By Kim Ling, Associate Athletics Media Relations Director
Eight years ago, Toby Hansson got a phone call from then-Ole Miss men’s tennis head coach Billy Chadwick with an opportunity to become the assistant coach. Hansson accepted the offer and the rest is history.
Earlier this year, Hansson was tapped by athletics director Ross Bjork to replace Chadwick when the latter announced he would retire at the end of the 2014 season.
Hansson’s road to becoming the seventh head coach in Ole Miss men’s tennis history began as a child growing up in Bjärred, Sweden. His father played tennis and has been involved with the sport for over 40 years. Tennis was all around Hansson and soon he picked up a racquet and started hitting balls. Hansson enjoyed several different sports as a kid, but settled on tennis.
“I basically tried every sport, but tennis was the one I was doing the best in and I had a lot of fun. I had a lot of early success and in my junior career I continued having success,” Hansson said.
Through a connection from a family friend, Hansson left his home in Sweden as a junior player to go live with a family (Herschel and Kathleen Hodges) in Dallas, Texas. After graduating from Highland Park High School, Hansson received several scholarship offers from schools around the country, including SMU.
“I had a lot of support from the Hodges,” Hansson said. “I played several junior events and did quite well in Texas. I got recruited by a few schools, including SMU. Since I was living close by, I decided to give it a try. I feel like for me it was a great choice. I enjoyed it.”
The Mustangs were on the rise when Hansson joined the program in 1997. He helped lead them to two WAC championships, three consecutive NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances and two top-15 national finishes. Hansson earned All-America honors in singles and doubles and was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2000 and first team all-conference for both singles and doubles. He was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in doubles and No. 13 in singles for the Mustangs.
Hansson graduated from SMU in 2000 and played professionally on the Futures Circuit before realizing something about himself.
“I discovered early on that I liked to help younger players. When I was playing, I would give advice to all the younger players around. It was natural for me to help out when I could. After a few years of playing on the circuit, I got a phone call from the head coach at Texas Tech (Tim Siegel). I didn’t know him that well, but I had competed against his assistant coach [at the time], Efe Ustundag, who is now the head coach at Rice. I decided to take the opportunity to be his assistant. We had a great year [in 2005], finished No. 9 in the country and played Ole Miss in the [NCAA] round of 16. We had the best year that Texas Tech has ever had, and I really enjoyed it.”
After one year of coaching, Hansson returned to Sweden and earned his master’s degree in international studies, while still trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. On a visit to his host family in Dallas in the summer of 2006, Hansson received a phone call from Coach Chadwick hoping to persuade Hansson to give coaching a try again.
“He wanted me to come badly, and I felt like he really cared,” Hansson said. “He said if I didn’t like it, he could help me out in the direction I wanted to go. It worked out and it didn’t take me long to realize this is actually what I want to do. I got great response from the guys on the team. I feel like that was probably the most important thing to convince me that I was on the right path.”
The relationship was mutually beneficial to all parties. During his eight years alongside Chadwick, Hansson helped the Rebels maintain their tradition of excellence on and off the court, while learning the ins and outs of running a championship program.
“There are so many things I’ve learned from coach. He’s taught me to look at things from a positive angle at all times. I’ve also learned to focus and pay attention to all the details. He stays involved in everything he does and is very meticulous in his work. He taught me to be grateful for what you have around you every day and for the people you have around you and treat them like family.”
In Hansson’s eight seasons with the program as an assistant and most recently associate head coach, the Rebels finished among the nation’s top 10 four times and the top 15 five times. During that span, the Rebels produced the most All-Americans in the country with 11, including the most in the country in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Hansson has been preparing for this moment for the last eight years, largely involved in the day-to-day running of the program, especially in recruiting.
“I am very happy that Coach Chadwick gave me the opportunity to be very active in the process,” Hansson said. “He gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of freedom to go out there and find talent. He showed me what to look for in a player. I think we’ve done a really good job with all the individual accolades that all the players have received. I would like to say that we’ve both been successful at getting a lot of great players, and I want to continue to do that.”
Hansson is looking forward to putting his stamp on the program and building on the foundation that Chadwick laid.
“When you are around someone for eight years and talk to them on a daily basis, you can’t help but be influenced by the things that they say or do and the lessons you learn,” Hansson said. “No matter how much I try to be like him, I could never be Billy Chadwick. I can always be Toby Hansson and that’s what I will do.”
When Bjork and Chadwick discussed his retiring, Chadwick made it known that Hansson was ready to take over a program he had built to prominence.
“Toby is one of the top young coaches in the country,” Chadwick said. “We’ve been very fortunate in that a lot of our success stems directly to him. For him to take over, what you’re going to see is we’re not even going to have a bump in the road. The program’s in great hands.”
The good thing for the returning players and incoming freshmen, they know what to expect with Hansson as their new coach.
“We have respect for each other and I feel like the transition will be very smooth, Hansson said. “They respond well to me and they are a great group of guys. I am very fortunate to be working with them and I am thankful for the opportunity that Ross and Lynnette (Johnson) have given me.”
The Rebels will return six of their top seven players from this year’s team and will be bolstered by one of the nation’s top recruiting classes next season.
“I feel like we have a very competitive team and my focus will be on helping them develop and improve every single day,” Hansson said. “If you improve every day, the results will come. I am really looking forward to next year. I have a great feeling about this group of guys. They are a hard-working group and are all willing to do what it takes to win every day. We have the foundation and opportunity to do something big next year.”
The next chapter in Ole Miss men’s tennis begins now.
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