Mike DePalmer, Tennessee’s most successful tennis coach, died Thursday at age 86.
He directed the Volunteers from 1981 through 1994, had a super 34-1 record in 1990 and was national coach of the year. His teams produced a 299-119 record. The Vols went 97-55 against Southeastern Conference foes, won three league titles and competed in six NCAA tournaments. Twenty-one players won all-America honors.
“We’re tremendously saddened to lose such a loved member of our Tennessee family,” said Phillip Fulmer, UT athletics director.
“I always admired Mike’s spirit and passion as a coach. He had a real toughness and edge to his personality – in a wonderful way. He made an everlasting impact on Tennessee tennis, and he’ll certainly always be remembered and revered.”
DePalmer’s influence lives on. He coached Chris Woodruff to all-America fame and an NCAA singles championship. Woodruff is Tennessee’s current coach.
Woodruff said, he too, is saddened by the death of his coach, mentor and friend.
“I cherish the memories I have of playing for him here at Tennessee and it is an incredible honor to follow in his footsteps in leading our Tennessee men’s tennis program.
“The impact he made on the lives of his players is immeasurable and we all will continue to carry his memory and the lessons he taught us in our hearts and minds forever.”
DePalmer flirted with fame long before he arrived at Tennessee. He was coaching at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton, Fla., when he heard about an opportunity to start a tennis club. He called a friend, Nick Bollettieri. They became partners. The club flourished. It is now a famous part of the IMG Academy network.
Bollettieri came to visit his old friend last month.
“Very, very special visit with Coach D and his family,” said Bollettieri. “What an incredible man, and family! It was my privilege to have Mike as my partner when we first started our tennis programs in the Bradenton area and my privilege to work with him and his family for many years. Thank you, Mike, for the impact you’ve made on thousands of people throughout the world, including me.”
DePalmer grew up in Westport, Conn. He served three years in the U.S. army. He walked on to play football at Florida State, was injured, played basketball for the Seminoles and worked as freshman coach for three years.
He was a high school coach in Bradenton and Tampa before Manatee JC and the adventure with Bollettieri.
There is a DePalmer tennis legacy at Tennessee. Son Mike was a two-time all-American for the Volunteers. Daughter Michelle was an all-American. Grandchildren Rhyne and Caitlyn Williams played for Tennessee. Rhyne won the 2010 national indoor title and reached the NCAA singles finals in 2011.
First among the survivors is Vicky, Mike’s wife for 61 years.
The DePalmer family will receive friends from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday with a celebration of life to follow at West Park Baptist Church. Pastor Sam Polson will officiate.
Family and friends will meet at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the East Tennessee Veteran’s Cemetery, 2200 East Governor John Sevier Highway, for graveside service and interment with military honors.