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Profile: From racquet to whistle

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February 15, 2016

10:45 PM

After graduating from the College of William and Mary, many return throughout the years to teach or celebrate Homecoming and Charter Day. Seldom, however, do alumni return to coach one of the College’s Division I sports, let alone replace the coach who once coached them. Former player and current men’s tennis coach Jeff Kader ’05 fits that exact criteria, as he replaced 22-year veteran Peter Daub after Daub announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season.

Kader was a member of the men’s tennis team at the College from 2001-2005, capping off his career with a Colonial Athletic Association championship at the end of the 2004-05 season.

Coming from Ohio, Kader first heard about William and Mary from a handwritten letter in 2000, before the age of recruiting via internet. After visiting, he said he fell in love with Williamsburg despite mostly looking at Big Ten schools in the Midwest.

I got the letter from Coach Daub, and my parents were really adamant about looking at this one,” he said. “I took four official visits to Big Ten schools, and for my fifth one I said alright I’ll check [William and Mary] out … I shocked myself with how much I actually liked Williamsburg itself … I ended up getting the opportunity [to come here], and I’m very glad that I made that initial contact.”

“I got the letter from Coach Daub, and my parents were really adamant about looking at this one,” he said. “I took four official visits to Big Ten schools, and for my fifth one I said alright I’ll check [William and Mary] out … I shocked myself with how much I actually liked Williamsburg itself … I ended up getting the opportunity [to come here], and I’m very glad that I made that initial contact.”

I ended up working at a tennis academy in South Carolina and working with some of the top juniors in the country, and I did enjoy that, but even at that point in time I said you know if I want to stay in tennis, then I think I would like to work at the college level.”

After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, Kader continued his interest in tennis, leading to a short professional career overseas in France and some small-time coaching gigs before breaking into Division I collegiate coaching.

“As soon as I got done playing here in 2005, that first year I went and started working with some very young kids, right after playing competitive tennis, and realized that wasn’t going to be for me,” Kader said. “I ended up working at a tennis academy in South Carolina and working with some of the top juniors in the country, and I did enjoy that, but even at that point in time I said you know if I want to stay in tennis, then I think I would like to work at the college level.”

After leaving the tennis academy, Kader made calls to many coaches, eventually landing an assistant coaching job at North Carolina State in 2006, just one year after finishing his collegiate playing career. A member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a Power Five conference, N.C. State provided a prestigious career platform for a tennis coach, to which Kader attributes somewhat to luck.

“I kind of lucked out in that regard, going into the ACC as an assistant coach right away, but it was a great experience, and through that is how I knew I wanted to stay in coaching,” Kader said.

After leaving the Wolfpack, Kader moved to Texas for his first head coaching position at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He held the position for five years, his team winning the Conference-USA championship and Kader himself winning Coach of the Year for C-USA in 2015. In the summer offseason, Kader was alerted to the open position at the College and immediately took action to apply when Daub announced his retirement.

When I saw [Daub’s announcement], a little bit of a shock at first but definitely a lot of excitement that this would be my chance to get back to William and Mary. The process of going through interviews and the hiring process felt like three years when in reality it took probably about five weeks.”

“I had spoken to him a few different times … I kept in contact with him quite a bit, he’s still one of my best coaching friends, kind of a mentor, someone that I still look up to and talk to quite a bit about college coaching as well as everything else,” Kader said. “When I saw [Daub’s announcement], a little bit of a shock at first but definitely a lot of excitement that this would be my chance to get back to William and Mary. The process of going through interviews and the hiring process felt like three years when in reality it took probably about five weeks.”

Eager to get back to his alma mater, Kader was announced as Daub’s replacement officially in late August. Going from reigning C-USA champions to taking over the reigning CAA champions, Kader said that he felt that it was both a challenge to coach  an established team but also not a challenge due to his familiarity with the program.

“It certainly helps that I know what the players have gone through,” Kader said. “I know that Coach Daub always recruits very talented players and he always recruits very good guys, so I knew coming in there weren’t going to be any conflicts, any issues, personality-wise … but you never know how you’re going to mesh with everyone. They’re not players that I recruited, so you never know how they’ll respond to you; they don’t know how I’m going to respond to them.”

