University of Kentucky men’s tennis head coach Dennis Emery, who recently finished his 30th season at the helm of the UK tennis program, has announced his retirement from coaching and promoted to special assistant to the athletic director, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced Monday.
“I feel the time is right for me to leave coaching,” Emery said. “Over the last decade, we have been in the top 15 in the final rankings seven times, made two Elite Eights, four Sweet 16s and had two NCAA Singles finalists. In addition, Eric Quigley tied the record for all-time singles wins in NCAA history and won the Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award, which is based on performance and character. I am proud of our program and what we have accomplished.
“In spite of losing Quigley and (Alex) Musialek, our program is in great shape moving forward. I think every coach wants to go out on his terms and on a high note while still leaving a solid foundation. I feel the time to do that was now.”
Emery leaves the coaching profession as one of the most decorated tennis coaches in not only the history of UK’s program, but also in collegiate tennis. At the completion of the 2012 season, Emery held an all-time record of 655-404, which ranked him sixth among active coaches, while his 23 NCAA Tournament berths was second among active coaches.
More specific to his time at UK, Emery won 568 of his 655 career wins during his 30-year tenure at Kentucky, posting a winning percentage of .626. Overall, Emery won 394 more matches than any other head coach in program history, including never losing a match to an in-state opponent. Emery was the head coach in 906 of Kentucky’s 1,799 all-time matches, including winning nearly 50 percent of UK’s 1,138 all-time wins.
“Dennis, his wife, Brenda, and their three adult children, Merritt, Andrew and Matthew, have been a fixture in our athletic department for a long time,” Barnhart said. “Although he will no longer be gracing the courts, we are thrilled that he has elected to stay with our department and help us achieve our goals of building a championship culture. What Dennis achieved with our tennis program is historic and we will always be indebted to him for his hard work and dedication for that program. I look forward to him continuing to be a part of UK Athletics.”
Emery took over the UK program in 1983 after a successful five-year stint with Austin Peay University. In his 30 years, Emery guided UK to two Southeastern Conference championships, 23 NCAA Tournament appearances and helped 19 Wildcat men to 38 All-America honors. During his stretch of success, Emery was named SEC Coach of the Year three times – including 2012 – and was a finalist for National Coach of the Year twice. Emery also led three players to the finals of the NCAA Singles Tournament, including Eric Quigley last season.
“When Mitch presented me with his vision for the growth of the athletics department over the next seven years and how I could help, it was very compelling,” said Emery, who finished his coaching tenure third all-time in wins at UK behind only legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp and baseball coach Keith Madison. “Mitch is building a championship culture here at Kentucky and it’s a long process to accomplish that, but I want to do my part to help him achieve it. I love this university and want to do whatever I can to see it succeed.”
Most recently, Emery led Kentucky to the most successful four-year stretch in school history, winning 100 matches and finishing in the top 15 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association final rankings each season, including in the top 10 twice. During that four-year stint, UK won an SEC championship and advanced to two SEC Tournament finals, three NCAA Sweet 16s and an NCAA Elite Eight. In 2011, Emery and Co. set a school-record for wins in a season with 29, while the 2012 squad finished with 28 wins. Kentucky also hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament all four years.
In 2012, Emery helped Kentucky to its second SEC championship in school history behind the first undefeated SEC regular season in program history. The Wildcats eventually went on to play in the SEC Tournament finals and the NCAA Sweet 16. Emery led UK to its third consecutive 20-win season in 2012, marking the 13th time the UK coach had led his team to 20 wins or more.
For his efforts, Emery would be named the SEC Coach of the Year and ITA Ohio Valley Regional Coach of the Year. The SEC honor was the third for Emery in his career, making him the seventh head coach in league history to win three or more coach of the year honors.
Emery, whose new role will involve fundraising with UK’s development office, has had tremendous success fundraising in the past for the UK program, raising more than $1.8 million for a new indoor tennis facility on top of raising nearly a million dollars for Kentucky’s current indoor and outdoor facilities. Emery also founded the Fifth-Third Bank Tennis Classic, which is an ATP Challenger event in Lexington.
Other career accomplishments for Emery include being a member of the NCAA Tennis Committee and Chair of the Region III sub-committee, tournament director for the USTA/ITA National Collegiate Indoor Tennis Championships and member of the ITA Board of Directors.
“After 30 years there are way too many people to thank,” Emery said, “but some would be Cliff Hagan, who hired me and made this all possible; Hilary Boone, who made the lead gift on both our indoor and outdoor facilities; Mary Lee Keer, Karen Holder and the Ryan Holder Foundation for the funding and the completion of our center courts; the late Herbie Kays, who was a tremendous friend, fan and mentor for nearly my entire tenure here and helped bring Tom Arington into our program; also Bill Farish and Don and Shirley Varga for all their support. In addition, thanks to all the assistant coaches and players during the last 30 years. Those are relationships I continue to treasure. Finally, thanks to Cedric Kauffmann who made it fun to come into work the last seven years.
“I’ve been blessed for 35 years to do what I love to do. These last 30 years at Kentucky I have lived out my dream. There is no question that I would not change a thing. God has been so good to me. I think I am someone who represents what college athletics is supposed to be about - someone who comes from a lower-middle class background, goes to school on an athletic scholarship and the degree earned changes their socio-economic status. Because of that, the athletic system and university means so much to me.”
A search for Emery’s replacement will begin immediately.
For more information on the Kentucky men’s tennis team, follow “UKMensTennis” on Twitter or “University of Kentucky men’s tennis team” on Facebook.
Dennis Emery Career Highlights
- Coached Kentucky in 50 percent of its all-time matches
- Won nearly 50 percent of Kentucky’s 1,138 all-time wins
- Youngest Division I tennis head coach ever, starting head coaching career at age of 23 in 1977; complied an 87-66 record in five years at Austin Peay
- Undefeated against in-state opponents during 30-year tenure
- Led Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament in 23 of the last 25 years
- Led Kentucky to 11 Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights since 1987
- Earned seven top-10 final rankings since 1983
- Earned 23 top-25 final rankings since 1983
- Finished in the top 16 of the final rankings 16 times in the last 26 years
- Led 19 Kentucky men to a total of 38 All-American honors
- Led three Wildcats to the NCAA Singles finals (Carlos Drada 2000; Jesse Witten 2002; Eric Quigley 2012)
- Two SEC championships (1992, 2012)
- One SEC Tournament championship (1992)
- Four SEC Tournament finals (1988, 1989, 2011, 2012)
- One of the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA history with 655 wins