April 2, 2009
On Sunday, Tennessee will honor Associate Head Coach Chris Woodruff for his induction into the ITA Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame last May. Today is the first part of a series where UTsports.com will take an in-depth look into the playing and now coaching career of Woodruff. For the first part, Tennessee men's tennis SID, Craig Hammel, sat down with Woodruff and asked him a series of questions about his career.
Q: Why'd you choose Tennessee?
Woodruff: I chose Tennessee in large part because of Coach DePalmer (UT head coach from 1981-94). I had worked with him a lot in juniors and I was very familiar with him. It came down to UT and Georgia and in the end it was the trust I had in Coach DePalmer. I knew Coach DePalmer's system and I was familiar with his beliefs about tennis and I knew they would best suit me individually.
Q: What is your fondest memory of your playing career at Tennessee?
Woodruff: It was tough from a team perspective because we never had a lot of success at the highest level. The highlight in terms of the team was when we advanced all the way to the finals of the ITA Indoor Tournament my freshman season and lost to UCLA. Individually, winning the National Championship my sophomore year was an incredible honor and something that I will never forget.
Q: What made you successful in tennis?
Woodruff: I think my work ethic. I always prided myself that I was going to outwork everybody. Coach DePalmer and I always started every morning at six o'clock before I went to class. We would hit balls and we really started that my junior year of high school. So, four-to-five days a week I was hitting balls at six a.m. in the morning regardless if I had a match that day. My work ethic is what layed the foundation for everything I was able to achieve in tennis.
Q: What is your favorite part of coaching?
Woodruff: The feeling that I'm making an impact on somebody's life. I've been back here for six years now and for the most part I stay in contact with almost every player in some capacity whether it is e-mails, text messages or phone calls. I just enjoy helping them grow, not only in tennis but in life. A lot of the guys come in and we will talk about everyday problems in life. I think sometimes I'm more counselor than coach but I guess that just makes me the whole package (laughing).
Q: What's the toughest part of coaching for you?
Woodruff: I think the toughest part for me is not being able to play. I love being on the courts and I have a great rapport with all the guys on the team. I love guiding them and give them the tutelage they need to best succeed but its tough because I can't go out there and hit the ball for them. I'm sure there's a little bit of ego there, being an ex-athlete, so when I see them miss what I think was an easy ball and one they should have connected with. I find myself saying "how is that possible?"
Q: What are your goals as a coach?
Woodruff: I think in this job it is tough to look past tomorrow. For example, we play Alabama on Friday and right now that's what I have on my mind. All my energy and focus is on beating Alabama. Obviously, I want to win a National Championship and we have the ability to do it. I think it would be neat to be able to win one as a team. I know the great satisfaction I felt after winning an individual title and I would love for our guys to get to have that feeling of accomplishment. I know we have the ability on this team right now to do that and that excites me. (Head coach) Sam (Winterbotham) deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the job he's done here in the short amount of time. He and I both have the same goal, to win a National Championship and I think that's why we work so well together.
Q: Do you get more nervous now or when you were a player?
Woodruff: For me, it has to be a as a player. I do get nervous when we play really big matches now but I think I do a better job of keeping it all in perspective. I'm not going out there and playing so instead of being nervous myself I try to make sure our guys are ready to go out there and compete. When I was a player I would start thinking about the match four-to-five days in advance. It was all I could think about.
Q: What are your favorite things to do outside of coaching?
Woodruff: I have two kids that I get to spend a lot of time with which is great. I hang out with my friends and I used to be a pretty good golfer but now in the middle of the season I don't have five hours to go play.
Q: How has this season been for you? This is the first time in your coaching career where you had a team begin the season in the top-10.
Woodruff: Everyday I learn a little something different about this team. We're so young and still growing. I have to remind myself daily that we have just a couple of juniors and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. It's really great what we've been able to accomplish already, to be ranked fourth with the youth that we have is fantastic.