 2000 to 2008. 

Under Potts’ leadership, Pepperdine 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 second three times (2016–17, 2018–19 and 2020–21) and in third place twice (2014–15 and 2017–18). Throughout Potts’ tenure, the Waves won 63 conference regular-season or tournament titles (through the 2022–23 school year) and captured the 2021 NCAA men’s golf national championship.

Many Pepperdine teams have posted remarkable accomplishments during Potts' tenure. Under his guidance, Pepperdine began sponsoring the sport of women's beach volleyball, which won the inaugural AVCA national championship in 2012 and again in 2014. In addition to winning the 2021 national championship, the men’s golf team finished the shortened 2020 season at number one in the rankings and reached the NCAA semifinals in 2022. In 2014 the baseball team advanced to a Super Regional for the first time, and in 2015 the men's basketball team made its first postseason appearance since 2002 and in 2021 won the postseason College Basketball Invitational. During the 2018–19 season, the women’s basketball team won 20 games for the first time since 2010 and won its first postseason game in the modern era.

Additionally, 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, and the women's tennis team had its best-ever finish in 2021, making it to the national championship match. Pepperdine's various facilities have also been upgraded under Potts' leadership, which has provided student-athletes and coaching staff exceptional opportunities to excel in their respective sports and increased the level of recognition of the Waves' great athletic history.

Prior to Pepperdine, Potts began his tenure at Lipscomb as the school was in the midst of transitioning from the NAIA to NCAA Division I. He successfully guided the athletics department through four years of NCAA Division I provisional membership, and Lipscomb received active membership status in September 2003. He also led the institution through the 18-month NCAA Athletic Certification process, which was completed in 2005. Potts was also responsible for Lipscomb joining the Atlantic Sun Conference, and several of its teams won conference championships over the years. Several major improvements to the athletics facilities came under his watch, including the multipurpose, 5,000-seat Allen Arena, which was completed in October 2001.

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 athletic directors over the past decade.

Potts 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, director of NIL and strategic initiatives for University of Georgia athletics.