Ask the Experts
Q&A with Georgia's Manny Diaz
by Colette Lewis
, 26 August 2011
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When Manuel (Manny) Diaz took over the men's head coaching position at the University of Georgia, his task was a daunting one. He followed the legendary Dan Magill, who put Georgia tennis on the map, won two NCAA titles, and coached the Bulldogs for 34 years. Setting out to uphold the traditions and success his former coach had established, Diaz did that and more, winning four NCAA titles, reaching the championship match seven other times, while compiling a 533-114 record in dual matches.
Now in his 24th season as head coach, Diaz came to Georgia from his native Puerto Rico, and was an All-American for the Bulldogs in 1974-75. After a brief stint in the professional ranks, Diaz returned to Athens in 1982 to serve as assistant coach under Magill before taking over as head coach in 1988.
Georgia finished the 2010-11 season ranked fifth in the country, after a semifinal appearance at the NCAAs in Stanford. The Bulldogs won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008, with the 2007 team, led by senior John Isner, going undefeated that year.
Diaz was in Kalamazoo on a recruiting trip earlier this month, and I had an opportunity to talk with him about many aspects of the college tennis, including the development of Isner, the USTA's support of the sport, the international players' impact and changes he would like to see to increase the game's popularity.
Questions and Answers
Colette Lewis (CL): How did you end up returning to Georgia as a coach?
Manuel Diaz (MD): When coach Magill called me up, I was teaching and coaching some good players, and at first I said no, I've got a great job. But the more I thought about it - and he kept calling me back every two weeks - the more I could envision myself being energized. I started thinking about myself in 30 years, and I don't think I'd have a whole lot of fun teaching retirees. I thought it would be a lot more of a challenge, more rewarding, to be coaching at the college level. I'd always loved Georgia, and I took a big pay cut, but I could see where this had a bright future and I would be happy doing this for the rest of my life.
CL: As an athlete who went through the recruiting process yourself, how has that changed over the years?
MD: It's a lot harder. Goalposts keep moving. And there's the technology that's come along. You used to write a letter every now and then. Compliance-wise, it's a much more involved process, with all the rules. Coaches are doing more, and there's just a whole lot more highly qualified coaches now.
Facilities are much, much better - everybody's got good facilities, everybody's got a good coach and is fully into building a great program. It's become a lot more competitive. I think the ultimate winner is the American junior. College is a viable alternative for kids that want to continue to get better. It might not be for everybody, and four years, some kids are ready before that, but it's a viable place for kids to continue the process.