April 2, 2009
By Ryan Rose, Charlotte 49ers Media Relations - I've known plenty of sons who have followed in their father's professional footsteps... police officers, firemen, bankers, soldiers, even golf course managers, but never have I personally known a father and son coaching tandem. There are several notable examples, like Dick and Tony Bennett, the John Thompsons (II and III), Jim Mora (Sr. and Jr.), the Bowden family (father and two sons) but with a few exceptions, they aren't coaching at the same time, and certainly not against one another. They certainly most often don't face each other in conference play.
That will be the situation on April 4, when Jim Boykin's Charlotte 49ers host Billy Boykin's Richmond Spiders in Atlantic 10 Conference men's tennis. This is Jim's 16th season with Charlotte, and Billy's first as a head tennis coach.
While Jim is a wily veteran and Billy a mere rookie as a head coach, both have a passion for the game that crosses the generations. Though their paths to their current spots were very different, they are more alike than they let on.
"When I was going to school, I learned from a great deal of coaches, including my first coach, Dick McKee at Furman, as well as (former Appalachian State basketball coach) Bob Light and (N.C. State basketball mentor) Norm Sloan, who let me follow him around when I was a young man learning how to coach," said Jim, who has been a coach for 38 years, including four as a basketball coach. "I started out coaching basketball, but I learned how to play tennis in two months, eight hours a day one summer. If you have a passion for the game, and like young people, then coaching can be a lot of fun and not seem like work."
Billy grew up in Belton, S.C. while Jim was a coach at Anderson College, and the family moved to Davidson when he took the job at Charlotte. Billy got to sneak on to courts while his dad held practices and worked at camps and clinics in the area. He also got to hang out with and watch local tennis professionals, who took him under their wing. He would talk to his father after these sessions about ways for him to improve.
By the time Billy was choosing a college, Jim recruited his son to come and play for the 49ers, but Billy's ties to home in Davidson and the family's relationship with longtime Wildcats coach Jeff Frank kept Billy on the northern side of the Mecklenburg County.
"Going to Davidson was a tough decision for me," said Billy. "My mom and sisters lived right there. I needed a smaller school environment. Dad actively encouraged me to go to any college that I wanted, but at the end of the day it was a better fit at Davidson. Coach Frank was a great mentor to me and a good friend of Dad's."
Jim was a proud parent, having a son earn a scholarship at a Division I tennis program, but he lost out on a top player for his own team.
"He was the top recruit at Davidson and at Charlotte for me," Jim recalled. "As a parent, I saw it as a challenge for him academically and he had a chance to contribute to the tennis team, which he always wanted."
Jim ended up having to face his son and Davidson every season. He always had mixed feelings about playing the Wildcats, but the coach would separate himself from the father on those days, if only for a few hours.
"I wasn't as worried about playing my son as I was about my team playing well," said Jim. "It was a win-win when he beat some of my best players but our team won. I didn't want our guys to lose, but I did want Billy and my players opposite him to play well."
"I felt badly for the guy who had to play me from Charlotte," said Billy. "I knew most of Dad's players and I thought there was a little extra pressure on that guy to win. At the end of the day, it was just competition. You play the guy in front of you."
After graduation, Billy went into the business world for three years in finance, learning that his competitive spirit as a collegiate athlete would serve him well in the private sector. But he yearned for a career in academia, and Billy's thoughts came to tennis and teaching something he loved.
"You can't leave the game," said Billy. "I wasn't as passionate in what I was doing, and tennis has been so great to me and introduced me to so many great people I had to get back to it. I had a passion for it."
"Knowing Billy, I understand why he wanted to get into coaching," Jim noted. "He's a competitive person and I knew he would be a great teacher. My first thought was `You went to Davidson and got a great education and had a great job in the business world,' and I kidded him that he was crazy."
Billy spent time as an assistant at Davidson, and earned the job as the assistant for both the men's and women's programs at College of Charleston before landing the head job at Richmond last year.
The two were close before Billy's move to coaching, but became closer through the shop talk and occasional consulting. Billy said that most of his coaching philosophy comes from his father, but that there is an influence from other mentors, like Frank at Davidson, Sam Paul at North Carolina and his two head coaches at Charleston, Jay Bruner and Angelo Anastopoulo. Robbie Smith and Tim Wilkinson, two of the pro players he worked out with in his younger years, are also among those he lists as influences to his tennis makeup.
"When working with young people, there's a lot of gray area," said Billy. "You want to be right. If I get into one of those situations, I will feel comfortable giving Dad or some of my other friends in coaching a buzz. Dad's been around the block and there's no situation that I could encounter that he hasn't seen."
"Billy is way ahead of me in terms of knowledge of the game than when I started," Jim admitted. "He has lots of camp experience. He understands the academic constraints he works with at Richmond since he went to Davidson. He understands a smaller school atmosphere and how to get guys to compete. He was excellent on the court keeping guys loose in tight matches."
"Richmond got lucky," said Jim. "He's a great coach."
While it's obvious that the father is proud of the son, it also shines through that the son is proud of his father.
"The thing I always hear about from the guys that graduate the Charlotte program is that he cares so much for them and I want that for my players," noted Billy.
And so, the two face off against one another on Saturday, with equal amounts of respect and passion.
"What a great example to our young players," said Billy. "We are professional rivals and we will prepare our teams as best we can. We'll play and then shake hands and still be close afterward."
"We just want our players to perform the best that they can," said Jim "Win or lose, the effort just needs to be there and the winning will take care of itself."