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They almost always go to work together in the morning and return
home together at night. They spend the hours in between
together, devising game plans, running practice drills and
taking care of administrative business. Such an arrangement
might put some couples on the fast track to divorce. But for
Mary Hile-Nepfel, 36, and Bill Nepfel, 44, being married to each
other as well as to their jobs has proved successful. This
season the Nepfels, the only husband-and-wife co-head coaches in
NCAA basketball, have steered the University of San Francisco
Lady Dons to their second straight NCAA tournament. "When things
are going great like they have been," Bill says, "you want to
take your job home with you."

Last season, West Coast Conference coaches picked the Lady Dons
to finish seventh in the eight-team league, and San Francisco
began the campaign with only eight healthy players. But the Lady
Dons adopted the slogan Refuse to lose, and that's essentially
what they did: They not only finished 24-5 but also made it to
the first round of the NCAAs, where they were eliminated by
Arkansas 67-58. The Nepfels were named WCC Coaches of the Year.

While the Lady Dons have had a tougher time this season--they
were 22-7 after a 61-57 victory over Portland on March 3 helped
them to win the conference and make the tournament--the Nepfels
have kept their cool. "When practice started, they wanted to
make sure we knew that last year was last year," junior
co-captain Renee Demirdjian says. "They knew people might be
hyping us as this great team, but they told us not to let that
get into our heads. They're very open to us, and there's a lot
of communication."

The coaches' sensitivity stems in part from the fact that Mary
knows the game's highs and lows as a former player as well as a
coach. In her playing days at USF (1977-81), the 6-foot Hile was
a two-time All-America. With 2,324 points in her college career,
she's the top scorer--male or female--in USF history, and she was
the first woman inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, where
her retired jersey hangs alongside those of male basketball
stars Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Bill Cartwright. After
college she played a year of pro ball in Italy, then returned to
the U.S. and earned her master's degree in physical education at
Long Beach State.

Though Bill never matched Mary's achievements on the court--he
played intramurals at Cortland State in Cortland, N.Y.--he has
been passionate about the game all his life. He met Mary at Long
Beach State in 1982, when he was an assistant coach for the
women's team and she was a graduate assistant, and they were
married in 1985, when Bill was the women's coach at the
University of Hawaii.

When the women's coach and her assistant left USF in 1987, the
university offered the Nepfels the positions, leaving the
chain-of-command details to them. They decided to split
everything equally: salaries, responsibilities and title. The
Nepfels are now in their ninth season of easy, informal
collaboration. Luckily their coaching styles are similar--"We
really enjoy running fast breaks," Bill says--and their strengths
are complementary. Although they share responsibility for
recruiting and game strategy, he handles most scheduling and
budgeting work (which is "the way it is at home," Mary says),
while she works with players on skills and orders equipment and
uniforms. During games they both call plays and timeouts, but
since regulations allow only one coach to stand, Bill's the
designated stand-up guy, largely because he "can bark a little
louder at the officials," Mary says.

The downside of being married co-coaches is that the Nepfels
sometimes take professional pressures home with them. "We don't
want to argue in front of the players or on the court," Mary
explains, "so sometimes we wait until the ride home to discuss

But the truth is, "We just don't disagree on that much," says
Bill. "We've done this long enough that we're pretty clear on
our goals for the team."

Stacey Colino, who lives in San Francisco, writes occasionally
for Sports Illustrated.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID MADISON Bill and Mary split some duties, but they both handle recruiting, game strategy and play-calling. [Bill Nepfel and Mary Nepfel at women's basketball practice]