New tennis coach shapes players, people

By Matthew Bassin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Brian Ramirez has been helping others become better for more than 20 years - not just as athletes, but as people.

Ramirez started working in tennis at an early age. Realizing that he would rather teach than play, he started working with young children, helping them learn the fundamentals of tennis. Gradually, he moved up to older children, then teenagers and adults.

As current assistant coach of the Arizona women's tennis team, he's more focused on his players becoming better as a cohesive unit than winning and losing.

"The wins will come," said Ramirez. "As long as the girls are patient and they can see the little improvements, then the wins will come."

A graduate from UNC-Greensboro, where he also helped coach, Ramirez started working at Palmer International in Tampa, Fla., which at the time was the pre-eminent tennis camp in the United States.

"I got to work with some of the best tennis players in the world," said Ramirez, who is in his first year working with the Wildcats. "I only worked there for four years, but it really helped me hone my skills as an instructor. It's where I started working with elite athletes and learning how to teach to someone who already knew most of the game."

After Palmer, Ramirez decided it was time to take a break from tennis and to use his marketing degree.

"I was really run down," said Ramirez about his intense coaching regimen with Palmer. "I was getting tired of tennis and needed a break, so I started working in the corporate world for about six years."

Eventually getting tired of the corporate world, he found his passion for tennis again and mixed it in with his degree by opening his own business, Building Blocks.

"Building Blocks was a place where I could help kids become better athletes," Ramirez said, "helping them hone their skills and become better at sports."

Through Building Blocks and Palmer International, Ramirez met some of the future college and professional tennis players, as well as some of the coaches.

Eventually, because of his connections and his ability to teach, Ramirez was offered a job at Stanford University, which consistently competes for conference and national championships.

"When I started, I had no real experience," said Ramirez. "I had worked with college players before, but not in this environment."

Ramirez never knew the different rules and nuances of college tennis, but he said he learned them quickly.

"I got a real dose of college tennis in the two years I spent at Stanford," said Ramirez.

Because he already knew one of the coaches, and some of the players, the transition was fairly easy for Ramirez.

"Some of the girls took to me right away," said Ramirez. "The others were a little more reserved about having a new coach. But they eventually started listening to me, because they figured, 'Hey, they don't just hire anybody at Stanford, you must know what you're doing.'"

Working with former professional tennis player Lele Forood and Frankie Brennan, son of legendary Stanford coach Frank Brennan Sr., was both difficult and exciting for Ramirez.

"I knew Frankie from college," said Ramirez. "His father is one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history. And Lele, she's done a great job following in his (Brennan's) footsteps."

As head coach of the women's team, Brennan won 10 National Championships from 1982-1999, including consecutive titles from 1986-1991. Forood, who played at Stanford under Brennan, has won three titles since taking over, including last year's championship.

"We went 59-1 while I was working there," said Ramirez. "It was great to be on a team that is so passionate about excellence."

Vicky Maes, head coach of the Arizona women's tennis team, said Ramirez is a breath of fresh air to have on the team.

"He's just great," said Maes. "Anytime you can bring someone in from a winning tradition is great for our team. He brings a different style to our game and it helps a lot."

Ramirez said he loves working with Maes and the rest of the girls on the team.

"Vicky's been great about the adjustments to some of my styles," said Ramirez. "Working with her is a real pleasure. Vicky and I are working hard to have the girls do things in practice that will work in the matches."

Ramirez said it's different when you bring someone new in and are working with someone who has been there for a while.

"Vicky has been here for a long time," said Ramirez of the fourth-year head coach. "She played here, and almost right after, she started coaching here. Anytime you play and work at the same place, you just do things a certain way. Some of the things we've transferred over to here from Stanford are based on experience and are working well, some of the things we did at Stanford would never work here."

Ramirez said it's been a pleasure working with someone like Maes who is so connected to her players.

"She understands things an older coach wouldn't," said Ramirez. "She's more connected to the girls. She knows it's not just about practice, that it's about making many different personalities work together, and we're doing that."

The Wildcats are off to one of their better starts in recent memory. Already owning a winning record, they are a far cry from last year's 7-13 mark. With Ramirez playing a significant role, Arizona hopes to echo the success of their conference counterpart Stanford.