During his seven-year tenure as the head coach of the University of Tennessee men's tennis team, Michael Fancutt has led the Volunteers to the elite ranks of college tennis.
To call the list of accolades and achievements the Vols have earned under Fancutt's guidance impressive would be quite an understatement.
Three consecutive trips to the NCAA semifinals in 2000, 2001 and 2002; an SEC regular-season championship in 2000; an SEC tournament title in 2002; an NCAA final appearance in 2001, and the list goes on.
Fancutt's potential as a leader of a Division I tennis program was apparent to former Tennessee Athletics Director Doug Dickey, who selected the Brisbane, Australia, native as the Vols' head coach prior to the 1998 season. And the overwhelming success Fancutt garnered as a player--both at UT and on the pro tour--has carried over to produce coaching excellence.
"I am extremely pleased with the job that Michael Fancutt has done in bringing about a conference championship and a No. 3 ranking in the nation for our tennis team," Dickey said. "We have been extremely competitive, have recruited worldwide and have an excellent academic record. We look forward to continuing our prosperous program under coach Fancutt."
When the global search for a new UT head coach began in the spring of 1997, the administration's eye turned to the former Vols All-America and SEC singles and doubles champion. A member of a world-renowned tennis family, that candidate was Fancutt. His network of tennis contacts spanned the globe, and since his days on Rocky Top as a letterman from 1979-1981 and 1983, the Tennessee graduate (sociology, 1986, with honors) had coached some of the world's finest tennis talent at the highest professional level.
He began his coaching career working with Hana Mandlikova and Betty Stove. During that time, Mandlikova reached the finals of Wimbledon (1986) and won the Australian Open (1987). Fancutt served as coach to many pro standouts from 1986 to 1996, with a memorable highlight coming at Wimbledon in 1987, where Fancutt's pupil, Peter Doohan, engineered an upset of defending champion Boris Becker.
"When I began coaching Peter in 1986, he was playing in [satellite events]," Fancutt said. "To take him to the top 30 in the world and beating Becker at Wimbledon was tremendously satisfying."
When Fancutt took the Big Orange reins in 1998, his Vols held a national preseason ranking of No. 60. That rank meant little to Fancutt and his players, however, as they went on to finish his inaugural season with a 14-7 (7-7 SEC) record, giving Tennessee a dramatically improved year-end ranking of No. 19 in the nation.
That admirable opening campaign for Fancutt earned him the Region III Coach of the Year award and SEC Co-Coach of the Year honors as well.
The following season, the Vols improved their season-end ranking to No. 13, knocking off highly ranked teams such as No. 3-ranked Baylor and No. 4-ranked Ole Miss along the way.
In 2000, Tennessee built on the momentum it gained the previous two years and claimed the Volunteers' first SEC men's tennis championship since 1990, coming from behind to defeat rival Florida 4-3 in Gainesville, Fla., to claim the title.
Fancutt and the Vols refused to be satisfied with a conference championship, however, and after learning they would open the NCAA regionals at home for the second consecutive year, Tennessee eliminated UT-Chattanooga and No. 20-ranked North Carolina to advance to the NCAA round of 16 for the first time since the 1993 season.
While at the 2000 NCAA championships in Athens, Ga., the Vols disposed of No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 2 UCLA before falling in the national semifinals. The Vols were ranked No. 3 in the final poll of the 2000 season, and the program was a far cry from its status when Fancutt took the helm.
Fancutt and his players must have thoroughly enjoyed their NCAA semifinals appearance in 2000, because in 2001, they showed up again. The Vols took it one step further by earning a berth in the NCAA final. There, Georgia spoiled things for the men from Rocky Top, defeating the Volunteers 4-3. Despite the setback, Tennessee made a strong statement: Fancutt's Vols were now a dangerous powerhouse program capable of challenging any team in the nation.
The 2001 season was even more impressive considering the setbacks inflicted by the injury bug. Fancutt was faced with the difficult task of motivating an injury-hampered team all season long. He managed to get the best out of his players, as they competed for the national title in spite of the adversity that faced them. His hard work was rewarded when he was named the Professional Tennis Registry's National Coach of the Year. The award is given by the largest tennis teaching organization in the world, and is voted on by tennis instructors and professionals from all over the globe.
