Small College Sports

Thanks to Eric Rodgers, Coe is a tennis school

Ogden column: Kohawks have won 44 straight Iowa Conference duals

Coe College’s Josh Pudlo (from left) talks with head coach Eric Rodgers between games in his doubles match with Luke Ford in the semifinal round of the 2017 Iowa Conference men’s tennis tournament at Clark Racquet Center in Cedar Rapids. Coe won the IIAC regular-season title for the seventh year in a row and hosts the tournament again this weekend. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Coe College’s Josh Pudlo (from left) talks with head coach Eric Rodgers between games in his doubles match with Luke Ford in the semifinal round of the 2017 Iowa Conference men’s tennis tournament at Clark Racquet Center in Cedar Rapids. Coe won the IIAC regular-season title for the seventh year in a row and hosts the tournament again this weekend. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about what sport defines a school.

The latest was “is Michigan a football school or a basketball school” after the Wolverines earned a berth in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game for the second time this decade.

Is Michigan State a football school or a basketball school? Is Iowa a football school or a basketball school? Or a wrestling school?

Coe College is a tennis school.

At least that’s been the case since Eric Rodgers took over in 1989.

The Kohawks have been on an incredible run during Rodgers’ 29 years and it gets more impressive with each passing season.

His first two teams at Coe went 9-8 and 4-7 in duals. Since that 1990-91 season, the Kohawks have had just two other losing seasons. What followed are seasons like 26-4 (2001-01), 27-2 (2003-04) and 32-2 (2012-13). Unbeaten seasons in the Iowa Conference are the norm these days.

Coe is 112-6 in conference matches since joining the IIAC. The Kohawks haven’t lost a conference dual since the 2011-12 season, a streak spanning six years and 44 duals. There’s also the seven straight league titles.

What’s the secret to Coe’s success under Rodgers?

“Good players,” he said.

That’s true. But Rodgers, as a one-man coaching staff, has to recruit those players, convince them to come to Coe from places like Texas, Colorado and Chicago. Rodgers also has plenty of homegrown talent (this year’s top player is former Linn-Mar prep Brady Anderson), but that’s a bit easier because “they are more familiar with the quality of our program.”

It’s those kids from out of state who need convincing — after making sure they meet pretty stringent academic requirements,

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“It’s like going through a minefield and turning over every rock,” Rodgers said of recruiting to a small liberal arts college in northeast Cedar Rapids. “This is a great place, but it’s not the easiest sell in the world.

“Once we get them here, it’s the development.”

And that is when the magic happens — and where Rodgers gets the most satisfaction.

He simply loves teaching tennis.

“The most enjoyable part of my job is when we walk down the steps to the tennis court,” he said. “That’s the joy. It’s not the recruiting. It’s not the winning, believe it or not, it’s working with and developing the players.”

He’s not alone in that love, either. He said his wife, Kris Tiedt, shares that joy. She is in her ninth season at Coe, her fourth directing the women’s program. For the second year in a row, the Kohawk women lost the regular-season title to Luther, but won the conference tournament and earned a trip to the NCAA III Championships.

“She’s done more of a miraculous job with less talent,” Rodgers said.

The Coe men will host the Iowa Conference tournament Friday and Saturday, its automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. Coe is chasing its 14th NCAA berth.

“This is one Luther’s best teams,” Rodgers said. “It will be a very, very good challenge.

“It will be a great day for tennis.”

Eric Rodgers has been pretty great for tennis, too.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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