Staff Photo: Christine Troyke Chase Hodges was hired in July to be Georgia Gwinnett College's first tennis coach. GGC lured Hodges away from Georgia State where he had a 56-17 record and orchestrated the biggest turnaround in men's collegiate tennis history.
Chase Hodges was hired in July to be Georgia Gwinnett College's first tennis coach. He left a highly successful team at Georgia State behind in order to build the Grizzlies program from the ground up. Hodges has been a college head coach for the last 11 years combined at GSU, Drake University (2005-09), UNC-Asheville (2002-05) and Longwood (2002).
At GSU, Hodges orchestrated the biggest turnaround in men's collegiate tennis history. He inherited a program that was 1-20 and led the Panthers to a 15-6 mark the first year. In three seasons, Hodges led GSU to a 56-17 record and was named the Colonial Athletic Association's co-coach of the year in April.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...", Hodges talked to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including growing up in a basketball family, playing at two different colleges and the challenges of building a program from the ground up.
CT: Where did you grow up?
CH: In Hickory, N.C. It's about 40 miles outside of Charlotte. I lived there until I finished high school. Right after high school I went to N.C. State University and was there for two years. I finished up at UNC-Wilmington. I ended up getting my bachelor and master's degrees there. So I was in the state of North Carolina until I finished my master's. It's a good state. You've got the beach and the mountains in the same spot.
CT: Did you only play tennis growing up?
CH: I played tennis, basketball and soccer growing up. I played tennis and basketball in high school. My dad was a college basketball coach at Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory. So coming from a basketball family, that was always one of my favorite sports.
Just as I got older, tennis kind of stuck with me. I wanted to pursue that and ended up playing in college.
CT: When you first picked up a racket, were you good?
CH: Ah, well, I started playing when I was 8 and it was one of those things -- I wouldn't say I was good, but it came easy to me. It felt natural. Some kids pick it up quickly and it just felt right. The first time I ever played, I just kind of fell in love with the sport. Here I am, 27 years later and still playing tennis. It's one of those situations where I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do what I love to do and be involved in the sport that I love. I feel lucky.
It's a lifetime sport. One of the things I really love about tennis is it's like boxing without the gloves. You're basically competing against one other individual. I think tennis is great because there's a winner and a loser every time you step out there.
CT: You went to N.C. State for two years, but ended up at UNC-Wilmington. When you made that decision, what things weighed in most for you?
CH: It was a tough decision. For me, back then, as a 20-year-old kid, I mean, I wanted to be at the beach. So being on the beach at UNC-W and having the opportunity to go to school and get in the ocean, that's probably the one thing I miss the most. Atlanta has everything except the beach. For me, being on the coast is refreshing and invigorating. I try to get back to that Wilmington area as much as I can because it allows me the opportunity just to relax. That was probably the main reason I went to Wilmington, the location. Obviously it's a good school academically. Not many people have the opportunity to study, play their sport and live at the beach. I felt like it gave me the opportunity to do everything I ever wanted.
CT: As a high school kid, were you lured by playing at a big-time conference?
CH: Yeah. Obviously the ACC, SEC is about as good as it gets, especially growing up in the South. Going to N.C. State for two years and competing in the ACC was a phenomenal experience. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I had the opportunity to compete in the ACC and then I had the opportunity to have a major impact at UNC-W. At UNC-W, I was playing at the top of the lineup there and had a impact for them -- which felt good. At N.C. State, you're sort of a small fish in a big pond. UNC-Wilmington, even though it's 12,000 students, it's a third the size of N.C. State. It's a smaller environment, smaller classes, just easier to settle into.
CT: Does an experience like that help when you're talking to your recruits? When you know what it's like? When you know these aren't easy decisions?
CH: I've been around. I've been at a lot of colleges -- assistant coach at UNC-Wilmington, then my first head coaching job in the CVAC at Longwood, the head job at UNC-Asheville, the head job at Drake and Georgia State. And now here. So I think all the experiences, not just the playing, more so all the coaching experiences. I've been at so many different institutions, from private schools to Georgia State with over 35,000 students to Drake with 3,000.
The type of kid I recruit to Georgia Gwinnett is much different than the kid that I was recruiting at Drake or Georgia State. You have to find the niche for each school in terms of what you can offer.
