On June 30, Howard Joffe made a surprising decision.
Two of them, actually.
He resigned as the women’s tennis coach at Texas A&M to take the same position at Texas. The move is believed to be unprecedented, the first time a head coach from one of the schools left for a head coaching position at the other.
By acquiring Joffe, Texas hopes it has stabilized a program that was rocked by the offseason departures of head coaches Patty Fendick-McCain and Danielle Lund McNamara over the past two summers.
In explaining his departure, Joffe made another surprising move. He wrote a letter to his administration and his athletes at A&M. It was not a typical farewell message filled with fluffy platitudes. Joffe got personal, revealing he was leaving College Station to strengthen his private life.
The letter was in lieu of a common news release and was posted to the Aggies’ website.
“A large part of my decision to leave has everything to do with my private life, ” Joffe wrote. “Aside from my passion
for my career, at 43 years old it is time to make room for the opportunity to have a meaningful private life, relationship and even a family. The chance to pursue this critical element makes moving to Austin an obvious choice.”
Last week, Joffe declined to expound on his personal life to the American-Statesman, politely saying he wished to keep details private. He did, however, offer another reason for his career change: The job at Texas was too much to pass up.
“It was difficult to leave, but the reality is the University of Texas, if I can make this analogy, is truly one of the very few schools with a designer name, ” Joffe said. “The Texas Longhorns are pretty much a brand name that really is unmatched in college athletics. While I was comfortable where I was, the possibility to do well over an extended amount of time â€¦ (Texas) is as good of a job as there can be.”
By any measurement, Joffe succeeded in his four seasons at A&M. After finishing No. 17 nationally in 2012, the Aggies posted three straight top-10 finishes and were NCAA runners-up in 2013. Conversely, last season Texas went 10-11 and failed to make the 64-team NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years. The Longhorns did not have a singles player ranked in the top 50. The team also is essentially homeless, as construction on a new facility in East Austin has yet to begin.
Reminded of the challenges of being a tennis vagabond, Joffe said to keep in mind that Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, who ascended to the world’s No. 1 ranking in 2008, practiced in an unfilled swimming pool in her war-torn country.
On June 3, Lund McNamara quit after coaching less than a full year at Texas. No reason was given.
“It might have been damaging to one player, and another player might have thought nothing of it, ” Joffe said. “My charge is to role up my sleeves and figure out what is the best way for these six young ladies to perform at their very best.”
Joffe said he will retain assistant coach Courtney Dolehide, who was put in a tough spot when Lund McNamara quit.
Joffe, a strapping 6-foot-5-inch native of South Africa, made it to the 1992 NCAA semifinals while playing for Pepperdine. In the quarterfinals, he knocked off current Tennessee men’s assistant Chris Woodruff, who would go on to win two ATP tournament titles and climb to No. 29 in the world. By comparison, Joffe had a pedestrian pro career, playing in minor tournaments for four years before returning to South Africa to launch his coaching career.
But his players best beware: Joffe can still play. “I think I’m willing to say this; that I play more tennis with the kids on my team than any other head coach in the country, ” he said. “Every calorie is going to be burned on the UT ladies. No one will give the students here a better effort.”
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