Michigan State University ‘93
Head coach Brad Dancer enters his 16th season on the staff and 15th as head coach of the Illinois men’s tennis team. Dancer became Illinois’ 19th head men’s tennis coach on June 28, 2005, after serving his first year on the staff as an associate head coach under Illini legend Craig Tiley.
Illinois has consistently been in the top three of the Big Ten while frequently being ranked nationally under Dancer’s tenure. The Illini have won Big Ten Tournament titles in 2012 and 2015 and a regular season conference championship in 2015 and have advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of Dancer’s first 14 seasons. Illinois reached the finals of the 2007 NCAA Championships, finishing as runner-up for the second-highest finish in program history. That year, defending NCAA doubles champions Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe finished runner-up., becoming the first doubles team in almost 40 years to make championship finals with the same partner in back-to-back seasons. In all, Dancer has led the Illini to two quarterfinals (2007, 2015) and 10 Sweet Sixteen appearances.
At Illinois, many of Dancer’s student-athletes have found individual success on the collegiate circuit, as he has coached 17 All-Americans, 36 All-Big Ten honorees, three Big Ten Athletes of the Year, two Big Ten Freshmen of the Year, and a Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship honoree (Bruno Abdelnour, 2012-13). On the ITA circuit, the Illini have had four ITA Regional champions, four ITA Regional Senior Players of the Year, three ITA Regional Player to Watch, and three ITA Regional Arthur Ashe Award winners. Also, Kevin Anderson earned the ITA National Player to Watch in 2007, while Dennis Nevolo won the 2009 ITA Regional Rookie of the Year.
Dancer also garnered his own honors by being selected as the ITA Regional Coach of the Year during the 2014-15 season. In the record books, Dancer ranks as the all-time winningest coach with 296 victories, while also ranked second behind Illini legend Craig Tiley in Big Ten victories and career winning percentage.
While Dancer’s teams have had success on the court, they have also performed in the classroom, as 55 student-athletes have been named to the Academic-All Big Ten Team, 15 named ITA Scholar-Athletes, six honored with the ITA Scholar-Athlete award, five named Big Ten Distinguished Scholars, and two Elite 90 winners.
Dancer has coached his squads to many victories over ranked and NCAA Championship teams. In his first year as head coach (2006), he led the Fighting Illini to victories over two of the nation’s top teams to open the season, defeating No. 1 Virginia and dismantling No. 8 Duke on the road in consecutive duals. With a 19-8 overall record, the 2011-12 squad captured its first Big Ten Tournament title in seven years with a dramatic comeback win over six-time defending champion Ohio State. The 2012-13 season provided two major thrills at home, knocking off both No. 5 Duke and No. 7 Kentucky in consecutive weeks. The 2015-16 squad victories over 2016 NCAA Champion, Virginia, Duke and South Florida. This past season (2017-18), the Illini had wins over seven ranked teams, including No. 9 TCU, No. 10 Florida, and No. 14 Michigan.
Under Dancer’s reign, the Illini have had a winning overall record every season. With a 22-9 overall record, the 2006-07 team had a memorable season including Dancer’s 100th career victory. The 2007-08 season was highlighted by the play of seniors Ryan Rowe and Ruben Gonzales, who helped lead the squad to an 8-2 finish in conference. The 2009-10 squad secured their 13th straight 20-win season with a 20-11 overall mark. 2013-14 was a great season for the Orange and Blue as they finished second in the conference (10-2) and went 24-9 overall, the most wins since the 2006 season. The Illini also went undefeated at home (13-0) for the first time since 2004. The 2014-15 Illinois squad went 15-1 at home and produced a 27-5 record, the most wins since the 2003 season. Juniors Aron Hiltzik and Aleks Vukic led the 2016-17 team to an 18-12 overall record with an 8-3 mark in Big Ten play. This past year (2017-18), the squad had an overall record of 24-8, along with 10-1 in conference play and 11-1 at home.
Whether as a team or individually, the orange and blue have consistently ranked in the top 20 nationally since Dancer took over for Tiley. For Dancer’s first season as head coach, he propelled Illinois to No. 2 in the nation, a spot Illinois held for a large part of the season.
Individually, the Illini garnered its first singles No. 1-ranked preseason player in Ryler DeHeart, who also claimed the top spot during the regular season. In 2008-09, No. 12 in the final Campbell’s/ITA rankings after posting an overall record of 23-9. The 2013-14 squad ranked as high as sixth in the nation, while also qualifying to the National Indoor Championships. As one of the most successful teams in program history, the 2014-15 squad rose as high as No. 2 in the ITA national rankings, the highest they have achieved since 2006. The 2017-18 team achieved a No.8 ranking in the final ITA national rankings, the highest since 2015.
Dancer started off his coaching career in 1996 as an ongoing role as an assistant to Billie Jean King for the U.S. Fed Cup Team. Dancer cites the experience with King as having a profound impact on him, as she led by her incredible example and helped him mold his coaching ideology.
Dancer received his first head coaching position with the Delaware Smash of World Team Tennis. From 1998 to 2004, he had the privilege to coach athletes such as Patrick McEnroe and Serena Williams. In 2003, he guided Smash to the World Team Tennis Championship en route to being named Coach of the Year. The Illini head coach has also traveled to more than 20 different countries, working with elite junior development programs and various touring professionals, such as Martina Navratilova and Mariaan de Swardt.
Dancer’s collegiate coaching career started at his alma mater, Michigan State, where he served as the assistant men’s tennis coach from 1993-98. In 1999, Dancer served in his first head coaching capacity for the women’s tennis team at the University of Arizona.
Before coming to Illinois, Dancer compiled a 38-35 overall record in three seasons as the head coach at Fresno State University. He led his teams to two NCAA tournament appearances, including in 2003 when his squad advanced to the second round, marking the deepest postseason run during his tenure.
As an associate head coach in 2004-05, Dancer helped lead the Orange and Blue to a 25-4 record and a trip to the Sweet 16, before taking over for Illini Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, Tiley, who is the only coach to lead the program to a national championship (2003).
Dancer has had several former Illini move on to successful professional careers, most notably Anderson and Rajeev Ram. Anderson reached a career-high No. 10 world ranking in October 2015, while advancing to the third round or better at 11 straight Grand Slams in 2016. The former All-American reached his first career Grand Slam Final at the 2017 US Open, becoming the first Illini to reach a singles final in a Grand Slam event and the first player with college ties to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Northwestern’s Todd Martin at the 1999 US Open. Ram reached the pinnacle of his career in 2016 by winning a silver-medal in the mixed doubles at the 2016 Rio Olympics with Venus Williams. That same year, Ram earned runner-up doubles finishes at the US Open (partner with USA’s Coco Vandeweghe) and ATP World Tour Finals in London (partner with South Africa’s Raven Klaasen). The following year, the two-time Halle Cup winner also won the doubles with Klaasen at the 2017 Indian Wells Masters.
Dancer earned his Bachelor of Arts in business administration from Michigan State in 1993 and also competed on the men’s tennis team, earning All-Big Ten honors and reaching the NCAA Doubles Championships his senior year.
Dancer and wife Haylie reside in Champaign with their four boys, Jackson, Hudson, Camden and Griffin.