Sunday Conversation: Craig Tiley

Sunday Conversation: Craig Tiley

Craig Tiley laid the foundation for the continued success of the Illinois men’s tennis program. Tiley, who coached at Illinois from 1992 until his resignation in 2005, led the Illini to an NCAA team championship in 2003 and a national-record 64-match winning streak. Staff writer Scott Richey caught up with Tiley,
the current CEO of Tennis Australia, on Thursday from New York to talk about his time at Illinois, former Illini Kevin Anderson and his thoughts on the renovated Atkins Tennis Center:

How satisfying was it to see Kevin Anderson beat Andy Murray this week and reach his first major quarterfinal?
I was excited for Kevin and Kelsey, his wife. He’s been a journeyman, and he’s a great poster boy for doing things the right way. He’s been extremely professional from the very beginning and committed to development. When you’ve had success like he had, it’s very deserving.

Was Anderson reaching his first major quarterfinal more of a matter of when and not if?
With him, it was definitely when. He’s come close before.

Just how has Anderson progressed through the professional ranks?
He’s done it systematically. He hasn’t made big leaps. Every year’s just been an improvement on the previous year. Monday, he should be up to (No. 12 in the ATP rankings). To be the best among the best, that’s a big accomplishment in any profession. His progression through the ranks has been really remarkable. Again, he’s very deserving of it because he put the work in. He’s a good example of someone if you work at it and are consistent and do it day in and day out, you can accomplish great things.

Did you see that from him at Illinois?
I’ve always believed it. When he was young, it was a no-brainer to have him on the team and for him to have success on the team. There was no question. You knew the maturity and discipline he had as a young boy; you knew he was destined for some type of success.

How would you compare Illini Anderson to pro Anderson?
Just a bit older, married and doing well financially — building a profile, globally, for himself. He’s just taken the success he had as an Illini and put it on the world stage. His game’s similar, but he’s improved it. He hits the ball with greater pace and more consistency, and he can defend much better. He’s improved the strength of his serve. That’s what’s really helped him.

What was it like to build the tennis program at Illinois?
It was a 10-year plan we had in place. It was the work of a lot of good people. It was having a team focus on everything that we did, and it was a good reminder if you get the right people in the program — the right staff — you can accomplish some special things. It was a fun journey, and everyone today is still great friends. Babies are named after each other. It’s still a very close group. (Friday), I’m going to catch up with Amer Delic. We all stay in touch.

Now that you’re 10 years removed from the moment, what was it like to leave Illinois for Australia?
It was very difficult to do. I had a 10-year plan, and we reached the end of that 10-year plan and it felt like it was time for another challenge. But I didn’t want to leave. It’s a fantastic institution.
Sometimes you’ve got to make the tough decisions in life to progress and do something different. That’s what I was driven by — the next opportunity and the next challenge. No different than when an athlete leaves after four years.

What’s been the most rewarding part of being CEO of Tennis Australia?
It’s been great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This role I have now brings another set of challenges. It’s on the global scale, but it’s no different than the team management and leadership principles coaching at the University of Illinois. It’s all the same — just on a different scale. It comes with more challenges, issues to handle, but how you respond is all the same.

What do you think about the continued success of the tennis program under Brad Dancer?
It’s fantastic. I think they’re knocking on the door to win a national title. We still follow what happens with Illini athletics and the university every single day. My wife’s a graduate, and we care deeply about it.

Illinois currently has an Australian on the roster in sophomore Aleks Vukic. What do you know about him?
I don’t know him that well, but I do know him and I’m very happy to see him have a great year last year, and I think there’s great things to come for him. I’ve had great reports on him from Brad and some of the former Illini.

How often are you in contact with Dancer?
We stay in touch occasionally. I stepped away from the program, so I didn’t want to interfere. I saw Brad last week, and it was good to catch up. When I left, he wasn’t married and didn’t have kids. Now he’s married and has three kids. We’re both married (now) and have six kids between the two of us.

What did you think about the renovations to Atkins Tennis Center and Khan Outdoor Complex?
I was back there for a 10-year reunion in 2013. They’re great. I’d like to see more done. It’s a great facility.

When you left, there was some discussion that maybe you’d like to come back one day as the Illinois athletic director. Has that thought come to mind since?
When you’re in a role like I have right now, it’s so involved globally with so many things, I don’t think about that. That’s not for me to decide anyway. We’ve enjoyed the relationship with the University of Illinois we’ve had from a distance, and we care about its success.

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Illini1973 wrote on September 13, 2015 at 1:09 am
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Coach T should have been our AD.  We wouldn't be in the situation we're in now.  He is a man of high character, a true professional, and well respected by his peers.