The 2002 season provided more of the same winning ways for Tennessee. Fancutt's netters rattled off 11 straight wins at season's end to post a final mark of 22-7. The late-season streak provided momentum entering the 2002 SEC Tournament. Playing host to the event, Tennessee dispatched Florida, Georgia and Auburn en route to the title. The Vols' next stop was the NCAA tournament. The Vols once again exhibited their postseason prowess, becoming the only team in the nation to reach the NCAA semifinals in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Unfortunately, Tennessee's run was cut short again, this time by Southern California in the semifinals.
In addition to reaching the semifinals in three consecutive seasons, another milestone was reached in 2002 with Tennessee's quarterfinal victory over Kentucky. The win marked the 100th triumph of Fancutt's magnificent career, making him the fastest Vols head coach to reach the century mark (135 matches).
The team's turnaround from 2003-04 further exemplified Fancutt's refusal to settle for mediocrity. Tennessee struggled through an uncharacteristic sub-par season in 2003, due partly to the fact that the squad consisted of only six players. But that offseason, Fancutt struck gold on the recruiting trail, landing five talented signees that made immediate contributions in 2004. Tennessee's recharged 10-man roster made headlines last season by defeating three top-10 teams (No. 6-ranked Duke, No. 9-ranked Florida and No. 9-ranked Georgia ) in Knoxville during the regular season. The Vols finished the season by returning to the NCAA tournament, where they were upset by Arkansas in the round of 32. A No. 21 year-end ranking was a significant improvement for a program that finished No. 55 one season earlier.
Fancutt's success as a collegiate coach may not have been possible were it not for the valuable experience he gained while playing at Tennessee and serving it up professionally in international pro events after college. Of course, coming from a family in which all five members (Michael, father Trevor, mother Daphne, and brothers Charles and Christopher) competed at Wimbledon certainly didn't hurt his chances of achieving on-court success.
Fancutt's exposure to the sport came early and often, as his family owned and operated the well-known Fancutt Tennis Academy in Brisbane. A highly recruited junior who achieved an ITF junior ranking of No. 7 in the world, Fancutt made the commitment to don orange and white and made the long move to The Hill prior to the 1979 season.
As a Volunteer, Fancutt earned All-America honors and was crowned the SEC outdoor No. 4 singles champion during his freshman year. He also helped the Vols capture an SEC regular-season championship in 1980.
A proficient doubles player as well, Fancutt reached the NCAA doubles finals with partner Andy Kohlberg in 1979. Remarkably, Fancutt won SEC doubles titles with three different partners: Kohlberg in 1979, Doug Corn in 1980 and Mike DePalmer Jr. in 1981.
The pro circuit was Fancutt's next stomping ground. Along with partner Doohan (whom he later coached), Fancutt reached the doubles semifinals of the 1984 Australian Open. Later that same year, Fancutt and Doohan lost 7-5 in the fifth set to Pat Cash and Paul McNamee in the doubles semifinals at Wimbledon. Adding to his professional resume`, Fancutt also holds an Australian hard court doubles title with partner Wally Masur.
The transition from player to coach came naturally to Fancutt. In addition to his aforementioned coaching accomplishments, he also coached Peter Handoyo and Mark Parsons to All-America seasons in 1999. Handoyo again received the honor in 2001 and 2002, and Simon Rea and Damien Spizzo both earned All-America status in 2004.
Handoyo was one of the first players Fancutt recruited to Tennessee. His stellar career is a testament to Fancutt's eye for talent, as well as potential. After four outstanding years as a Vol, Handoyo ranks fourth on Tennessee's all-time career singles wins list with 117 victories.
"[Coach Fancutt's] experience helps [the players] a lot on the court," said Handoyo. "He knows how to play the game and win."
Fancutt is married to the former Elisabeth (Liz) Larsen. The Fancutt's are proud parents of a 2-year-old daughter, Stephanie Elisabeth Fancutt.