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ATHENS, Ga. --- Georgia's assistant athletic director for event management, Matt Brachowski, has been involved with the NCAA Tennis Championships since 1995, has served on the NCAA Tennis committee and as its chair, and is looking forward to hosting another great event in 2012. In this Q&A we check in with Brachowski to discuss what goes into hosting the tournament in Athens, as well as some of the challenges and his best memories.
Georgiadogs.com: What is your role at UGA, and how long have you been involved with tennis?
Matt Brachowski: At Georgia I am the assistant AD for event management, and the NCAA Tennis tournament director. The first tournament I worked was in spring 1995 when Coach [Dan] Magill was still working as the tournament director. After he retired from the Athletic Association, Coach [Manuel] Diaz and I sort of tag-teamed the position for a couple years, and 2000 was the first time I was the tournament director. I've been the director on the men's side in 2000, 2001, and 2003, and was the women's director in 2004 and 2005, and for both championships in 2007 and 2010. From Sept. 2004-Aug. 2008 I was a member of the NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Tennis Committee and was chair of that committee during the 2008 NCAA Championships.
GD: What is it like getting ready to host the tournament?
MB: Well, we've got to corral a bunch of crazy staff to make sure they're doing what they need to do! My role is to oversee the entire operation of the championships and stay in touch with the different departments to see what they need. We try to plan and direct everything so that the event can run well and be bigger and better than the previous year. We work with the ticket office, promotions, sports information, facilities, and everyone - bringing all the different parts together and giving everyone the resources they need to do their jobs.
GD: How about once it starts?
MB: Once we're on site, there's still the overview of running the operations of the event. I'll work with the folks on the ground - ticket takers, ushers, media staff - and help visiting teams and participants with everything they need. I want to be a resource. We're also the liaison to the NCAA and the committee to make sure their policies they want enforced for the championship are being met. Even though we're the host of the championship, this is still the NCAA's event and we have to follow the policies and procedures they set.
GD: What are the biggest challenges you've faced since you started doing this?
MB: The biggest challenges are always the things you hadn't thought of or hadn't had to face before. You have to deal with things in an efficient manner, and come up with solutions that will be the best for all parties involved. With an outdoor championship like tennis, you obviously try to do the best you can with weather, and even if it's a practice day, you make sure the 32 teams who need to practice can get court times some way, somehow. You have to help the teams as much as possible and do all we can for them. The other challenges are just being available. With this kind of event, there are a lot of long hours for the people working and you've got to be sure you're ready for the next day. There are usually some early wakeup calls, and we've finished matches at 2 or 3 a.m. and then you've got to be back in the morning. I think everything can be a challenge - it's how you deal with it either beforehand or how it occurs that dictates if it's something easily overcome or if it gives you more trouble than it should.
GD: Do you feel comfortable now that you've done this so many times, or do you still get anxious?
MB: With my personality, I never feel comfortable. I always think of things that need to be done, or what we can do to have a positive impact on the championships and the participants. It's never a guarantee you're going to get to host again, and we need to do what we can do to have a positive impact so that we're in a position to be awarded the chance to host again in the future.
GD: A lot of people say the tournament belongs in Athens. Does that make you proud?
MB: It makes you feel good when people recognize the job you do and think you do it well. There's a segment of the college tennis population that always comes to Athens and think it should remain in the discussion for a rotation or on a permanent basis, but in the last 10 years it's been a rotational basis. A lot of current coaches and players have gotten used to that, but there's also another segment that enjoys the opportunity to go to 2 or 3 different places over a four-year career and not play here every year. They want to travel and see different venues. There are also a lot of schools out there trying to improve their facilities so that they can host. Much like the Super Bowl or the All-Star Game, teams build facilities and want the chance to showcase them. I think that's good for the growth of college tennis.
GD: What is your best memory from the NCAA Championships?
MB: One that sticks out to me is one of the first years I was heavily involved - which was 1999. It just so happened to be one of the years Georgia was able to win on the men's side when it was a men's-only championship at that time. I remember during the ceremony after the event, Manuel had an interview or something and so the trophy wound up in my lap. I was just sitting on the court bench afterwards and with the trophy in my hands, I just had this feeling that I had had a little bit to do with it. With hosting, you try to take as much off the coach's plate as you can, and I felt like we'd let Coach Diaz focus on coaching tennis - that's his role and should be his role. For whatever reason I just felt a little self-gratification that I'd had a little impact on winning that year.
The 2012 NCAA Men's and Women's Tennis Championships will be held at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., May 17-28.
