Bryan Shelton is no stranger to postseason success.
During his tenure as head coach of the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team from 2000-2012, Shelton went 24-12 in NCAA Championship matches and led the Yellow Jackets to seven appearances in the Round of 16, including a national championship in 2007.
The Huntsville, Alabama, native built a strong reputation over those 13 seasons at Georgia Tech, so it made sense that after former Florida men’s tennis head coach Andy Jackson announced his resignation on May 25, 2012, UF wasted no time in making Shelton the next leader of its program.
Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley appointed Shelton as head coach of the men’s tennis team two weeks after Jackson’s resignation. At the time of Shelton’s hire, the Gators hadn’t advanced past the Round of 16 in the NCAA Championship in over seven years.
It was Shelton’s job to change that.
“I don’t tell coaches how many games or championships they have to win, but men’s tennis needs to be in the hunt every single year,” Foley said after Shelton was hired in 2012. “Does that mean the Final Four every year? No. But when the season starts, you need to be one of the teams that has a chance to get there.”
Almost four years later, the Gators have had opportunities under Shelton, but UF still hasn't been able to make a deep run in the postseason.
In 2014, Florida lost in the Round of 16, falling to Ohio State 4-3 to end its season in heartbreaking fashion. 2013 and 2015 didn’t end much better for Shelton and the Gators with losses in the first round to Denver and Pepperdine, respectively.
However, 2016 may finally be the year everything comes together for Shelton and his program.
After earning the No. 9 seed and the right to host the first two rounds of their region, the Gators got off to a blistering start in the NCAA Championships last weekend, defeating both North Florida and South Florida in 4-0 sweeps.
UF has one of the most talented lineups Division I college tennis has to offer, with four players nationally ranked in the top 120 in singles play and two tandems ranked in the top 80 in doubles play.
With a roster that is capable of contending for a national championship for the first time in decades, it’s hard for Shelton to not be pleased with his team’s prospects heading into Friday’s Round of 16 match against SMU in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“I am really proud of our guys and really happy for all those that have been supporting us all year and our support staff,” Shelton said in a release.
“(I’m) just really thankful for the opportunity and to be able to move on.”
If Shelton is able to lead his players to a win over the Mustangs on Friday, he will have guided UF to its first quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Championship since 2005.
If the Gators lose, however, the 2016 season will go down as another successful regular-season campaign that suffered shortcomings in the national tournament under Shelton.
However, regardless of Friday's outcome, there’s no denying Shelton has turned the Gators into contenders, which is exactly what Foley brought him in to do.
A story posted to FloridaGators.com on June 8, 2012 contributed to this report.
Contact Dylan Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
UF men's tennis coach Bryan Shelton looks on during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.