Q & A With New Men's Tennis Associate Head Coach Chris Russell
Oct. 12, 2004
Chris Russell was recently named Associate Head Coach for men's tennis and comes to Seattle after serving as the head coach of the Oregon men's tennis team. Just two weeks into the new job, Russell sat down with GoHuskies.com correspondent Mike Bruscas to talk about how he is adjusting to a different coaching role and what it will be like to face his former Ducks.
GoHuskies.com: What factors went into your decision to take a smaller role at Washington after being a head coach for so long?
Chris Russell: 'A couple things. One, as a head coach you often think you know a lot but I want to learn more. That certainly was an opportunity with what Matt has got going up here and the direction the program's going. It is certainly an opportunity to learn more and continue to coach in a capacity that's slightly different than what I've done since I was 25 years of age. With my knowledge of the Pac-10 and how competitive it is, coming here I felt like I could coach in a different but similar capacity. I'd be in a Pac-10 arena still playing against the best teams in the country, and being able to do that while moving our family up here which is where my wife is from. She's very connected with family up here and her roots are up here. So I think it was kind of a win-win. It was a bit of a - I don't want to say sacrifice - but it's an adjustment for me not being the head guy. But with Matt it has been a pretty easy transition. The Huskies were a barometer for us when I was at Oregon. So that part, as far as my knowledge of Washington, was pretty strong, and that's a good thing. We saw a lot of each other, the players and coaches, so I'm pretty familiar with things that they do. And as a coach coming in, the players knew who I was, which was also a benefit.'
G.H.: What will be the biggest differences in your roles as head coach and associate head coach?
C.R.: 'Probably not having it all on my shoulders. I feel like Matt has this program going in the right direction. I'm stepping in and being more of a role player and trying to define my role which is providing feedback and providing input into practices. It has to be more calculating. As a head coach you can be more off-the-cuff. As an assistant, most of the ideas are going to be bumped off Matt. We spend a lot of time discussing and bumping ideas off each other. Before any changes are made they go through a different channel than what I was used to. There's nothing wrong with that it's just a different system. Those are the obvious things. I'm not necessarily the point person, which can be good at times. So I'm looking forward to that role and hopefully I can be of assistance.'
G.H.: What would you say are your areas of expertise as a coach?
C.R.: 'Technically, I'm strong. I feel like doubles is one. At Oregon, when I got there, I was taking over a program that hadn't been fully funded, that had not been able to offer the full allotment of scholarships by the NCAA. So we were trying to scratch and claw to get any point we could get when it came to playing against the Pac-10. So we spent a lot of time and took a lot of pride in our doubles. But with our talent level back then, where we weren't as strong as our competitors, we had to coach them. Maybe to the point of over-coaching. But as a player I was probably stronger in doubles than I was in singles. And as a coach, I feel like my knowledge of doubles is one of my strengths as well.'
G.H.: Talk about your relationship with Coach Anger.
C.R.: 'When I was a kid growing up Matt was tops in his age group at all times. But we had a friendship back then through the juniors up until we went away to college. Then he made a pretty large jump as far as his level so he was probably at different events than I was at. Occasionally, when we would play USC once a year when I was at Santa Barbara, I would see him, but that was about it during the college years. Then he got into head coaching just a year before I got to Oregon. I remember seeing him at an event in the Bay Area I was at watching. Then in the Northwest we were kind of on a similar path in terms of a similar focus to try and get the Northwest teams more respect. Washington was years ahead with already having built the Nordstrom Center and Oregon needing drastically to catch up with facilities. Those were issues that I was trying to catch up with at Oregon. But the scheduling issue was a major one. We were in the northern division of the Pac-10 in men's tennis, and that consisted of Oregon and Washington but not Oregon State and Washington State because they didn't have men's tennis programs any longer. So we were on a very similar path to try and get that corrected to a state where we felt for our guy's sake, competitively speaking, we could have an equal playing field. Because to be able to play the other schools for Oregon, we would have to go down to their place and have to play maybe on a Wednesday in the middle of the week and miss more school. It just wasn't an equitable or credible scenario for us. So that was a big thing for us to change that. I think having one of us at both schools, with some strong administrative support, we were able to get that tackled. And now Oregon moving up was a result of being included in an equitable schedule.'
G.H.: What were your views of the Huskies as an opponent and how have they differed now as a member of the team?
C.R.: 'I've been impressed by just the quality of character across the board. When we competed against the Huskies, we always felt like we were going to get a fair shake. It was a very healthy competition despite, in our eyes, wanting to beat them very badly. We felt like it was always going to be a clean match and guys were going to play hard but afterwards everyone was going to have mutual respect for each other. That was why making this transition has been easy because I'm aware of that. Leaving behind the guys I recruited and coached for years at Oregon, I think they understood why I was coming up here. I think they also have a lot of respect for Washington in a good way. They knew I had a good solid relationship with Matt. So in answer to that question, as a competitor you're always curious as to what the competition is doing to get better and what their goals are and what they're striving for and what the coach is doing and what the guy's day-to-day approach to walking out to practice is. How many guys look at it as monotony versus how many guys look at it as a chance to have fun and get better. All those variables that I was curious about, in my nearly two weeks being here, it's been a very favorable initiation here. I feel like I've been learning a lot and I always want to learn more. Most of what we do is what we learn from other people. So I've learned a lot about how Matt treats his guys, how respectful his guys are to him and to me and to other people in the department. It's been a real positive experience so far.'
G.H.: What will it be like facing Oregon for the first time this year?
C.R.: 'Matt already knows those are going to be two sick days of the year. It will be tough. It will bring home the reality for my guys that I had at Oregon and for me that it's a tangible move. They'll be trying very hard to beat Washington but to also beat me. On the other side of that, my guys from Oregon will know that I'm providing plenty of information for Washington to try and give us the best shot at winning. That's where it will be very real at that point. Right now they're doing their thing and we're doing our thing. There will be some fall overlap for sure, we'll have guys playing each other in individual fall events and it will be real then. But when it really will come to a head is in that dual when that collective goal as a group happens in February. They know the date, I know the date, everyone involved is well aware. It may not be as big a deal for the Washington guys, but they ask me what it's going to be like to play Oregon. So emotionally it's going to be tough, but it won't probably be any tougher for them to play against me than it will be for me to be out there.'
G.H.: What have been your impressions of the University as a whole so far?
C.R.: 'My overall impression here is that it's a very healthy environment for the student-athletes and for the coaches as well. The facilities are outstanding, and everything's proximal. It's an environment where the resources are there to be competitive and achieve great things. It's been a very favorable impression. When I come into the office here it's a very supportive environment and you feel a good sense of caring from the other coaches and an awareness of what your sport is doing with other coaches. The guys have a great environment here. It's neat to see.'