It’s another inevitability of summer, along with humidity and unpaid internships: coaching moves. They all bring with them impending change, sometimes complete overhaul, and a fresh outlook — two things the Penn men’s tennis program desperately needs.
Last Thursday, Steve Bilsky, the engine that spins the offseason coaching carousel, tabbed the seasoned David Geatz as the man to guide the tennis team. Nothing to see here, some might say of the switch at the helm of an oft-forgotten program.
But this hiring is no blip on the radar.
Geatz inherits a program in near shambles. Players grew so upset with recently resigned coach Nik DeVore, they organized a midseason meeting — a rally of the troops — to remind each other that their primary concern should be winning an Ivy Championship rather than ousting their coach. In the end, they tied for last at 1-6, their three-year total inching up to three victories.
Enough about the past, though. There’s no time to dwell — contemplating three rocky years would only result in a headache. In fact, among the four steps Geatz should follow as his reign begins, first in this reporter’s opinion is:
Wipe the slate clean.
A recurring criticism of former players? The old coach made enemies and played favorites.
Geatz must reverse that trend. Forget that Player X is a one-time stud recruit and a two-time all-Ivy selection and Player Y is an overlooked walk-on. Once Geatz steps foot on Penn’s campus, all players should be considered on equal footing. Their performance at practice — their skill combined with their attitude and work ethic — should dictate where they stand in the coach’s eyes and in turn where they fall in the lineup.
Geatz must have open ears and an open mind. When it comes to doubles teams, listen to the players; they know best which duos gel and which clash. Throw experimentation out the window and put strong players and good fits together.
A two-way feedback system when making all decisions is key.
Reconnect with alumni.
One source told The Daily Pennsylvanian this spring that parents became “reluctant” to donate money because of displeasure with DeVore. Geatz needs to reach out to any and all alumni to pitch his new vision for the program and encourage support.
Increased support would serve as the backbone of an overall rededication to the men’s program. A boost in donations would surely grab the attention of the higher-ups in Weightman Hall, making them more willing to commit resources to the program. This could result in a trickle-down effect when it comes to recruiting.
Having lifted the Cornell program from the Ivies’ basement, Geatz should know a thing or two about financing and recruiting in the Ivy League. Use your connections.
If there’s one benefit to hiring Geatz, it’s that he comes with an established and far-reaching reputation. Eighteen years and five league titles at a Big Ten school (Minnesota), plus a year in Hong Kong, highlight his resume.
Geatz can carry a been-there-done-that confidence into his new gig. And there’s little doubt that his accomplishments have earned him ties and friendships across the country with high-profile people in high-profile places.
That probably sounds dandy to a group of players who feel they haven’t been challenged enough out-of-conference to contend in-conference.
“In the past two seasons, since I came to Penn, [the nonconference slate] has been extremely weak,” said rising junior Rob Wong, who quit the team after his freshman season but said he would consider rejoining. “Some of these teams … seemed like high-school teams.”
If Geatz can work his magic and schedule matches with formidable Division I opponents, Penn will rapidly become more legitimate on the tennis scene. To be the best in the Ivies, you don’t necessarily have to beat the best teams in the country, but you have to at least play them.
Milk the new facility for all it’s worth.
The Hamlin Outdoor Tennis Center has been hyped as one of the best facilities on the East Coast.
Never forget that.
Show it off to alumni and recruits. Practice on it as much as rules and weather permit. Brag about it to your friends, polish its walls every day, and be thankful that it’s your own.
The tennis program has done more than find a new coach and a new home, it’s added a vital ingredient to the mix: optimism.
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