With the NCAA Men's & Women's Tennis Championships just around the corner, we checked in with former Stanford University head men's tennis coach Dick Gould, who now works as the Director of Tennis for the Cardinal. Gould was the head coach for 38 years and won 776 matches and 17 NCAA team championships. In this Q&A Gould talks about the tournament, his memories of playing in Athens, his longtime friend and coaching rival Dan Magill, and more.
Thanks to Stanford sports information director Brian Risso for conducting the interview.
On his current role...
"When I retired from coaching after 38 years, I decided I didn't want to stop working. So I created a job description that I thought would really help the coaches who were succeeding me. As Director of Tennis, I would have the responsibility of overseeing the facility, in addition to efforts with stewardship and fundraising, and whatever else was needed to make the program run well. I think it's very fair that I'm not involved in recruiting; a parent doesn't want to talk to someone who isn't going to be there full-time as a coach for their son or daughter. So I have no recruiting responsibilities, but if a coach brings by a player to say hello or something, I'm more than happy to greet them. But when I was coaching, there were a lot of outside factors that really impacted what I was doing on the court or could do with the team. A lot of this is my own doing. I really enjoyed making the schematics for the stadium and developing the stadium additions. I really enjoyed the fundraising and stewardship aspect, and working toward some kind of a goal or endpoint. But it did take a lot of time. So I figured it would be nice if I could continue to do this, and at the same time relieve our coaches of the responsibility. That gives me time to be creative in what I do and still represent Stanford well. My current role allows me more time for public appearances and speaking engagements, either nationally or around Northern California. That also includes developing our online court reservation system and refining our video streaming. So my current role has allowed me the flexibility to do those things."
On going to Athens this season...
"I'll be going back to Athens, probably getting there around the start of the women's and men's quarterfinals. My schedule doesn't allow me to take more than a few days away, but I will also certainly be present for the ITA Hall of Fame induction ceremony, with Dan Magill and two of our players, Patrick DuPre and David Wheaton being inducted. I want to see our teams compete, so hopefully they are both able to make it there. I just want to be there and soak it all in. Pick up different ideas here or there. What are they doing over there that would help us if we were to host again under my administration? Of course, the University of Georgia does such a great job and there is an incredible amount of tradition with the NCAA Championships there in Athens."
On memorable moments from NCAA's at Athens...
"One moment that sticks out in my mind was a loss in the finals. In 1984, we were playing a very, very good UCLA team, with a terrific doubles team of Mark Basham and Michael Kures at No. 1. In those days, the match was a best of nine and doubles was played second. Everything was done, the No. 1 match was on court and I think John Letts and Jim Grabb were playing for us. Kures from UCLA is standing in the ad court with the biggest forehand you have ever seen. It was tied up in the third set for the national championship. Letts was serving and his serve could go out a little bit, so I wanted to give him a safe serve. It was no-ad scoring and break point for everyone- if they broke us, they would be serving for the match or if we held, we would have gotten by a game that was a struggle for us to win. So there were a couple reasons I called a first serve to the center tee, which was Michael's forehand. However, Michael hit that ball so hard it came back before John could take a step into the court. I did that because the net was lower, it was a pretty safe serve with little angle for a return and I thought there might be an element of surprise because nobody would ever serve it there. But he hit that ball so far with his big forehand and that was it. Later on, we're sitting around, talking with UCLA after their postgame celebration. I said, 'Michael, did you know that ball was going there?' He looked at me and said, 'Coach, I've played against you for several years and I know what you're going to do. I knew you were going to have that ball go to my forehand. So it turned out to be one of the dumbest calls I made. Probably cost us a great chance at a championship. You remember some of those things more than any wins. Another moment I think was the relief I felt when we won the tournament during the year (1978) that John McEnroe, Bill Maze and Matt Mitchell were our top three players. That was a very different kind of a feeling. It was more a feeling of relief, that we actually got through the tournament and won it. Even more than the joy of the moment."
About Athens, relationships with fans/coaches, treatment he receives as a rival coach...
"You have to always enjoy going to Athens. It's always a thrill to walk around there and see what they may have added, what's new, etc. It really gave their program credibility. They started getting good once they began hosting the championships and doing a fine job with it. Dan Magill did an extremely good job of staging the tournament and coaching. That was one thing- I really wanted to host the tournament but I didn't feel like I could do that and coach at the same time. So immediately when I resigned, one of the stipulations was that we would be able to bid on the tournament. Plus, we really wanted to do it with the men and women together. You go to Athens every year or every other year, and form friendships with fans, coaching and staff. I just have always loved the atmosphere back there. I never bought into this thing of coaches have to hate their rivals, that we have to hate Cal or UCLA. You respect them but you don't hate an opponent. If it weren't for the opponent, we'd have nobody to play against. Tennis coaches are really just fun-loving guys in general. I really respected the guys I coached against. We would trade ideas even back then. I was a young guy starting out, so I'd try to steal what they were doing."
