Tech grad Bryan Shelton’s NCAA title at Florida a unique distinction

Florida men's tennis coach Bryan Shelton poses with the NCAA championship trophy after leading the Gators to a 4-1 win over Baylor in the title match May 22, 2021 in Orlando, Fla. Shelton, a Georgia Tech grad, became the first coach to lead men's and women's tennis teams to NCAA national championships.
(Manuela Davies/USTA)
Caption
Florida men's tennis coach Bryan Shelton poses with the NCAA championship trophy after leading the Gators to a 4-1 win over Baylor in the title match May 22, 2021 in Orlando, Fla. Shelton, a Georgia Tech grad, became the first coach to lead men's and women's tennis teams to NCAA national championships. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

Credit: Manuela Davies/USTA

Four Georgia Tech tennis players took the courts Sunday for first-round matches in the NCAA men’s and women’s singles championships in Orlando, Fla. From a historic perspective for the school and its proud tennis programs, perhaps the more noteworthy event took place late Saturday night.

Under the lights of the USTA National Campus, the Florida men’s team won its first-ever national championship under the direction of coach and Tech grad Bryan Shelton. It was 14 years to the day that Shelton led the Yellow Jackets women’s team to its first (and only) national title. The top-seeded Gators rolled over second-seeded Baylor 4-1 to finish the season at 26-2.

Shelton, who led Tech to its first 13 NCAA tournament appearances (in his first 13 seasons) before taking the Florida job in 2012, became the first coach in NCAA history to lead men’s and women’s tennis teams to national championships.

“Pretty speechless tonight,” Shelton said in an on-court interview after the title. “Normally, I have a lot of words.”

By virtue of his career achievements, topped by the twin national titles, a compelling case can be made that Shelton is the greatest coach to have graduated from Tech. Shelton earned his bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Tech in 1988 while playing for the Jackets, twice winning ACC titles, making the top 60 in the world as a professional and later earning induction into the Tech hall of fame.

He returned to Tech in 1999, reuniting with teammate and doubles partner Kenny Thorne, who was and continues to be the men’s tennis coach. What has followed in the two decades since has little comparison among Tech grads.

Football coach William Alexander, who played for John Heisman, led Tech to the 1928 national title, became the first coach to lead teams to the Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange bowls, winning all but the Cotton. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Frank Broyles, who played at Tech for Bobby Dodd, led Arkansas to a national championship in 1964 (as recognized by the Football Writers Association of America) and won seven Southwest Conference titles in 19 seasons and is also a College Football Hall of Fame inductee.

Basketball great Roger Kaiser won four men’s basketball national championships at the NAIA level, one at West Georgia and three at Life University in Marietta. Track coach Buddy Fowlkes didn’t win a team national title in 28 years at Tech (1965-92), but did coach 10 national champions, 50 All-Americans and three Olympic medalists, including two-time gold medalist Antonio McKay. Football coach Ken Whisenhunt led the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl 43 and helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl 40 as an offensive coordinator.

Shelton stands apart in his unique accomplishment of coaching men’s and women’s national tennis titles and also winning the first at the respective schools. Tech’s 2007 title remains the school’s only national team title awarded by the NCAA.

Shelton also led Tech to four ACC titles (he’s also a four-time ACC coach of the year) and is a three-time SEC coach of the year.

“The championships are great, and we have that, but the relationships are what really matter,” Shelton told assembled media Saturday night. “And so I really focus more on the relationships than the number of wins. And by doing that, you end up getting a lot more, and you end up developing some champions along the way, whether they win on the court or not.”

Beyond winning the title, Saturday night was extra special to Shelton for how it ended. His son Ben, a freshman, won the clinching point for the Gators over Baylor at No. 5 singles, coming back to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

“We’ve got a very, very special team,” Bryan Shelton said. “For him to be a major part of that is really, really cool. And to see him shine on the biggest stage – under the lights (Saturday night) here at the USTA National Campus – just really, really proud of him, proud of our guys.”

For Tech’s entries in the women’s and men’s singles championships, both Jackets women were upset in the 64-player first round. Kenya Jones, the No. 5 seed, lost 7-5, 6-3 to Selin Ovunc of Auburn. Victoria Flores, a top-16 seed, fell 6-4, 6-4 to Michigan’s Kari Miller.

Jones and Flores will be an entry in the doubles championship that begins Monday along with Gia Cohen and Ana Hrastar.

On the men’s side, Marcus McDaniel lost his first-round singles match to South Florida’s Jacob Wojcik 6-3, 6-2. Teammate Andres Martin defeating Edson Ortiz of Alabama 6-7, 7-6, 6-1. He’ll advance to a second-round match to be played Monday.

Martin and McDaniel also will play in the first round Monday of the doubles tournament.