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New head coach to lead men’s tennis in first home match Wednesday

FEBRUARY 13, 2012
by Sara Morano ’14, Contributing Writer

“They were really thinking outside the box when they hired me,” says Kelly Jones about his new position as head coach of men’s tennis.

Jones’ outstanding record as both a professional tennis player and coach helped him stand out last fall among the 70 applicants for the position.

He is a world-class tennis player and developmental coach who has played for the U.S. Olympic team, in U.S. and Australian Open finals (winning titles in both doubles and singles), and in 46 Grand Slam events. He coached the current top-ranked American player, Mardy Fish, to career highs, as well as top Americans James Blake and John Isner, and a dozen internationally ranked players.

What was missing from Jones’ exceptional record, though, also helped him stand out.

“It’s almost unheard of to hire a head coach without college experience,” Jones explains. Yet, as a developmental coach, he is just that.

Furman is the first college team Jones has taken on in a coaching career that has been devoted to training and perfecting the play of students up to an international level.

Developmental coaches are about building players of every skill level and taking them to a higher one. NCAA coaching, especially at Division I schools, is as much about recruiting the best players from around the world as it is about making them.

This holds true in the Southern Conference, where one in three of the opponents the Paladins will face on the court this season are international recruits. These players represent talent from every continent, heightening the level of competition in a regional conference.

Contrastingly, Furman is the only team in the league with no international recruits currently on its roster.

The globalization of NCAA recruiting is, according to Jones, the biggest way college tennis has changed since his predecessor, SoCon Hall-of-Famer Paul Scarpa, was named head coach in 1967.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the university’s commitment to a team of well-rounded student-athletes, something former coach Scarpa knew well.

When Jones came to Furman, he soon realized that the university’s selective admissions process and culture of academic rigor put demands “you just won’t find anymore” on him as a coach.

Consequently, he is mindful of the three pre-med students on his roster when prescribing 5 a.m. workouts. And he says that recruits from international schools will always be a relatively “low head count” on his roster because of Furman’s unrelenting academic demands.

Given this set of challenges, Jones’ strategy for winning a conference title will depend on developing the skills of his roster of American student athletes.

When he scouts new players for next year, he hopes his reputation as a developmental coach will help draw students from all over the country. He has already scheduled Furman’s first matches on the West Coast for 2014, when the Paladins will face off against some of the nation’s top tennis programs, including those at Stanford University and at his alma mater, Pepperdine.

“I didn’t come here to be mediocre,” says Jones. “The goal here is to be the best. When I came to Furman, that’s what I thought. There’s no reason we can’t do it here.”

The entire student body is invited to cheer on the Paladins in their first home match of the season against Clemson, 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Mickel Tennis Center.

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