On Dan Magill, on and off the court...
"Dan is one of the most incredible individuals I've ever met. First of all, he has an unbelievable memory for sports trivia. He was once even the head SID at Georgia. Dan really got their athletic program on the map. He's just a great story-teller. I could remember being in the car with him, several times, begging a ride somewhere and just listening to Dan and some of those guys tell stories about some of the battles they had on the court as rival coaches. It was just incredible for me to sit and listen to him. When he gets a hold of a mic, the room gets ready to fall off their chairs in laughter because he keeps it light and makes it fun." "I would take it a step further and say that I don't know anyone who is a greater competitor than Dan. Sure, he's fun and nice and will give you that smile. But Dan really wants to win, and I really respected how he could do that and still be such a nice guy at the same time. We exchange mail a couple of times a year. He bleeds Georgia red. He's probably the most loyal person in the whole history of the university. When Dan retired, it was such a natural thing for him to become the curator of the Hall of Fame. That was a passion of his all the way along, as he was doing it while he was coaching. It was pretty much his idea; he founded it. Dan is still playing competitively at 90 years old, or at least I believe he was until recently. He is such a competitor. He'll say, 'Oh, last week I played in the 90 and over's and it was 104 degrees and humid, but I managed to pull it out. Of course, there was only one other guy alive in the tournament.' But he's just that kind of guy. Manny (Diaz) was lucky to have played for Dan. I think Manny picked up a ton of things from Dan. Everyone is their own person and of course, Manny does things in a class way, but a different way as well. College tennis will really miss Dan Magill. Not just as a coach, but his presence. One of those guys that makes college tennis such a great sport- that's Dan Magill."
*Hernus Pieters, Georgia
*Ignacio Toboada, Georgia
Tom Jomby, Kentucky
Anthony Rossi, Kentucky
Nik Scholtz, Ole Miss
George Coupland, Mississippi State
*MVP: Ignacio Toboada, Georgia
In this edition of the Between The Hedges Q&A, we check in with former men's tennis standout Drake Bernstein - who is now the assistant women's tennis coach at the University of Alabama. Bernstein was back in town with the Crimson Tide for last Friday's dual match, and we caught up with the All-SEC and career 100-match winner.
BtH: So this is your first season spent out of Athens, and Winder even before that--how does it feel coming back?
Bernstein: It's good. This place is still home in a lot of ways, being around the courts especially. It's different from being on the other side of it, both coaching and not being at Georgia.
BtH: Definitely must have a different feel not being here. What do you miss most about Athens?
Bernstein: This tennis center, probably. I've spent a lot of time here, growing up watching the matches, learning the tradition, and then getting to be a part of it. That's the most special thing for me. Everything else is great, but this is the first place I go when I come back and what stands out for me.
BtH: How's being a coach somewhere else treating you?
Bernstein: It's awesome, I love it. We've got a really good team, all hard workers and good listeners. The best part for me has been the head coach, Jenny Mainz, who has help me so much. She's been so patient, took a chance on hiring a younger guy for a women's team, and she's made it really easy for me to coach.
BtH: What's your favorite part of coaching, as opposed to playing?
Bernstein: Maybe that I get the chance to affect more than one court at once. Obviously when you play, you try to be supportive of the guys on the courts next to you, but now I can actually give insight and influence multiple courts at once. Hopefully you can help get more than just one point for the team.
BtH: You still miss playing, right?
Bernstein: Yeah, totally. All these big matches stuck at three-all, you really wish you were out there playing. I do miss it, but the time that I had here was special, and I got plenty of it in.
BtH: How do you think Manny [Diaz] has helped you prepare for this transition from player to coach?
Bernstein: Manny's one of the best, if not the best, coaches in college. He and [Associate Head Coach] Will Glenn showed me about what it takes to coach, how to handle a team. We never overlooked anybody, nor did we give anybody too much respect. You try to play all the matches the same. And Jenny's the same way--treat every match as if it's any other match when you play. Another thing about Manny is he gave me good perspective about how important it was at the end of the day. If you lose a tennis match, or win one, the world's not going to end. He's done that for me and I hope I can do the same for these girls.
BtH: You might have an opportunity to come back here next month for the NCAA Championships. What would that mean to you?
Bernstein: Yeah, we've got a good shot with a good team. It's been their goal since the beginning of the year to be here in May, and as we're ranked now we're in, but there's a lot of tennis we've got to play between now and then. Hopefully we can move up in the rankings instead of kind of hanging out where we're at and cement ourselves here.
BtH: Thanks a bunch. Good luck!
-By Eliot Beckham