June 10, 2013
Game, Set, Match
Bobby Bayliss’ enduring impact on the Notre Dame and college tennis communities will be greatly missed.
By Bernie Cafarelli, Assistant Athletics Director/Media Relations Director
Seven hundred sixty-five career wins.
Fifth on the NCAA career wins list.
Twelve-time coach-of-the year honoree.
Twenty-two NCAA championship appearances.
Sixteen conference titles.
Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Famer.
Those are but a few of the accomplishments during the illustrious 44-year head-coaching career of Bobby Bayliss.
This past Friday evening, June 7, family, friends and colleagues gathered to pay tribute to the retiring coaching great and honor the man who had guided the Notre Dame men’s tennis team for more than 25 years and nurtured it into one of the nation’s most respected programs.
An intense competitor, he built a program the right way with humility and with class.
Trusted. Respected. Selfless. Legendary.
Just a few of the words that were used to describe the man whose impact on the collegiate tennis community spanned more than just South Bend, Notre Dame, MIT and the Naval Academy. Clearly evident throughout the evening from those that spoke was that Bayliss was a man who shaped people’s lives.
What was Bayliss’ impact on the life of senior deputy director of athletics Missy Conboy? If it weren’t for him, Conboy would never have met or married her husband, Bill Mountford, who played for Bayliss at the Naval Academy.
“During the NCAA tournament in May of 1989, Bobby and I were talking tennis strategy and we were also talking about my social life as well,” said Conboy. “He then mentioned to me he coached a couple of guys at the Naval Academy that he thought he could set me up with. Fortunately for me he picked the right one, and two years later, I married bachelor number one.”
Bill Richards, head coach at Ball State for the past 41 seasons and one of Bayliss’ closest friends spoke on behalf of the tennis coaching fraternity. He remembered well the first time the Irish and the Cardinals played each other indoors in 1987 and showed great appreciation for the fact that the two schools have played each other annually since that first match.
But Richards emphasized his extreme appreciation and admiration for the way in which Bayliss built the Irish program.
“As I reflect on Bobby’s 26 years at Notre Dame, first and foremost, I’ll remember the way that he built this program from the ground floor up by doing it the right way with intense competitiveness; he taught his players to win with humility and lose with class,” said Richards. “It’s very pure and very simple, and you think that it should be simple, but that’s not always the case today in the world of college tennis.”
He noted Bayliss’ intense nature and competitiveness and how he hated to lose. But, as he (Richards) further remarked, Bayliss always challenged his players with the hope of making them better on the tennis court.
Richards envied Bayliss’ detailed scouting reports and how well prepared his Notre Dame teams were for matches.
“No one had his teams more ready for matches than Bobby,” said Richards. “He probably knew more about my teams than I did. No one in college tennis was more meticulous in scouting a team and having his team ready to play than Bobby.”
Richard also emphasized the impact that Bayliss has had on the growth of the sport and college tennis and his selfless dedication to the ITA and the coaching profession. Bayliss has served on every ITA committee ranging from assisting with the developmental program to chairing the ethics and infractions committee.
Richards noted that Bayliss also was instrumental in helping bring the NCAA men’s tennis tournament to South Bend in 1994, the first time the championship was taken out of a warm-weather climate.
Most importantly, Richards, remarked, “Bobby was a friend and mentor to so many of us in the coaching profession.”
Speaking on behalf of the Notre Dame coaches was current women’s tennis coach Jay Louderback. Louderback, who has shared the Eck Tennis Pavilion offices with Bayliss for the last 25 years, credits the Hall of Famer with persuading him to take the job at Notre Dame.
“When I was coaching at Iowa State and the job came open at Notre Dame, Bobby called me,” said Louderback. “I really didn’t know him at the time, but we had a `short’ hour-and-a half phone conversation. I didn’t do anything for two or three days and then he called me back.”
As Louderback recalled, Bayliss’ second phone call to him was much sterner in his insistence that he apply for the job. Louderback did apply and when he came for an interview, it was Bayliss who helped provide more than just professional advice.
“When I came to Notre Dame for my interview, Bobby showed me around campus the first day,” said Louderback. “When it came time for me to have my interview with Dick Rosenthal (athletic director at the time), I went back to the hotel to get ready and realized that I didn’t have any shoes. I quickly hurried back to the Eck (Eck Tennis Pavilion) and Bobby gave me his shoes.”
