Eric Hayes and Sybil Blalock have known each other for a few decades, so the head tennis coach at Troy called Mercer’s senior women’s administrator and senior associate athletics director about the Bears’ tennis coaching vacancy ... for some of his former assistants.
“I wasn’t looking to move,” Hayes said. “The more I talked to Sybil, I became interested myself.” And he got the job. Hayes’ hiring was announced at a news conference Thursday.
He’ll have his work cut out for him.
Mercer’s men have never reached the A-Sun tournament finals, dating back to the first A-Sun season in 1979 and had only two first-team all-conference picks since 2000.
The women have been shut out of the tournament finals as well (since 1986) and had only three second-team singles all-conference selections and a doubles pick since 2000.
The A-Sun website lists regular-season records since 2006, and Mercer’s men are 58-102 overall and 25-49 in A-Sun play while the women are 45-118 and 14-60 in that span.
“I like that,” Hayes said of accepting a challenge. “They haven’t had much success, at least not nationally. There’s no reason why not.”
Warren Woolfolk resigned from the position in April after four seasons.
Hayes had success at his stops with Troy, N.C. State, South Florida and Kansas.
Troy’s women were seeded third for the 2013 Sun Belt tournament and got a bye but lost 4-3 to Middle Tennessee State and finished 17-6. The Trojans were seventh in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Southern Region final poll and are 64-46 in the past five seasons.
Troy’s men went 8-17 in 2013, losing 4-0 to Georgia State in the Sun Belt tournament opener. They are 36-56 the past four seasons, including 20-5 in 2010, a season that included an NCAA tournament trip.
“I know Eric, and I know his success,” Mercer athletics director Jim Cole said. “He’ll combine great academics with a very successful athletics program.”
Hayes is from Suffern, N.Y., and was an all-conference pick at Carson-Newman, of the South Atlantic Conference, then an NAIA conference. He was an honorable-mention NAIA All-American as a senior.
He was hired as Kansas’ women’s head coach in 1988 at age 23, the youngest head coach in the old Big Eight in any sport at the time. The Jayhawks went 27-20 in his two seasons.
Hayes went 33-31 in three seasons as men’s head coach at South Florida before becoming the Director of Professional Players at the Palmer Tennis Academy in Tampa, Fla.
He took over the men’s program at N.C. State in 1996 and left after the 2002 season with a 63-133 record and a trip to the NCAA tournament in 1999. Hayes was hired at Troy nearly three months after resigning at N.C. State in the summer of 2002 and coached the men and the women, as he will at Mercer.
Hayes said Macon as a tennis city added to the attractiveness of the job.
“There’s great community support,” said Hayes, whose news conference was attended by local tennis mover and shaker Jaime Kaplan. “That blew me away. I didn’t know that until I got here and met Jaime Kaplan and kind of researched the Macon (area) and (Macon) Tennis Association.”