Promise then quit
By Jim Reffkin

January 2003

Do you remember when John McEnroe went on and on about why he should be the Davis Cup Coach. He continuously babbled to anyone and everyone that he was the man for the job. Promising that he was capable of recruiting the very best players, coach them to victory and bring respect back to our Davis Cup team. And this was while the USTA had an extremely capable Davis Cup Coach, Tom Gullickson. So what happened? They hire McEnroe and he quits after one season!

As we all know, talk is cheap and it is very embarrassing for the USTA that they listened to a former player who fantasized his way into directing a program with no meaningful track record of team management. We all know, McEnroe was a great player who may be capable of coaching/mothering one single player at a time, but he quickly found out that he was responsible for a team, and a program which would take a huge, unselfish effort on his part to manage. It was a wake-up call to the USTA that just because someone has great player skills - it helps - it does not mean he is capable of the huge task of directing a team or a program. There are experienced corporate management skills that all coaches in every sport must have - McEnroe doesn't. Ask any college tennis coach or any director of a high performance junior development program; on court coaching is the easy part but leadership and planning is everything.

Well, its happened again, talk is cheap and promises are not kept. In New York, at our USTA semiannual meeting, I listened to Paul Annacone, the new managing director of the USA Tennis High Performance program and was impressed with what his expectations were. But it occurred to me that he sounded a little too much like McEnroe, his experience as a coach was "one on one" as a traveling coach and unfortunately he brought little in the way of high level organizational skills.

He was hired to create the optimal developmental environment for all American players, as well as to make sure it will be accessible and affordable at the community, section, national, and international levels. Well, after "talking" about the changes he anticipated and dismissing the efforts of the existing USTA Youth Competition and Training Committee, he obviously was confronted with management problems and a USTA volunteer resistance to change. It was like he was trying to get a drink of water out of a fire hydrant - everything seemed to go everywhere. The "helter skelter" plan he attempted to collaborate with the USTA sections was so off the wall, his lack of experience did him in. So, like McEnroe, it was time to quit and go back to being a traveling coach to Pete Sampras.

The good news is thank God the USTA has Billie Jean King managing the Fed Cup Team, she has all the necessary management skills that McEnroe and Annacone do not have. The most important skill being courage (the Capriati fiasco) when things get tough, and a deep responsibility to our country's tennis community. Billie Jean King did not have to make promises, she understands relentless persistence in getting the job done and does not have the word quit in her vocabulary.