Judi Pavón and Andrew Pratt
Aug. 26, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Boxes were strewn all over his office in Stokely Athletics Center earlier this week when Andrew Pratt wandered back in for a few more goodbyes.
That's the way it is with new jobs - great excitement to begin a new phase in life, but the reality of leaving behind those who mean a great deal always seems to be scattered amid the joy.
Pratt, who served as Tennessee women's golf assistant coach under Judi Pavón the past three seasons and before that played for the men's team under Jim Kelson, is headed for the greener golfing pastures of his first head coaching position.
Tulane on Friday named Pratt to lead its Green Wave women's golf program.
"It is a great opportunity," Pratt said. "There are not many chances - especially as a male coach on the women's side - to get a head coaching job, first, but to also be with a top-20 program.
"So I'm excited, but it's bittersweet. I've spent a lot of my time here in Knoxville, and with the girls it's been great over the last three years. It's been really fast but it's just one of those opportunities I have to take, both for my family and me."
Tulane's previous head coach, J.T. Horton, announced Friday he was taking the head coaching position at Clemson.
"To be honest with you, my wife was asking me this summer if I was going to apply for jobs because there was a lot of shakeup on the women's side in terms of head coaching positions," Pratt said. "I told her give me another year and I will think about it.
"And then this came about."
Pratt, who turns 31 on Sept. 3, appreciates what lies ahead for his new life in New Orleans. The Green Wave advanced to the NCAA Championship in 2009 and 2010 - placing 20th and 18th respectively - and they own a three-year streak of NCAA regional appearances. So the expectations are in place.
And although Pratt had no previous Tulane ties, he could see right away the school was a perfect fit.
"Everybody at Tulane was great," he said. "The campus is beautiful and they have a great practice facility, so I'm really excited about it."
Still, Pratt knows what he's leaving behind.
"My best experiences coaching thus far have to be with the girls and, obviously, under Judi," he said. "There are so many things Judi has taught me over the last three years to prepare me for this next step, and these girls have been great to work with."
Pavón admits the timing of the change is not ideal but couldn't be happier for Pratt, his wife, Sara Buff, and their son, Cooper.
"I don't think being assistant women's golf coach is a long-term career, so my goal is for them to move on and find great jobs," Pavón said. "They came after him and that's flattering in itself. And it's not often that your first job is a top-20 program, so good for him.
"He's a Tennessee guy and his wife's from Knoxville, so I'm really proud of them that they were willing to take the chance and move to New Orleans. This is one they couldn't pass up."
Pratt also will miss one more chance to coach an exceptional group of UT golfers, like senior Natalie Mansson.
Mansson arrived in Knoxville from Stockholm and found the transition to American college life didn't suit her tastes. But she also found an understanding mentor in Pratt, and the two came to an agreement that sticking it out at UT might work in the long run.
"His first year was my first year, and he really kept me from leaving after my first semester because I didn't like it at all," Mansson said. "It was such a big change from Sweden and he really made it more enjoyable."
Mansson has improved all three seasons under Pavón and Pratt, earning All-SEC honors once and All-SEC second team twice. She was second on the team last year with a 74.47 stroke average, which included her third collegiate tournament title.
"I have loved having him around," she added. "He's a great coach and he knows what he's doing. But it's absolutely a great opportunity for him to be a head coach, both for him and his family. I just wish he could be here for my last year too."
Pratt is familiar with what international student-athletes face coming to American universities. His best friend and roommate during his UT career was Englishman Ian Parnaby.
And in another coincidence between Tennessee past and present, Parnaby now serves as assistant golf coach at Texas-San Antonio under his wife, head coach Carrie Parnaby. Carrie was Carrie Cole during her UT women's golfing days from 1999-2002 and also preceded Pratt as Lady Vols women's assistant coach from 2004-08.
Pratt twice competed in the NCAA Championships with the Vols, once as an individual and then in 2003 on Kelson's first NCAA finals squad.
"I was Coach Kelson's first recruit here, and being a Tennessee guy from the other part of the state, that was pretty neat," said Pratt, who is from Bartlett, a Memphis suburb. "I learned a ton from him when I was in school.
"I'd say my fondest memory playing was making it to the NCAA Championship as an individual my freshman year. I didn't even know they took individuals."
Pratt in 2004 became only the third player in his state's golf history to win the Tennessee State Open and Tennessee State Amateur championships in the same year. The southpaw then went on to a professional career on the Nationwide Tour, where he had five top-10 finishes.
"Andrew has spent an enormous amount of time perfecting his craft as both a player and coach," Kelson said of his former star pupil. "He will undoubtedly be one of the most successful head coaches in the country.
"He's inquisitive, he's energetic, he's always trying to learn, and golf is a passion for him. He has all the attributes to be an ultra-successful coach."
A Job to Do
The Lady Vols prepare for their upcoming season with extremely high hopes. The team returns all five players from a 2011 postseason lineup that advanced to the program's third straight NCAA Championship, where the team finished 13th after a second-place NCAA regional result.
Pavón says the team is prepared for another challenging schedule despite Pratt's upcoming absence.
"Andrew and I worked hard this summer, so we're really ready for the fall," she said. "Recruiting is coming up and I'll have the burden of that, but the team is OK and being mature about it. As much as they are going to miss him, they know they have a job to do here one way or the other.
"As long as they hold up well, I'll be able to hold up."
Pratt, meanwhile, says the Lady Vols golf program is on extremely sound footing. Yes, he'll soon be toiling away in The Big Easy, but it will be hard for him not to keep close tabs on his former Big Orange brothers and sisters.
"I'm definitely going to miss everyone around here," he said. "I think all the girls understand that and I think Judi understands that. But they'll be fine, trust me."