To say that 12th year head coach Craig Tiley has put Illinois Tennis on the map is a major understatement. The veteran coach has taken the Fighting Illini program from a virtual unknown when the team went 4-23 in 1992-93, his year as interim coach, to the very top of college tennis in just 11 years.
In May 2003, his vision and hard work, along with the efforts of those around him, were validated in a big way when Illinois went 32-0, posting 17 shutouts on its way to the program's first-ever National Indoor and NCAA championships. The icing on the cake came when Amer Delic delivered Illinois' inaugural NCAA singles crown and Brian Wilson and Rajeev Ram captured the Illini's second NCAA doubles title. Among many other accolades, Tiley was named NCAA Coach of the Year for the second time in his career for the team's accomplishments in 2002-03.
Last year, in his 11th season, Tiley enjoyed more of the same success. The Illini posted a 32-1 record and claimed stake to the No. 1 ranking nearly all season before their bid for consecutive NCAA Championships fell short in the
National Semifinal to UCLA. Illinois did however break new barriers in 2003-04 as they set a new NCAA record with 64 consecutives victories in dual match play and claimed their second consecutive USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championship. The Illini also notched their eighth straight Big Ten crown.
Tiley's rise to the top has come neither suddenly nor unexpectedly. His Illinois teams have now won eight consecutive Big Ten regular-season championships and have come out on top in seven of the last eight conference tournaments. It was in February 2002 that the rest of the nation began to take note, as Tiley's squad reached the top of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national rankings, something no other Region IV or Big Ten team had ever accomplished. Although that stay lasted just a week, a year later, the Illini won the ITA National Indoor Tournament for the first time, and moved from No. 2 to No. 1 in the rankings. They remained at the top the rest of the year.
Other signs of Illinois' ascension to the top included a record streak of 57 victories over Big Ten foes in regular-season and conference tournament play between 1997 and 2001. Even prior to their national titles in 2003, Tiley's UI teams also had advanced to both the finals of the ITA National Indoor Championships and reached the NCAA Elite Eight on three occasions.
Tiley's plan for developing champions yielded a number of individual triumphs even before the NCAA singles and doubles titles in 2003. He has produced one or more All-Americans at Illinois each year since 1998. Among them are Cary Franklin and Graydon Oliver, Illinois' first national champions (NCAA doubles title in 2000). Amer Delic teamed with Oliver in 2001 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Doubles Tournament. Delic and classmate Michael Calkins paired up in 2002 for a run to the NCAA semifinals. Tiley has groomed 10 different players to All-American status, which all have earned over the last seven seasons.
Under Tiley's direction, Illinois' season records have steadily improved. In his first year as head coach, he guided the Fighting Illini to a 13-15 record after having gone 4-23 as interim coach in 1993. Over the next three years, the Illini put together impressive records of 18-10 in 1995, 14-10 in 1996 and 18-10 in 1997. It was in 1998 that Illinois tennis made its breakthrough. The team went undefeated in the conference and ended the season with a 21-6 mark, the second-highest win total in school history. The Illini have soared even higher since then, averaging nearly 28 wins and just under four losses over the past six seasons and peaking at 64-1 over the last two seasons.
In 11 years as head coach at Illinois, Tiley has recorded a 249-73 record. Three years ago, Tiley passed Illini legend Howard Braun for most career coaching wins at Illinois. Braun collected 183 wins in 24 seasons at the Illinois helm. Tiley also holds Illini records for best career winning percentage (.773) and most Big Ten wins (123).
Tiley's coaching success is also evident on other pages of the Illinois record books. Over the years, 32 Illinois players have amassed 29 or more singles victories in a season. Of those 32 times, 30 have come under the direction of Tiley, and 28 of those occasions have been during the last nine years. The most prolific of those players is Gavin Sontag, who won an amazing 40 matches in 1998. Ten players have won 100 or more singles matches in their Illini careers; nine of them played for Tiley, including Michael Calkins (2000-04), the winningest player in the history of the program with 123.
As busy as Tiley is coaching the Fighting Illini, he also finds time to work with several professional players. Tiley coached the South African Davis Cup team from 1998-2001 and has worked with several of the world's top touring pros, including Grand Slam finalist John-Laffnie DeJager. Tiley's team of DeJager and Robbie Koenig advanced to the semifinals of the 1998 U.S. Open. Tiley currently is the personal coach for three players on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) circuit: South Africans Wayne Ferreira (ranked as high as No. 6 in the world) and Neville Godwin, and George Bastl of Switzerland, who pulled a major upset by defeating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2002.
The prosperity of the Fighting Illini tennis program under Tiley has been apparent not only on the court, but in the classroom as well. In four of the past six years, the tennis team has had the top combined grade point average of all of the UI men's athletic teams. In Tiley's 11-year tenure, UI players have earned 37 Academic All-Big Ten awards and four Academic All-America citations.
In addition to his coaching duties, Tiley has the title of Director of Tennis at Illinois. He was responsible for bringing the USTA Challenger, the largest professional tournament in Illinois, to campus. The 2004 tournament will be the ninth in a row hosted at the Atkins Tennis Center.
Tiley came to the University of Illinois in 1992 as the director of instruction at Atkins. Following the departure of former coach Neil Adams, Director of Athletics Ron Guenther asked Tiley to assume the position of interim head coach. In April, 1993, he was hired as the permanent head coach.