Nothing has ever come easy for Arizona men’s tennis head coach Clancy Shields. He played 35 weeks out of the year on the professional tennis circuit at the age of 17. While many of his competitors stayed in lavish hotels, Shields enjoyed a cozy van with his father Pat.
“I traveled for a year in a renovated cargo van with no windows,” Shields said. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated going through hard times. I appreciated going through, some ways, hell. You are sleeping in your own sweat, there’s no ventilation in the van. You are grinding it out eating ramen noodles. That’s what made me the person that I am today.”
Shields and his father traveled the country competing in tournaments for close to a year and a half. It’s a story he shared with his team right off the bat.
“In terms of guys stringing their rackets, they have to learn,” Shields said. “It’s not just hand it to the manager and they will do it for them. It’s something that we all have to earn. I have to earn this here as a coach and prove myself. So will all the guys on this team.”
In his years of traveling and competing on the professional circuit, Shields and family had their own share of adventures.
“One time, we were going to El Paso and my dad said we should grab a taco in Juarez,” Shields said. “We got lost and it was dangerous. It took us five hours out of the way and we never got a taco. It’s the little things that you find out when you are traveling on the road. [I was] very fortunate to have a family that sacrificed a lot to do the things I was able to do.”
Shields knows the job he is inheriting won’t be easy. The Wildcats haven’t won a conference match since April 2014.
“There’s no limitations here at Arizona,” Shields said. “I feel like this is the grand stage, so why not be a part of it? Now, we are starting at the bottom, which is obviously a challenge, but I did that at my last school and we rose to the top within three years. We can turn this program around, as well.”
He knows what it takes to bring a program up from the ground. At Utah State, Shields led the Aggies to a 9-16 overall record in his first season. By year three, the Aggies had an overall record of 21-8 and had won their first conference championship in program history.
“One of the things I really appreciated about those programs are that the kids really worked hard and weren’t given every little thing under the moon,” Shields said. “They had to work for it and they had to earn it.”
The Prescott, Arizona native was ranked the No. 1 player in the U.S. at the age of 14, but he didn’t earn that overnight. He was first introduced to the sport at the age of 7 and competed nationally with one of his brothers.
“The expectations of the coach and what you see out on the court is up to the players and whether they want to buy into it,” Shields said. “The vision and the plan for the future is going to be the way we want it to be. I think we just try to instill the beliefs that we are a blue-collar team and we work extremely hard with a chip on their shoulder.”
As for now, Shields and his staff are ready to evaluate and prepare for the upcoming fall campaign, which begins mid-September.
“The team we have right now is about finding the right people to put on the bus,” Shields said. “If we get the right guys on the bus and we point the bus in the right direction, then we will get going. Right now, it’s a lot of evaluation and how we can do things even better.”
He is the youngest coach at Arizona at 29 years old, but beams confidence.
“There’s not a thing that comes across my table every day that I don’t believe I can do,” Shields said.
He has a full plate heading into the fall season, but more than anything, Shields has the mindset to succeed.
“What the program was in the past is not what it will be in the future,” Shields said. “If [players] are excited about working hard and competing in the best conference and having a coach that will push them really hard, then this place is for you. We expect results and we compete every day consistently—that’s kind of the motto here.
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