When looking across the landscape of college tennis, there are very few individuals who have experienced the same level of success as a student-athlete, professional, and coach as current Florida Men’s Tennis Head Coach Bryan Shelton.
As one of only two black Power Five men’s head coaches, Shelton has blazed trails throughout his career as a player, pro, and coach leaving a lasting impact on players and future coaches for generations to come.
Picking up the sport as a young kid in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, Shelton has long had a passion for the sport of tennis which he now shares on a daily basis with the players he coaches and mentors.
“I was fortunate throughout my childhood in Huntsville to get a coach who really understood the game and knew how to teach it,” stated Shelton. “A guy named Bill Tym, who is still my mentor to this day showed me the nuances of the game and opened my eyes to the possibilities of playing tennis at a high level.”
After refining his game at the junior level, Shelton took the next leap in his tennis journey joining the Georgia Tech Men’s Tennis team where he would go on to have a standout career as a player.
A four-time All-ACC selection, Shelton was crowned ACC Singles Champion in 1985 and earned All-America status his senior season in 1988.
After college, Shelton had a very successful professional career where he reached as high as No. 55 in the ATP singles ranking and made a Grand Slam Mixed Doubles appearance at the 1992 French Open.
In 1999, Shelton returned to college tennis when he became the Women’s Head Coach at his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
“I got a call about two years after I retired from a friend named Kenny Thorne who brought to my attention the opening of the women’s head coaching position at Georgia Tech,” says Shelton. “At the time, I wasn’t quite sure if I would be the right candidate for the job, but after talking with the Athletic Director at the time, Dave Braine, as well as some others, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be.”
Shelton went on to coach the Yellow Jackets for 13 seasons, reaching the NCAA Tournament all 13 seasons, and winning an NCAA National Championship with Georgia Tech in 2007.
In 2013, Shelton decided to take the next step in his tennis journey moving his family from Atlanta to Gainesville to become the next head coach of the Florida Gators Men’s Tennis Program.
Here he continues to share his passion and wisdom for the sport of tennis with all of the student-athletes that he has the opportunity to coach.
“There are a lot of players that go through struggles in college,” noted Shelton. “It’s not just going out there and playing great tennis, there is personal stuff players go through, and many more obstacles that players must overcome on a daily basis. However, there is a purpose and reason why we go through everything, so if we learn how to appreciate the struggles in our lives it makes the positives that much greater.”
This mentality has taken many of Shelton’s teams past those bumps in the road and has even helped elevate his teams to new heights, as in 2021 Shelton and the Gators won the program’s first-ever NCAA National Championship.
Marking the second NCAA National Championship over his coaching career, Shelton became the only Division I head coach to win a NCAA National Championship with both a Men’s and Women’s program.
“I had a couple of wins over Agassi and some other big players when I was a professional,” noted Shelton. “However, nothing compares to winning with a team like Georgia Tech or here at Florida. None of the things I did individually can compare to what we did as a team.”
Making this 2021 NCAA National Title run even more special for the Shelton family was the fact that Bryan’s son, Ben Shelton, was a member of this National Championship team.
Ben, who was a freshman at the time, clinched the National Championship for the Gators and was able to celebrate alongside his father after the match. In 2022, it is an even bigger family affair for the Shelton’s as his daughter Emma joined the Florida Women’s Tennis team.
Now entering his 10th season at the helm of the Gators, Shelton and his team will have high expectations once again returning a vast majority of the National Title team from 2021. However, through all of the pressure and expectations, Shelton makes sure to stay calm and offer his wisdom and knowledge back to the game that has provided him so much.
“We are all going to make mistakes,” stated Shelton. “When I went to Georgia Tech I made a lot of mistakes, and I’m still making them. It’s whether or not you learn from them, admit that you made them, and don’t let them define you. Let your response define how you come back from adversity.”