116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It was a decision Mitch Gross actually contemplated before the 2019 season.
The legendary Iowa City West boys’ tennis coach was considering calling it a career following that season.
“I had really planned on (2019) being my last year,” he said. “Then, when the pandemic hit, I didn't want my last year to be a year without a season.”
So Gross returned for 2020, leading the Trojans to a state runner-up finish in Class 2A, losing a 5-3 decision to Waukee in the title match.
On Monday, West announced Gross was stepping down as head coach after 22 seasons. He had a 314-38 record in dual meets, winning eight state titles and finishing second five times.
West has appeared in every 2A state title match since the 2011 season under Gross' leadership.
In August of 2020, he was asked to serve as West's interim principal and was given the job on a permanent basis in March of this year. Those new responsibilities, combined with his desire to watch his daughter, Zola, compete for the West girls’ team, were the main reasons for his decision to step down
“I was really leaning (toward stepping down in 2019) mostly because of my daughter,” he said. “With the way the boys’ and girls’ season overlaps, I wasn't getting to see her play much. Then I became principal, and it was just a lot. The reality of it is that the state tournament and graduation are the same weekend so it was just time.
“Now, I get a chance to see my own kids. And, at the same time being able to make sure I am giving it all I have in my new position.”
Even with all the on-court success the Trojans have had during Gross' tenure, which began in 2001, his best memories were getting to know the boys he coached as people.
“The thing I am most proud of is the great relationships I have with my players, both current and former,” he said. “A cool story from this year ... as my guys were warming up for practice (at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center) my very first No. 1 player, Ben Margolin, walked by with his two young sons who he was getting ready to hit with.
“I had him stop and talk to the team for a few minutes. That just shows the type of family atmosphere we've created here over the years.”
Two of Gross' best players, Jiung Jung and David DiLeo, recalled his ability to adapt and adjust to his players.
“I think what stood out to me the most over our years together was his emotional intelligence,” said Jung, a three-time state singles champion from 2015-17. “I felt as though he genuinely cared for me and understood my feelings. Having that level of trust between us helped a lot when adversity would come both on and off the court.”
DiLeo, who won a doubles title and was a state singles runner-up during his West career, said what Gross has accomplished with the West program over the past 20 years is “historical.”
“Coach Gross has shown year in and year out the ability to maximize the talent of every player on his teams,” DiLeo said. “What I enjoyed most about being a Trojan was how he took a sport that is pretty individualized and created a family atmosphere within the program.”
Even though Gross is done coaching at West in an official capacity, he plans on remaining involved as a volunteer assistant coach for the boys’ program and possibly the girls’ program.
“I'm still going to be around,” Gross said with a laugh. “I will be as involved as the new coach wants me to be.”