There has been a recent trend of Ithaca College coaches retiring after lengthy and incredibly successful careers. George Valesente (baseball), Deb Palozzi (softball), Jim Mullins (men’s basketball) and Paula Miller (women’s swimming) all retired since 2019 after spending over 20 years on the South Hill. The head coach of the men’s and women’s tennis programs, Bill Austin, also retired earlier this year after two decades of coaching.
Austin will be replaced by a former player of his and a 2016 graduate of Ithaca College, Chris Hayes. Hayes has the sixth-most wins in school history with 108 and was a team captain in his final two seasons. After graduating, Hayes re-joined the program as an assistant coach, where he has spent the past two years.
Austin accumulated several outstanding accolades during his time at Ithaca College. He coached the Bombers to over 400 match titles and 20 total conference championships (14 for the women and six for the men). With all of that added to his legacy, it was time to step down.
“The program is in a good place,” Austin said. “The things happening with COVID-19 may have accelerated the decision process a little bit, but it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years and seemed like the right time to step away and leave it in others’ hands.”
Austin is very confident in the hands the program are in now, recalling Hayes as both a player and an assistant coach.
“[Hayes] was a grinder on the court,” Austin said. “He’s a grinder in the office and he’s a grinder on the recruiting trail. He loves to recruit, and that’s really the lifeblood of all athletics programs, being able to talk to recruits around the country around the globe. He’s able to talk about Ithaca College and college tennis from a very familiar point of view. He loves and just believes in the family aspect of what we have to offer.”
Austin added that he’s known Hayes since the latter was a junior in high school and that his hopes are that the program will be under Hayes’ lead for the next 20 years. The support of coach Austin means the world to Hayes as he starts his own journey as the head coach of Ithaca College tennis.
“Coach Austin, who’s been running the program for 20 years, for him to support me taking the program from him, it means quite a bit,” Hayes said. “Being an alum as well, I’m very happy and very passionate about my future years as the leader of the program.”
Austin has truly been a mentor for Hayes and even a “father figure,” according to him. Hayes discussed some of the ways Austin has impacted him.
“He’s really helped shape me into the person I am today,” Hayes said. “That’s something I’ll always be grateful for. A big thing I’ve learned from Bill is how to be patient because sometimes I rush into things. I like to get things done as soon as I can. But Bill told me how to be patient and get work done.”
One of the most important tasks for a newly hired coach is to figure out a style. For Hayes, he’s taking what he’s learned from both coach Austin and his uncle Eric Hayes, whom Chris coached under at Mercer University before returning to Ithaca College.
“I’ve really been very fortunate to learn under these great coaches,” Hayes said. “That being said, they’re probably complete polar opposites of each other in terms of their coaching style. That’s been a real positive. My uncle is real in-your-face. He’s really passionate. Bill, he’s kind of on the calmer side of things. For me, I’m trying to find the balance between the two of them to make something new on my own.”
Hayes went on to detail what he has in mind when he pictures himself as the Ithaca College head coach next school year.
“I like to think of myself as a player’s coach,” Hayes said. “I want to be adaptable to where I can coach my players in a way that will best suit them. That’s another thing I learned from coach Austin. He was really good at knowing his players and how they needed to be coached, especially during match time. That’s the biggest thing for me. I want to be adaptable.”
The passion Hayes has for his alma mater is palpable, and he wants to pass that on to his future players for years to come.
“I want to motivate my players as much as possible because, as an alumni, I’m really passionate about our program and I’m really passionate about our school,” Hayes said. “I want my players to feel the same kind of passion that I feel for my school and our program.”
Following in the footsteps of a legend who made his mark at Ithaca College for two decades is no easy task. Hayes, however, has a deep-rooted love for Ithaca and will ensure the tennis program is in good hands for years to come.