By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – For the sake of clarity, it’s not because of hearing that Billy Chadwick will retire once Ole Miss has done all it can do in the NCAA tournament.
However, Chadwick’s hearing – or momentary lack of it – contributed to a light moment with a rival coach.
Chadwick is completing his 31st season as the Rebels’ men’s tennis coach. He coached the Ole Miss women before taking over the men in 1983.
Most road matches have included a pause in which Chadwick would reflect on his last visit with the Rebels.
It was in Fayetteville that Arkansas coach Andy Jackson, previously of Florida and of Mississippi State before that, told Chadwick, “I’m going to miss you.”
That wasn’t what Chadwick heard.
“We’re both so competitive, when I heard him say it I thought he said, ‘I’ve got issues with you.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I said I’m going to miss you.’ I said, ‘I’m so glad I didn’t slap you.’”
Chadwick is hoping the Rebels can slap an ace here, a line shot there and that the sum total will allow them to advance from the Notre Dame regional this weekend.
Ole Miss takes on Northwestern in an NCAA tournament first-round match Saturday morning at 10. Notre Dame, the No. 13 overall seed, will face Wisconsin-Green Bay at 1.
This is the regional from which Ole Miss advanced to play for the national championship in 1995, the same year the Rebels won the doubles championship.
Chadwick has worked through the emotions of his last season to help his team get back to postseason.
“It has been emotional, but it’s been one that we’ve been working so hard I haven’t really had time to think about it,” he said. “It would really hit me when we would go to Columbia, S.C., and I would say, ‘This is the last time I’m going to play South Carolina here.’ The same thing at Knoxville and at Nashville.”
Chadwick’s run at Ole Miss has included five SEC titles. Later this month he’ll be inducted into the collegiate tennis hall of fame, his third hall of fame entry.
He’s been named SEC coach of the year three times and was the national coach of the year in 2009.
“He’s been a father figure in my life, not only tennis-wise, but growing up and maturing. He’s given me such good advice, things I’ll carry with me throughout my whole life,” said Nik Scholtz, his No. 1 singles player.
One of those times came when Scholtz was playing in an elite tournament in Tulsa.
“I wasn’t mentally there. I was expected to do well, I was ranked top 10 in the country, and I ended up losing in the second round. He called me and said, ‘Nik, you have to remember you can have it all. You can have the talent, you can have the shots, you can have finesse, but in the middle controlling everything is the heart. And when you take the heart out of the equation you have nothing. That’s something I’ll always remember, how important heart is and how important it is to fight,” Scholtz said.
Heart is something the current Ole Miss squad has shown with a strong finish after injury issues were part of a slow start this season.
The Rebels (15-13) have defeated No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 18 Tennessee in the last month to secure their 21st straight NCAA bid.
Scholtz is 25-6 overall, 15-1 at No. 1 singles.
“The guys had to really do some soul-searching, and we are playing our best tennis now. The last two weeks we really have shown what we’re capable of if we’re healthy and we’re looking forward to traveling up to South Bend for the NCAAs,” Chadwick said.