The man behind the dynasty
Armstrong Atlantic's Earnshaw surprised by longevity, feats
SURPRISE, Ariz. — With two teams playing for the 2013 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships, Armstrong Atlantic head coach Simon Earnshaw has cemented coaching-wizard status.
Both the Armstrong women and men will defend 2012 titles Saturday at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in suburban Phoenix. Both are ranked No. 2 nationally. The Armstrong men, who face No. 1 Barry, are after their fourth title in six years. The women, who face No. 3 BYU Hawaii in a replay of last season’s national championship match, are after their sixth title in the last nine years.
Still, Armstrong’s human resources department views Earnshaw as a mere employee. Several weeks ago, an HR phone caller asked Earnshaw whether he intended to attend a campus luncheon in Savannah, Ga.
“‘Come on, do I have to?’” Earnshaw said of his reaction. “‘I mean, we need to get practicing.’ And they tell me, ‘well, it’s for service.’ And I was, whatever. And they said, ‘no, you’ve been here for 15 years.’ And I was like, ‘no, I haven’t. You’re kidding me.’ But apparently I was.”
And he did his luncheon duty, though admittedly antsy with both Pirate squads deep in postseason play.
“I did but I was trying to get out of there to go to practice,” Earnshaw said, smiling. “It was actually interesting. You go to something like that and I mean, I’m not as young as I used to be, now. I still feel like I’m fairly young. I always feel like I’m still the youngest in the room. I like to think that way, anyway.”
In his 14th season as Armstrong’s head coach, Earnshaw, an English native, owns astonishing career statistics — a 316-75 overall record with the men and a 382-33 record with the women. The Lady Pirates have won five Division II national titles (2005, 2008-10 and 2012) under Earnshaw. The men have three (2008, ’09 and 2012).
For the sake of space, accept that he has won multiple Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division II Women’s National Coach of the Year awards, ITA Mid-Atlantic Region Men’s Coach of the Year awards, Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year awards, and so on.
One of his former players, All-American Manuela Emmrich from Magdeburg, Germany, was present during Thursday’s quarterfinal victory against No. 1 Barry.
“One of the big reasons why we’ve managed to put together this run,” Earnshaw said of Emmrich’s legacy. “Was very responsible for my first national championship in 2005. Won both the singles and doubles in the final.”
Emmrich, who played from 2003-06, received her masters from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix and works in the area, per her old coach. She told him she couldn’t attend Friday’s semifinal match against Hawaii-Pacific, which the Lady Pirates won 5-2, but promised to return for Saturday’s championship.
“I guess when you do this for long enough, you have people in different places, right?” Earnshaw said.
A Georgia College player from 1992-96 and a 1996 graduate, Earnshaw got his masters degree at Armstrong in 1998. He served as a graduate assistant for the Pirates for one year before taking over the tennis program prior to the 1999-2000 season.
But, as evidenced above, he appears to keep his focus forward, not backward. His current women’s team — the defending national champions — have been more high-maintenance than he would’ve liked this season.
“It’s not been the easiest year for us,” Earnshaw said. “It might sound ridiculous but it’s never the easiest year, the year after you win — lot of complacency. We’ve been battling that, honestly, the whole year, particularly in the fall. It was extremely frustrating as a coach.
“You think everything’s just going to be plain sailing, we’re going to win and that’s going to galvanize them in everything that we do. And then they come back and they didn’t do anything the whole summer. But hopefully we’ve been able to recover that to the point that we’re able to push it over the top.”