A Hollywood Career Without The Hollywood Ending For Georgia’s Manny Diaz


By Randy Walker

@TennisPublisher

During the 2019 U.S. Open, University of Georgia men’s tennis alums gathered at the mid-town New York City bar American Whiskey to watch the Georgia football team play Vanderbilt in its opening game of the season. Former Georgia tennis All-Americans and walk-ons alike exchanged old stories and showed off their Southeastern Conference and NCAA Championship rings while cheering on the football teams rout of the Commodores

In the center of it all was Georgia’s legendary men’s tennis coach Manuel Diaz.

Robbie York, one of the co-owners of American Whiskey, which is the official Georgia Bulldog football viewing venue in New York, turned to yours truly and said, “It’s really amazing to me to see the reverence and awe that all the players have towards Coach Diaz.”

This admiration and respect is the result of the culture of brotherhood and success that Diaz created during his 36 years leading the Georgia men’s program. Not only did Diaz lead Georgia to four NCAA team titles, two Intercollegiate Tennis Association national team indoor titles, 29 SEC team titles, but he fostered an ethos of class, hard work, player development, fun and a championship-minded attitude

The Diaz coaching era, unfortunately, is now over. His 2024 squad was defeated 4-3 to Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA team tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was not the way Diaz deserved to go out as one of the all-time greatest college tennis coaches. It was not a Hollywood ending, only a Hollywood career. The head coaching torch that Diaz took from Dan Magill, his legendary predecessor, will now be passed to Jamie Hunt, the former U.S. Open junior doubles champion and member of Georgia’s 2007 and 2008 NCAA championship teams. 

Diaz’s second-to-last season in 2023 was one of his many banner years, leading Georgia to the SEC Championship and an NCAA quarterfinal finish and a season-capping NCAA singles title for redshirt freshman Ethan Quinn. The 2024 season was supposed to a blockbuster year for Diaz and his Dogs with potentially one of the greatest 1-2-3 punches ever in college tennis with incoming recruits Alex Michelsen and Ignacio Buse joining Quinn. However, as many have said, Diaz recruited too well as Michelsen opted to turn pro after reaching the ATP Tour event final in Newport, R.I. and Buse did the same after registering a top 20 win over Nicolas Jarry of Chile while playing Davis Cup for Peru. Quinn also chose to use the momentum from his NCAA win to turn pro. So instead of an NCAA team title contending team, Diaz’s last team finished with a 14-14 record. They were a young scrappy team that won some inspiring matches but also suffered more than a few heart-breaking, tight losses. The fighting spirit and pride never left the young 2024 Georgia team until the last ball was struck, despite suffering from many losses that would have left many despondent. It was the hallmark of Diaz’s teams — fight until the very end.

While much has been written and documented about the championships and titles under the Diaz watch, what might be more important is the culture of brotherhood that he brought to the Georgia tennis community. Being part of the Georgia tennis program is like having a second family. A few years ago, Diaz created a “WhatsApp” group chat for all the Georgia tennis alums where all could exchange old war stories, birthday greetings and other celebrations of life, including wins by players in pro tennis as well as live updates on the Georgia tennis matches. The group features alums from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s from the time when Magill coached the team, up through the 1990s until the graduating class of 2023, including the new pro Quinn, that were in the Diaz head coaching era.

In 2022, Diaz pulled together many former tennis alums back to Athens for an Alumni reunion and fun scrimmage match, that you watch the highlights of here: https://youtu.be/rkbXKK0us6s?si=Z2XUBLzZ0pNqFHjL

When Diaz announced his retirement to the group of tennis alums in February, and after he coached his last match in May, the outpourings of appreciation overflowed on the Georgia Tennis WhatsApp chat from all generations of tennis Dawgs, from Hill Griffin dating back to the 1959 Georgia team all the way to members of the 2023 Georgia team. Perhaps Will Reynolds, a tennis Dawg under Diaz from 2009 to 2012 and a volunteer assistant coach in 2022 and 2023, summed it up best when he wrote in the WhatsApp chat, “Coach, while it’s been mentioned, I think it should be emphasized – arguably your greatest achievement is the impact you’ve had on the people in this group, and that can be overlooked by those on the outside looking in. The trophies – and there are a lot of them! – will rust and memories will fade, but your influence has lasted and will continue to last quite literally for generations.”

Amen.





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