Louderback squeezed his size 11 feet into the size 10 shoes and so began a 25-year relationship.
With their offices housed in the intimate Eck building Louderback and Bayliss forged a lasting friendship that went beyond talking about match strategy and practice plans. Louderback noted that Bayliss has shaped the lives of many, but it was the two phone calls back 25 years ago that helped change his life.
Throughout his coaching tenure, Bayliss took great pride in the development of his players both on the court and in the classroom. During his coaching tenure, six of his players were recipients of the Byron V. Kanaley, the highest honor awarded to a Notre Dame student-athlete.
Representing Irish tennis alumni in attendance was Ricky Buhrman, who transferred to Notre Dame from nearby Holy Cross College. Currently an investment officer at Notre Dame, Buhrman went on to earn his M.B.A., but recounted the great impact and influence that Bayliss had on his life.
Buhrmann noted that Bayliss’ legacy for him was not only that of a great coach, but also that of a great teacher. While not an impact player during his three seasons, attending the University and playing tennis for Bayliss helped shape his life today; his lifelong dream of being a student at Notre Dame was made possible by the coaching legend.
He fondly recalled Bayliss’ kindness during his senior year of high school. While not a top-tier Division I recruit, Burhman was not accepted to Notre Dame initially, but did receive offers from some other Division I schools, thanks to Bayliss who knew that the young teen at the time wanted to continue to play tennis at the collegiate level. But it was weekly calls between the two that only amplified his decision to attend Notre Dame.
“Coach taught us more than just tennis; he taught us how to be a loving father and husband,” said Buhrman. “His kindness helped shape my life and experience as a student-athlete at Notre Dame. Coaching for him was more than just a vocation, it was a calling.”
Bayliss, he noted, taught his teams fortitude, prudence and temperance. A former professor of English at the Naval Academy who taught his teams the virtue of lives; he was truly a former “Renaissance Man.” Bayliss was an individual, Buhrman explained, who appreciated and valued the lessons of integrity, humility and the desire for fairness.
“He celebrated the best of competitive spirit,” said Buhrman. “He wanted to have competitive teams, but never as absolutes.”
In introducing Bayliss’ successor, Ryan Sachire, a former Irish standout and assistant coach, Conboy noted the `coaching tree’ that Bayliss has established among former assistant coaches. Among those present on Friday evening were two former assistants, current Princeton head coach Billy Pate and current Colorado College men’s and women’s tennis coach Todd Doebler.
Sachire remembered well his first conversation 18 years ago with Bayliss on July 1, 1995.
“It was around 7:30 at night and I had just gotten home from losing a tennis match and Bobby calls me on the first day of the recruiting period,” recalled Sachire. “He wanted to know if I was a interested in coming to Notre Dame. Being a non-Catholic and then a true `Fighting Irish hater,’ the chances of coming to school here were slim, but that 15-minute conversation with Bobby gave me a glimpse into what made him such an incredible person and such a great coach.”
Bayliss’ passion for the game and his commitment to education eventually sold Sachire on coming to Notre Dame and playing for the coaching legend. The notion for Sachire of being a student-athlete at an institution that valued the virtues of family, tradition and faith also had great appeal and draw.
Sachire noted Bayliss’ humility, character and passion for the game of tennis and his ability to develop players to their highest potential made his experience playing at Notre Dame such a life-changing experience.
“It has been his relentless pursuit of excellence and his unwavering commitment and compassion to his players that has fueled me,” Sachire said. “He has served as the ultimate role model for me as a coach and will continue to inspire me throughout my career. “
Following Sachire’s remarks, Bayliss took the podium and was presented with three special gifts on behalf of the athletic department — a photo collage, a Notre Dame rocking chair and a Notre Dame Alumni Club trip of his choice for he and his wife, Pat.
In his remarks, Bayliss was especially grateful and felt blessed that he could do something that he loved for his entire life. He thanked his family and those in attendance, especially the support of his wife Pat. Bayliss noted that it was Pat who kept him grounded.
“The longer you coach, the wins and losses tend to run together, but it’s the relationships that last forever,” Bayliss said.
“Notre Dame taught me the value and importance of the Notre Dame family and the Notre Dame spirit. And yes, they are real. It allowed me to coach on the biggest stage.”