One Last Time

Rumors had been swirling for more than a year it might happen soon. Even before last spring's tennis season, there was some talk Billy Chadwick might be tossing in the coaching towel before much longer. And now we know.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

Chadwick announced Monday afternoon he is going to coach the Ole Miss men's tennis team until they win the national championship this spring or they are eliminated before that point. Either way, this year is it.

After heading up Ole Miss tennis – first the women's program and for the last 30 years the men's program – since 1979, the legendary Mississippian will then pass the torch to his assistant, Toby Hansson, who has been with the program since the fall of 2006.

Let's examine that move for a moment. Good call by Ole Miss officials to elevate Hansson, a native of Sweden and a former college tennis player at SMU. The Rebels' always stellar recruiting should not miss a beat with him in charge. And that's what it's all about – getting the players that are able to compete at the highest level.

Chadwick, who actually coached both the men's and women's Ole Miss tennis teams for about a three-year stretch in the 1980s, has been getting quality players for years. But he also knew how to coach them and help them improve their games while they were under his watch.

Billy Chadwick had the Rebels in national contention year after year
Bruce Newman

It's a bit ironic that Dave Randall was inducted into the Mississippi Tennis Hall of Fame this past weekend. Why? It was Randall, along with doubles teammate Jamie "Boom Boom" Booras, who became the first men's tennis All-American at Ole Miss in the late 1980s. And it was just about that time Chadwick knew the program had topped out – if he didn't make a change. So he did.

Randall and Booras were both American players. The Rebel program would be ranked somewhere around 15th or 20th nationally then and for the next couple of years. But Chadwick saw that if Ole Miss was going to truly compete for national honors, national titles even, then he would have to bring in international players.

In 1995, Ole Miss and Stanford met for the national championship of men's team tennis in the NCAA finals in Athens, Ga. The Cardinal claimed the title, but Chadwick's recruiting decision had worked.

It was then and still remains the high water mark for Ole Miss men's team tennis.

Also in 1995, Ali Hamadeh and Mahesh Bhupathi won a national doubles title.

Ironically it was Mississippian Devin Britton who won the program's only NCAA individual singles championship, that coming in 2009 in College Station, Texas. Devin was only a freshman and turned pro that same summer.

Chadwick's Rebel teams have been to Final Fours and Elite Eights and Sweet Sixteens aplenty, bringing recognition to Ole Miss athletics in a manner matched only in football under legendary John Vaught during his 25-season tenure as head coach.

Had tennis gotten the media recognition and fan support football does, Chadwick's name would be a household one far outside Oxford, the state of Mississippi, and college tennis circles.

The Jackson native and Belhaven graduate didn't necessarily plan a career as a tennis coach. He was basically in Oxford trying to find a reason to stay where his future wife, Julie Carr, was attending graduate school.

So Chadwick had a meeting with athletic director Warner Alford one day and basically said he was available to help the tennis programs out if he needed anybody to do so. Alford said he believed he could find something.

Devin Britton remains the youngest NCAA individual champion ever; before that, John McEnroe had been the youngest
File Photo

Good move for all concerned. Ole Miss got the man would turn out to be one of the most successful college tennis coaches in history. And Chadwick was able to hang out with the love of his life, Julie.

They're still hanging out together. She's been with him every step of the way, encouraging players and cheering for her husband's successful program in her unmistakable voice that at times is audible four courts away.

They raised their two sons, Lyon and Carr, on Ole Miss tennis. They were at basically every match growing up in Oxford. Lyon worked with the men's tennis program while an Ole Miss student. Carr went to school at one of his dad's team's longtime rivals, the University of Georgia.

A strong and close-knit group, the Chadwicks made sure the Ole Miss men's tennis program was a family affair. Some players were from as near as Tupelo or Jackson, Vicksburg or Memphis. Others from as far as Sweden and Romania, India and Argentina.

All were part of a large, extended, world-wide, world-class family known as Ole Miss tennis. The Chadwick family made sure of that.

Through the years, nothing brought a smile to Chadwick's face like beating Mississippi State. Even NCAA tourney success almost didn't surpass the joy he had from dominating that series, certainly for the latter part of his career at Ole Miss.

From 1999 through 2011, the Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 26 times. And never lost.

It will be an interesting spring as the world of college tennis sends into retirement one of its legends. There's one more season of Billy Chadwick tennis left at Ole Miss. A national team championship would certainly be a fitting way to wrap things up.

Stay tuned until June to find out.

OM Spirit Top Stories