Kader and the team appear to be meshing exceptionally, posting a 7-2 record for the dual match season that began in January, including a perfect 6-0 at home in McCormack-Nagelson Tennis Center. In a world where the strictness of collegiate philosophy is a hot topic, Kader spoke about how he uses a system that largely allows for self-determination and being responsible for oneself without a harsh code of rules.

It certainly helps that I know what the players have gone through,” Kader said. “I know that Coach Daub always recruits very talented players and he always recruits very good guys, so I knew coming in there weren’t going to be any conflicts, any issues, personality-wise … but you never know how you’re going to mesh with everyone.

“I like to give the guys a lot of ownership of their own game,” he said. “Not just tennis-wise, but also kind of in life. My general rule is don’t be an idiot, as broad as that sounds … I don’t sit there and say can’t do this, can’t do this, can’t do this, I just say think before you act … There is a baseline of what everybody does, and from there, some freedom and ownership of yourself in the classroom, on the court, and in public. My main goal is to get these guys ready for the real world.”

Much of Kader’s coaching style, both in play and off-court philosophy was shaped by his time at the College. He said he believes the challenges of being a student-athlete with the Tribe provide a solid starting point for life, whether continuing in sports or not.

“It’s definitely challenging, the academics are very difficult … but [William and Mary] is not recruiting kids that can’t handle,” Kader said. “It’s a lot of tennis, it’s practice, it’s weightlifting, it’s conditioning, on top of all the studying … It’s difficult, but it is manageable …  a perfect opportunity for life after college.”

“Definitely a lot more buildings, but it still has the feel of William and Mary, he said. “It doesn’t feel overcrowded or overpopulated, everything is still there, which is what makes William and Mary such a special place.

Continuing the vein of reflecting on his time as student, Kader spoke about how different the College is from just 11 years ago. He said what changed the most was the amount of buildings as well as the change to using athletics as a way to build the College up.

“Definitely a lot more buildings, but it still has the feel of William and Mary, he said. “It doesn’t feel overcrowded or overpopulated, everything is still there, which is what makes William and Mary such a special place. … They’re putting on the [For the Bold] campaign right now, and athletics actually has a piece in there. That shows, I think, that athletics is getting exposed a little bit more. College athletics is a business, and it is a great way to reach out to people who may not have heard of William and Mary before.”

Kader said the 2005 championship was the highlight of his time at the College, a culmination of the team’s efforts of four years trying to make it to the NCAA tournament. The finals match against Virginia Commonwealth (who left the CAA in 2012) was an upset of the No. 2 team over the No. 1 team for the first Tribe CAA championship since 1990.

VCU kind of owned the CAA back at that time. To beat them in the finals in the last chance for us to actually make NCAAs and finally get it done was very exciting.”

“We had a great doubles point, our guys stepped up in singles, and we were finally able to beat them,” Kader said. “VCU kind of owned the CAA back at that time. To beat them in the finals in the last chance for us to actually make NCAAs and finally get it done was very exciting.”

Now, a decade after his historic moment, he holds the coaching spot, where he says he feels at home achieving a longtime dream to coach at the College.

Once I had gotten into the college coaching field and knew that’s what my profession was going to be, this is where I wanted to be. To actually have the opportunity to be back here, I’m definitely loving it. William and Mary is pretty much my home.”

“It’s definitely what I had always wanted,” Kader said. “Once I had gotten into the college coaching field and knew that’s what my profession was going to be, this is where I wanted to be. To actually have the opportunity to be back here, I’m definitely loving it. William and Mary is pretty much my home.”

The tennis season continues throughout the semester, where Kader will have his first opportunity to coach a team in the CAA tournament April 22-24 in Elon, N.C.

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Nick Cipolla

Sports Editor Nick Cipolla '17 is a neuroscience major from Virginia Beach, Va. He was previously Associate Sports Editor.