Georgia men’s tennis head coach Manuel “Manny” Diaz was recently named SEC Coach of the Year for the seventh time in his 35-year career. His Bulldogs won the 2023 SEC regular-season championship outright, but they lost in heartbreaking fashion in the finals of the SEC tournament. Now, as Georgia prepares to host the first two rounds of the NCAA championship this weekend, Diaz reflects on his continued passion for the sport and what makes this year’s team special.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: What has it been like to be able to coach and compete in an atmosphere like Georgia’s at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex?
A: It’s a great feeling. I think that student-athletes and recruits choose the University of Georgia because they want to play in that setting. They want to be a part of it. They can sense an incredible experience for themselves, and they want to be a part of it.
Q: How will hosting regionals here have an impact on your team’s performance?
A: Well, I think it’s a very wonderful reward for these boys to be able to play in front of our fans and especially for these seniors to give them hopefully a couple more weekends of an incredible experience that will last a lifetime.
Q: What did you say to your team after the SEC championship loss?
A: I basically told them that I knew how disappointed and how heartbroken they were. But that I was very, very proud of their effort and how they fought and everything that they have been doing all season long. One missed opportunity does not define the type of year that they’ve had. They have battled adversity, they have battled some early losses, they have won 15 matches in a row and in many of those occasions we have barely escaped a loss. But because of their convictions and their toughness, and the way they went about things, we had an unblemished, undefeated regular season in the toughest conference in the country. We came one point away from winning another championship and making it a double. But you know, the ball didn’t bounce our way this one particular day, and it’s supposed to hurt. We’re supposed to be heartbroken and disappointed. But I was still proud of them. And that we still have had a great year and we still have the biggest prize out there and if we continue to fight for it the way we have been fighting for it this whole spring season, then we have some great things to accomplish.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far from this season?
A: That we have a special group of young men that really just become closer with each day. They push each other, they fight for each other. They have a brotherhood and a very special relationship and it goes very deeply into their being and they have made this program very proud.
Q: How have you adapted to be able to maintain a culture for your program over your tenure as head coach?
A: You have to fight for it every single day. You establish your vision for these guys at the beginning of every year and I think that the biggest thing I’d probably allude to is just the personal relationships and the insistence on taking care of little things. And making the most out of every day and demanding excellence, but treating everyone with respect.
Q: How have you kept your love for the game despite the changes of the NCAA landscape?
A: I don’t know that there’s a secret for that; you either have it or you don’t. I have a special place in my heart for this sport because it’s given me so much but at the same time, I have a special place in my heart for this university and this tennis program which have given me nothing but thrills and an incredible experience as a student-athlete, followed by incredible years as a coach here. So I’m just giving back as much as I have earned.
Q: How have you balanced your family life with your work life over your career?
A: One hundred percent of the credit for that goes to my wife. Just having a supportive, understanding wife that can handle a lot. You know, we celebrated birthdays on other days, we celebrated anniversaries whenever we could. And we understood that coaching is not a job. It’s a way of life. And so from having team dinners at our house, to my wife being out here for many, many, many years, just every single match and I think she was just so supportive and a big part of my success as a coach.
Adam Walters is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.