Well, those 20 years sure went by quickly…
When Ithaca College announced that Bill Austin was retiring after 20 years at the helm of the men’s and women’s tennis teams, I thought back to the turn of the century, when Bill took over as the Bombers’ head coach. At that time, I was optimistic that Bill would build a fine program, as I knew that he had been mentored by one of the region’s preeminent racquet sports sages, having seen the two together a dozen years earlier.
It was 1988, and I – having been employed by Cornell Athletics for nearly a decade – had become friends with the legendary Eddie Moylan. Eddie was a Davis Cup player for the U.S. in the 1940s and ‘50s, he was a gold medal winner at the Pan American Games, and he had traded volleys with some of the game’s greatest players. I often marveled at his prowess on the tennis and squash courts (he was Cornell’s head coach for both sports for many years) and it was a pleasure to watch him utterly dismantle much younger and stronger players, wearing them to a frazzle with his experience and precision. Moylan looked like he stepped out of a tennis magazine, with his crisp white clothing and his slick, Brylcreemed hair, and I saw him hitting the ball and sharing his wisdom and savvy with Austin when the younger coach arrived there in 1988. Austin knew he was fortunate to have such a resource in Moylan, and he made the most of it.
Austin – six years removed from graduating from the University of Michigan - brought with him a very impressive resume. He was the number one ranked junior squash player in the country as a high school senior, and his dad was a Michigan state champion. The fact that the University of Michigan didn’t have a squash team compelled Austin to start one, and when asked how the number one junior player in the country ended up at a college without a squash team, Austin used the memory to share a very compelling – and revealing – piece of his story. “I was convinced I was going to Princeton,” Austin told me, “and the University of Michigan was the only other school I applied to.” When he learned that he was not accepted at Princeton, he was satisfied that he would get a good education at U of M, but he was disappointed that he would not be able to play collegiate squash at its highest level. “That experience,” Bill offered, “actually helped me as a coach. I have advised many students not to put all their eggs in one basket, so to speak.” He added, “It all turned out well, but maybe I should have studied a little harder in physics.”
After coaching stints at Cornell and Colgate, Austin put in his 20 years at Ithaca College and his program’s successes will be remembered for a long time. The Bomber women won 14 conference titles (including 11 in a row, and an astounding 57-match win streak) and the men won six Empire 8 titles. When asked if the decision to retire was a long time coming, Bill said, “I have been thinking about it, but the COVID situation may have accelerated it.”
Looking forward, Austin is optimistic that the program will thrive under the leadership of Chris Hayes. “Chris played for me, and he has a lot of passion and love for Ithaca College,” Austin said. I have known Chris since he was a junior in high school, and he understands our program and what it means to play for Ithaca College. There is no better feeling than leaving the program in his hands.”
As for his next chapter, Bill told me, “I could never walk away from the game. Twenty-five years ago, I was certified as a USTA official, and I just completed my re-certification process. My next step will be to get on-court evaluations from senior officials, then I will be ready to go.” When asked if his new officiating duties would keep him in the area, he said, “How much I travel will depend on how good I get as an official. In my ideal world, I will do a lot more officiating at the collegiate level than anything else.”