Here at Georgia Gwinnett, I think what we have to offer is different than everybody else. These kids have an opportunity to be a part of something from the ground up. I know the kids I have already brought in that started school this week, they're extremely excited to be a part of something that has never been done before. That's a big recruiting advantage. Also the fact that we're growing. We're at 9,800 students and we have the opportunity, what we're doing from an athletic standpoint, this facility is an incredible setup. Not many people can compete with what we have from a facilities standpoint. We feel like we have something special here. So we want to get the right kids in here and develop it.
CT: Was what appeals to them also what appeals to you about the job? Because certainly you could have stayed at Georgia State where you had a fantastic record.
CH: Leaving Georgia State was not an easy decision. But that being said, I like a challenge. I'm recruiting kids that want to have a challenge and want to meet that challenge head-on. I like that fact that here the challenge is nothing has ever been done.
The job here presents an enormous challenge. It presents a lot of work. Every little detail that has been put in place here has really been worked on for the last couple years. I think it gives you that experience of having all facets of a job, building from the ground up.
Georgia Gwinnett, I said this when I took the job and I truly believe in a couple years it's going to be a household name. Not just in Georgia, but nationally. I really think we can do that from a tennis standpoint. Now we just have to make it happen.
CT: Did you focus on any particular area when you were looking at recruits?
CH: Most of my kids are international. I want to have Georgia kids. I want to have Americans. And we do. But we're recruiting globally. The philosophy is the same -- recruit the best possible student-athletes we can find, regardless of where they come from.
The kids we have and the kids we're going to continue to get are going to be ones that produce in the classroom and on the court.At Georgia State, we had a GPA of 3.55 and it was mostly kids where English was their second language.
Regardless of where these kids come from, the commitment has to be there to academics. We know athletically it's going to be there.
CT: What were the big factors in the turnaround you were able to initiate at Georgia State? The biggest turnaround even in men's college tennis?
CH: Recruiting. I wish I could tell you there was a magic formula, but recruiting is the lifeline of your program. I'm not going to tell you I'm a great coach because I don't think I am. I do think my strength is recruiting. Coaching is a small part of this job. If you can't recruit well, you're not going to be successful. But if you have contacts and you can recruit extremely well, you're going to win.
But also at Georgia State, a lot of it had to do with culture. If you establish a culture where winning is expected, the kids are going to buy into that. I think what had happened there was losing was almost acceptable. You never want to get into that climate.
Everybody's got to buy into what you're doing and believe in the system.
With this first year here, I started July 2. I kind of got behind the eight-ball, trying to field a team. But with that said, there's no excuses. We just have to make it happen. Whatever we've got, let's find a way to make it work. That type of attitude becomes infectious.
CT: Do you like what you have right now?
CH: We're definitely a work in progress. We're going to win some matches this first year. We're nowhere where we need to be right now, but we're going in the right direction. We'll get there.
It's just I'm impatient. I want to win every season. But you're going to have growing pains.
CT: You said you're been around, but for the most part, each place has been for several years. You haven't been bouncing around that much, have you?
CH: Everywhere I've been, I in walked into kind of a bad situation. What it comes down to really is I love a challenge. What's happened, just in retrospect, you walk into these places and you have a big challenge. Then you conquer that challenge and you're ready for another one.
My goal is to go in somewhere and max out the potential. The goal here is to win an NAIA national championship. Is that realistic? This first year we can't even play for it. But it can be realistic. It's a challenging job. My hope is when it's all said and done, we can have taken it to an extremely high level.
CT: Do you like the South? Would you go elsewhere?
CH: I'm never going to leave the South. My daughter, I'm a single parent. Every move has had its reasons, but I've got to be near my daughter (who is 4). She lives in North Carolina, which is close for me. When I was living in Iowa, halfway across the country, that was an issue. And I'm from the South. I like it down here.
But the commute is killing me right now. I live in Buckhead.
CT: I wondered if you were still ITP because of the Georgia State job.
CH: Yeah. I'm reverse traffic. But the other day, somebody called me and needed to meet with me up here. It'd be nice if I could be close by. When I come to work, I'm here for eight hours. Maybe that will happen in the future. I like Gwinnett County. I like it out here.