To say that there’s a job opening in USF athletics would be an understatement. Crater would be a more accurate term.
For the first time since 1991, coach Don Barr, the results-oriented leader of the USF men’s tennis team, will not be on the sidelines leading a program that has experienced tremendous growth in his 21-year career at USF.
After one transition season as the head of men’s tennis operations for USF Athletics in 2012-2013, the longest tenured coach in the history of the department will walk away from the USF tennis program.
“It was just time for me to leave,” the 69-year-old Barr said. “I needed to get involved with my family – they’re getting to ages where they need me. I want to see them before they leave this earth, and tennis was a year round thing, with the spring and fall seasons. I had no time to get caught up.”
Barr began his career with USF in 1991 when fate brought him to Tampa, and eventually to the university itself.
“When I was with the Bollittieri Academy (in Bradenton), my father developed cancer, so I moved to Tampa and started a (tennis) junior development center,” he said. “I ended up transferring to Orlando, and one of my players’ fathers asked me to help his daughter get a scholarship. So I told him, ‘find me a place to teach, and I’ll be glad to come back.’ After I got back to Tampa, the (USF men’s tennis) coach at the time was Eric Hayes, and he needed an assistant coach.”
On his arrival, Barr saw a fledgling program that could be formed into something special. After taking over in 1992, he made sure it became just that.
“I don’t believe they’d ever been ranked,” he said. “We’ve grown quite a bit through the years and continued to be a strong tennis school. My goal was for USF to be noted as a good tennis program gaining national rankings, and we developed that.”
Barr would go on to nurture the young program into a full-grown force in college tennis. Over a 20-year span, Barr guided the Bulls to 638 wins, a .621 winning percentage, six conference titles and nine NCAA Tournament appearances, while playing in three different conferences.
“I loved the challenge of working from scratch,” he said. “Starting in three different conferences as new teams – seeing the devel¬opment of the school and teams – everything is growing for us.”
After 20 long years at USF, Barr plans on staying involved with the sport he loves, while also gaining experiences outside the world of tennis.
“After 6 months I’ll probably want to get involved with helping some youth out – stay involved (with tennis) someway, get more involved in church,” he said. “I love to fish, so I’ll be doing a lot of fishing.”
Along with his impact on the team, Barr is well known for his impact on individual players, both between the white lines and beyond.
“The most important thing he taught me was balance,” said Lucas Jovita, former men’s tennis standout who won the Big East Player of the Year award in 2011. “He made sure to teach us that it was important to be an athlete, but it was even more important to be a good person – to work hard on the court and in classes.”
Jovita has fond memories of his time with Barr – a time that saw plenty of success. Their 2008-2009 campaign, in particu¬lar, stuck with him.
“I’ll always remember the year that we won the Big East title in Tampa,” he said. “It was a remarkable year for us all because we won the conference title and coach Barr won the conference Coach of the Year.”
However, Barr himself chose a different season as his most memorable. After a moment of deliberation, Barr settled on the 1995 season – a bittersweet season for both the team and his family.
“It’s tough, but I would go with a season that I’ll remember because of the adversity we faced,” he said. “In the ’95 season, we lost my son, and on the court we still won the conference title. What stuck with me, though, was how we all realized tennis was just a sport. It put things in perspective.”