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Conversation with Notre Dame Coach Bobby Bayliss
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After 44 years coaching college tennis - the past 26 of those as head men's coach at Notre Dame - Bobby Bayliss plans to retire after the 2012-13 season. Bayliss, currently the winningest active coach in NCAA Division I tennis with 751 dual-match victories, has built the Irish into an NCAA contender with 21 appearances in the NCAA Championships over the past 22 seasons.

Bayliss has roamed the Irish sidelines for 26 years
courtesy, Notre Dame Athletics
Harry Cicma recently chatted with Coach Bayliss about his college coaching memories.
 

Questions and Answers

Harry Cicma (HC): Coach, as you look back at your storied career, what memories stand out as the best?

Bobby Bayliss (BB): The most indelible memories are the people - players on my teams, coaches against whom I have competed, and people with whom I have worked. I believe that there is a lifelong connection between coach and player. I still remember vividly things that my own coaches told me back in the 1960s just like it was last week.

As for highlights, I will always remember every one of my Army-Navy matches from my days in Annapolis. That was a special competition, and I was fortunate to be successful. I rarely slept before those matches.

Here at Notre Dame it is difficult not to remember the 1992 NCAA Championships run where we fought our way to the final, upsetting three top five teams including No. 1 ranked and defending NCAA champion USC in Athens, Georgia. That team had a special bond, and we just celebrated the 20th anniversary of that event here in the fall when the guys were introduced on the field at a football game in front of 80,000 fans.

Other teams and players will always be with me, though, as well. Seeing Ryan Sachire run around the courts like a long-legged puppy as a freshman in 1997 and go on to become the No. 2-ranked college player behind James Blake will always stay with me. David DiLucia's senior year - when he became No. 1 in the country and went undefeated in regular season play - is certainly one of the highlights. Making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 1991 - when only 20 teams were there - was a notable achievement. As for individual matches there are just too many of them to single out.

 

HC: What is most rewarding about being a college coach - and coaching at Notre Dame?

BB: The most rewarding thing about being a college coach is the fact that the relationships last forever. I have been blessed to be at magical institutions, and those places have allowed me to become close to so many wonderful young men. My greatest thrill is seeing them after graduation and staying in touch. Weddings, reunions, and other occasions make it possible to get together much more than I would have imagined.

Bayliss is the winningest active coach in D-I
courtesy, Notre Dame Athletics
One of the great things about working at Notre Dame is that so many former players return for football games and take the time to drop by and catch up. I also am close to many coaches. They are the only people that really understand what I do every day.
 

HC: What advice would you give a young coach moving up - looking to have a successful career in D-I college tennis?

BB: I would advise anyone going into coaching today to do so because they want to make a difference in people's lives. Don't do it for the money - although today the financial packages are far superior to what they were when I began my career. Don't even think about the hours, as they are endless. Do it because you can make the world better one person at a time. Marry a great woman - I did - because she is going to be tested.

I have never - not once - seriously considered getting out of coaching. It is more of a calling than a profession. Another coach once said that if he had it to do over, he would double major - in Anbormal Psychology and Criminal Justice.

 

HC: Did you ever have to "pinch" yourself, walking to work every day, seeing the Notre Dame colors, the football stadium right by the tennis courts, knowing that most of the world follows Notre Dame sports?

BB: When I first arrived on campus I found myself pretty caught up in simply being a Notre Dame coach, but that wore off quickly when I realized how far we had to go for me to be comfortable. Frankly I was fortunate that we had a long way to go because I simply did not have time to think about much else. I arrived in Lou Holtz's second season and was able to watch his program grow. It was unthinkable not to want to do the same thing in tennis.

 

HC: What do you look for while recruiting players to play for the Fighting Irish?

BB: In my recruiting I never had any preconceived ideas about what I was seeking in a prospect. I have seen big, slow players become great. I have observed those with speed and quickness use those weapons to become terrific players. Some became so mentally tough that they refused to lose.

What I tried to do was to place the prospect - in my mind - in our environment and try to determine how successful he could become and then try to envision him as a teammate as well. I am enough of an old maid - just ask our players - that I only want to be around people with whom I could spend a weekend, a season, or a career. Winning is important, but not at the expense of being miserable, so character became a priority for me.

 

Bayliss with future Notre Dame coach Ryan Sachire
courtesy, Notre Dame Athletics
HC: We've had great memories at The Big East tournament, when I was a young "dreamer" playing at Rutgers against Notre Dame. The conference has gone through many changes since then, but the camaraderie with teams like Notre Dame, St. John's, Rutgers, Lousiville, UConn, and others is still around for a few more memories. It must be fitting closure, and an honor for you to host your final Big East Tournament at Notre Dame in April?

BB: I feel very fortunate that we will host the Big East in my last year. Certainly there are many memories involved, and it would be tremendous for us to put everything together at tournament time to go out with a bang, but I hope that Notre Dame can provide all of the teams with a great experience.

You know, we played you guys [Rutgers] in the final in 2004. Lately there has been fierce competition between us, Louisville, and South Florida. I will never forget some of our matches against Miami down at their place.

 

HC: How do you plan to spend retirement?

BB: As for retirement I have not given it too much thought yet. The two things I will not miss are recruiting and travel. It will be nice to be able to sleep well before a Notre Dame match.

I would like to write a book about my observations formed over a 50-year career as a player and coach. I already have a title - "Cross Court Reflections." I will certainly sprinkle in many anecdotes as well as observations about the growth of college tennis and athletics overall. There will be some funny stories, too, as I have witnessed some hysterical things.

Technically, I am not really retiring from Notre Dame - just from coaching. They have generously offered me the position of Director of Tennis Facilities, and I am really excited about trying to spruce up our place and be a part of a new facility which now appears imminent.

Mostly, I am very excited to see the job that Ryan Sachire, who will succeed me as head coach, will do. He will be an upgrade in every way. He already knows everything that I know about tennis, and he has the energy of a young stallion. It is going to be fun to sit back and watch this team grow!

 

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About Harry Cicma

When it comes to college tennis, Harry Cicma is your man. Cicma covers tennis and other athletic stories for NBC Sports, writing articles and producing video segments.

He is co-founder and host of World Tennis a weekly tennis show on NESN, and host of of Tennis Live Radio's College Corner.

Cicma competed as a junior in USTA/New England and went on to play college tennis at Rutgers University. As a professional, Cicma competed at the ATP Newport tournament and the San Jose Siebel Open. He reached a career-high #75 in the ATP doubles team rankings and #1262 in the ATP Entry System.

In media, Cicma has run the gamut. He has worked for NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN, FOX Sports Net, the Tennis Channel, and World Team Tennis. Cicma has announced NCAA sports as well as the US Open Tennis Championships on both TV and radio.

 
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