Brian Boland has never shied away from a challenge.
That rang true when he interviewed for the Virginia men’s tennis job 16 years ago at 29 years old. It still resonated when the USTA (United States Tennis Association) offered him the job as the Player Development Head of Men’s Tennis. Ultimately, a combination of perfect timing and the allure of that challenge led Boland away from the pinnacle of college tennis to a spot on the world stage.
Boland, who will finish out this season through May 29 with the Cavaliers before taking on his new role full time, discussed his decision to change jobs Wednesday with media assembled at the John Paul Jones Arena. But first, he had to address his team at Virginia. The Hoos own a 17-0 record this season and they are the reigning ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) National Team Indoor Champions.
“It was emotional for me but it came from the heart,” Boland said. “I didn’t spend a lot of time preparing my statement, I just spoke from the heart. I love these players, this is one of the closest teams I have ever had. They are understanding and supportive and I have no doubt that we have an opportunity now to focus on what we intend to do for the rest of the season. … We are going to turn this into a huge positive. We are going to do something special.”
Something special is exactly what’s been going on in Charlottesville for the past 16 years. Boland elevated UVA’s men’s tennis program from an afterthought in the ACC to the nation’s premier program. The Cavaliers have won three of the last four NCAA Championships and are among the favorites to take the crown again this season. In addition to the outdoor titles, they’ve also captured six ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
UVA has also won 11 ACC Championships and 13 ACC Regular Season Championships as a team. Three players won the NCAA singles title and three duos won the NCAA doubles title too. That’s all come among consistent success to the tune of 436 wins and 57 losses, an 88.4% winning percentage. At one point, the Hoos won 140 consecutive matches against ACC opponents, a streak that spanned a full decade and is the longest winning streak in league history in any sport.
The program has produced 42 All-Americans in his tenure to date.
Senior Luca Corinteli said the team would love to send Boland out with another set of titles this season, but he didn’t fall into the trap of calling it a must win or fail situation.
“I think the team has had some time ever since the news came out. There’s two ways you can look at it,” Corinteli said. “You can obviously be sad and sulk at the fact that Brian will not be around next year. But it is a pretty mature group of guys and t his is just going to motivate us even more to do everything in our power to compete as hard as we possibly can and send Brian out on the right note. Whether or not that is a National Championship, that is not in our control, but we will do everything in our power to give ourselves the best chance and to prepare ourselves for that moment. If it happens, I think Brian is the person that deserves it most in the world. I think that we are going to go that route, obviously, and try our hardest and hope the chips fall in our place.”
As Corinteli spoke those words, Boland seated just a few feet to his right smiled slightly and nodded. The process of building a team, building relationships, and building excellence with work habits, discipline, and off-court influence is always what mattered most to Boland. So to hear one of the leaders on this year’s team set that exact line of thinking out so clearly – compete as hard as we can, the title itself is not in our control, prepare for the best chance – has been a large part of the reward for him as a college coach.
Virginia, after all, has landed on both sides of the emotional coin when it comes to the NCAA Championship pursuit. The Cavaliers came up short numerous times before breaking through with the 2013 title. In fact, that season marked the eighth straight season with a trip to at least the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals. A 4-3 loss to USC in 2010-11 was a gut-puncher for the ‘almost’ nature of it. Eventually, however, the Hoos finished their climb and have won the three recent titles.
Through all of that, Boland remained focus on developing his players both on and off the court.
“It is just the day-to-day opportunity to get to know these guys and reach deep inside of them so they can maximize themselves as leaders and as players and human beings,” Boland said of his fondest memories at UVA. “To me, that is so fulfilling and we spend a lot of time building a foundation for every player in this program to become a great leader. At the end of the day, they all have influence so are they going to use that influence with their words, behaviors, and actions positively or negatively? We spend countless hours making sure that they connect the dots of their ability to become better people, players, and get the most out of themselves. And to me, that process has been so fulfilling and I intend to continue that type of life work as I transition into this position at a high level with American Tennis.”
Boland painted the picture of those possibilities all the way back when he interviewed for the Virginia job. He believed UVA could be one of the nation’s top tennis programs due to its blend of academics, athletics, and social opportunities. He believed a champion could come from the ACC.
So he started by bringing in highly ranked recruits and by convincing some players to go through college tennis to pursue their professional dreams. Meeting that challenge head on helped him set the foundation at Virginia and then build it into a powerhouse. He intends to undertake a similar process with US Tennis.
“That is something that I care deeply about, is the opportunity to develop relationships with players and allow them to maximize themselves,” Boland said. “To do that, I believe it takes first and foremost, building a relationship and understanding who they are. That is a process that takes a tremendous amount of energy. I intend to build a relationship with all of the top players representing the United States in the world. I have already reached out to every American in the top 100 today and look forward to continuing to build those relationships so we can serve them at the highest level and have the opportunity to get into second weeks of Grand Slams. I believe American tennis certainly is on the right track but there is a lot of work to be done.”
Ah, back to the challenge. When the news first broke that Boland had taken on the USTA Player Development Head of Men’s Tennis job, Virginia fans reached into the school’s own history to understand the move. Bruce Arena led the UVA men’s soccer team for 18 years and rolled up a record of 295-58-32. His tenure included five National Championships, including four straight from 1991-94.
Arena, of course, left the Cavaliers to take the head coaching job of D.C. United in Major League Soccer where he won the first MLS Cup in 1996. Two years later, he took the reins of the U.S. National Team and produced a spot in the 2002 World Cup Quarterfinals and pair of Gold Cup titles. Arena recently was brought back in as the U.S. National Team coach to try to get the club qualified for the 2018 World Cup.
Boland said he looked at the coaching path of Craig Tiley, who left Illinois to lead Tennis Australia and the Australian Open. Tiley won two ITA Team Indoor titles and the 2003 National Championship with the Illini.
“It’s totally humbling. He is certainly one of the greatest coaches in U.S. soccer history and he left a legacy at the University of Virginia that is unprecedented,” Boland said of Arena. “Even to be mentioned in the same breath is a great honor. I think someone that I followed over the years is Craig Tiley, who is the executive director of Australian tennis and director of the Australian open. He was the head coach at Illinois for 10 years. I’ve spend a lot of time over the years talking to him, discussing world tennis and the opportunity that might be out there for me in the future. He has been a great mentor for me over the years and I really appreciate the time and effort Craig has put in to speaking with me. It’s all about timing and I believe this is the right time to make this next step. I am really looking forward to taking on a bigger challenge and I will embrace that.”
The timing of the USTA opening aligned with family ties for Boland. The new job will relocate the family to Orlando, Florida where he will be close to his parents and siblings. All live within an hour from where this post will be located. The opportunity to offer stronger family ties while also pursuing high level tennis and a new challenge proved to be the perfect mix to draw Boland away from Charlottesville.
Boland discussed the possibilities with his wife Becky and they decided to make a move for the family.
“We decided what was best for the Boland family and the right time. And it’s the right time. There is no question about it,” Boland said. “I’m leaving for two reasons. The first one is that my extended family has relocated to Florida. … Becky and I have dedicated our lives to college tennis. We’ve been away from our immediate family for 25 years. It’s time for my parents to have the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren and get to know them. And that’s not their fault because they are busy people. My dad said he retired, but he never did. They have a lot of obligations so they haven’t had that opportunity and I want to provide it to them. Secondly, it’s time for a bigger challenge. I really believe I can help American tennis and I intend to do that. I will put ever bit of energy, knowledge and experience into the players that are trying to succeed at the highest level. These are young men that need support and there is going to be a massive challenge awaiting me and I intend to take it head on.”