As head coach of men's tennis at the University of Tennessee, Sam Winterbotham has achieved landmark success.
In his first three seasons, Winterbotham has amassed 63 wins in indoor and outdoor tennis, an achievement previously unaccomplished by any coach in the program's history.
Now in his fourth year, Winterbotham has the No. 2-ranked Volunteers rolling again, opening with a 10-1 record during the indoor season, including an appearance in the Indoor National Championship versus the No. 1-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.
"I think our talent level went up," Winterbotham said when comparing this year's team to the last.
"The incoming guys have really filled some holes we had last year. Add the talent to the guys that are here and are getting better; I think we've closed the gap on the top teams."
Last weekend, Tennessee snagged its first win of the outdoor season, defeating a talented Wake Forest squad 4-3.
Knoxville has become a comfortable home for the native of Stoke on Trent, Great Britain, who is in the works of developing a competitive program.
"We were told [in the beginning] that the people here are really friendly," Winterbotham said. "Our home life away from the courts is just great, and here at the university, the UT family is just phenomenal. They said it is a family when we came here and I believe it."
Athletics played an integral part of Winterbotham's life even as a young boy, where the lad excelled in soccer and tennis.
"I love both, but I was a better tennis player than soccer player," Winterbotham said. "Tennis has been the avenue for me being successful, so I've been very fortunate. Being a Brit you have to support some sort of soccer team. If you're a little boy in England and you don't have a soccer ball there's something wrong."
When he's not supporting his players on the court, or playing with his kids, Winterbotham relaxes by cheering on his hometown soccer team.
The 36-year-old is a bold supporter of the Stoke City Football Club, a following dating back to even the club's inglorious days.
"I'm a rabid fan," Winterbotham says with a grin. "They're in the premier league right now, but I supported them even when they weren't very good."
Winterbotham kept his soccer cleats throughout college, where he won the 1999 Sooner Athletic Conference Soccer Player of the Year award at Oklahoma Christian.
Also serving as a tennis player at OCU from 1996-1999, Winterbotham earned a No. 1 national ranking as a 1997 singles champion.
His resemblance now serves as an honoree at the OCU Athletics Hall of Fame, after a 2007 induction.
But Winterbotham isn't just another athlete turned coach.
The coach also has his athletes hard pressed in the classrooms when they're not serving fireballs on the asphalt.
"I think if you're going to be great at anything, you have to compete in the things that matter," Winterbotham said. "Academics matters. Getting a great education, that matters at life. We put just as much emphasis on being a competitor in those areas as we do in the obvious areas of tennis."
Under Winterbotham, Tennessee has been named an ITA All-Academic Team, with junior John-Patrick Smith earning All-America honors on the court and in the classroom. Smith and three other Volunteers were named to the All-SEC Academic list.
Long days monitoring his student-athletes don't faze the coach, especially not with the kind of support he has on the courts.
Associate head coach Chris Woodruff, the only Volunteer ever to win the NCAA Championship in singles (in 1993), provides another valuable element of guidance for players.
Only the fifth Vol to be inducted in the ITA Hall of Fame, Woodruff reached as high as ninth internationally in singles play during his career.
"He's an integral part of any success we've had," Winterbotham said. "Take away his accolades as a player and what you have is a fantastic human being who happens to be a fantastic coach as well. He's overqualified and it just happens that he loves Tennessee."
"He could be a head coach at anywhere in the country, so every day we have Chris, we're very fortunate."
Winterbotham also cites an irreplaceable support structure at home, where he and wife Tara somehow manage their four daughters, Zoe, Ryann, Sophia and Savanna, between the hectic coaching lifestyle.
"You'd better ask my wife," Winterbotham jokes. "I'm just a lucky man. My wife's an amazing woman. She's an amazing mother, amazing wife. With her being that way, it allows me to coach at this game."
A promising start has Winterbotham excited, but cautious as a challenging schedule looms in the always competitive Southeastern Conference.
"You don't take anyone for granted in the SEC," Winterbotham said. "Our conference is the biggest year in and year out has had the greatest depth of any in the country. One thing I've noticed as a coach being in other conferences, the competitiveness, the difficulty of winning on the road in the SEC seems to be magnified."
Winterbotham and the second-ranked Vols will enjoy a short break before returning to action at home versus the Vanderbilt Commodores on Friday, March 12th.
"Come out and support your local teams wherever you are," Winterbotham said. "You'd be amazed at the level of these guys. It's not like Wimbledon where you have to be quiet in between points, it's more raucous."
So our fans in the south can relate, huh coach?