Albert M. Irwin, a prominent figure in the development of UCI Athletics and in Orange County sports history, died Dec. 22 at the age of 96.
Irwin was the UCI men’s water polo and swimming coach when the university opened in the fall of 1965. He coached the Anteaters to their first athletic victory, a 22-6 water polo win over Cal Poly Pomona, on Oct. 8, 1965.
He served as head coach of the UCI men’s swimming & diving team that won the 1969 NCAA championship and was an assistant coach of the 1970 men’s water polo team that earned the squad’s first-ever NCAA Division I championship.
In addition to his coaching legacy at UCI, Irwin was acting vice chair of the UCI physical education department and assistant director of athletics until his retirement in 1978.
UCI dedicated the Al Irwin Academic Center, a first-class academic support services area for student-athletes, on Oct. 30, 2013. The state-of-the-art center houses 24 workstations to assist UCI’s student-athletes with their academics.
A 1937 graduate of Newport Harbor High School, Irwin was that school’s first four-year, five-sport letter winner. He went on to play football at the University of the Pacific (then called the College of the Pacific) under legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Irwin served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before beginning his coaching career in football at Antioch High School and Valencia High School. He returned to his alma mater, Newport Harbor, to teach and serve as head football coach from 1948 to 1955.
He then coached football and swimming at Orange Coast College before becoming a staff member in UCI’s athletics department.
Irwin lived most of his life in Newport Beach, where he was a longtime lifeguard and trainer and was seen many mornings walking near the Newport Pier. In 2009, he established a scholarship to be awarded annually to a seasonal lifeguard.
He was one of the first inductees into the UCI Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983 and a member of Newport Harbor High School’s first Hall of Fame class in 2014. A celebration of Irwin’s life was held Jan. 19 in Newport Beach.
Pictured above: Water polo was the first intercollegiate athletic activity at UC Irvine. Coach Al Irwin talks to his team during a timeout in a match at the UCI pool in October 1965. Photo courtesy of UCI Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives