The beige paint of Robert Bruley’s office walls is barely visible beneath the awards and pictures highlighting his 14 years of successful tennis at SUNY New Paltz. However, Bruley’s successful tenure as a tennis head coach was not always his plan and began by chance.
Bruley, the Women’s Tennis coach at SUNY New Paltz, brought the program from last place to contention since being appointed to the position in 1998 and is the most successful coach in Women’s Tennis history, accounting for 74 percent of the program’s victories – including a SUNYAC championship this past season.
Bruley was recognized by his peers and awarded his fourth Coach of the Year award for the Hawk’s success.
Bruley, who grew up in England, came to the United States to pursue a coaching position in his life’s greatest passion: soccer.
Soccer had consumed every waking moment of his childhood and adult life. As a child, his father coached his soccer team, while his father and both his brothers played cricket. Following in their footsteps, Bruley said his passion for athletics began to develop and he played for 13 varsity programs in high school and middle school.
“I was very rarely in class,” Bruley said. “I had the best high school career you could ask for.”
As a freshman, coaches of the senior teams would oftentimes ask Bruley to leave his classes to help the team fill in missing players. Bruley described athletics as a major part of his life, he said that many days he would only come back to his home to eat and get changed.”
Besides soccer, Bruley was also surrounded by tennis from a young age. Bruley grew up 15 minutes away from Wimbledon, and served as a ball boy in the 1975 tournament. He played for his high school’s tennis team, and described tennis as a “huge part of [his] life.”
While becoming a professional soccer player was always Bruley’s dream, he realized that his goal may have been too high, and eventually signed on to play semi-professional soccer. Bruley played 10 seasons with Corinthian- Casuals of the Isthmian League, playing right back and center half.
“My life in England was completely obsessed with soccer,” Bruley said. “My whole life revolved around [it].”
While working at a soccer camp in the United States one summer, Bruley’s life changed forever and his path to becoming a coach at SUNY New Paltz began.
Bruley met his future wife, Colleen, when she was the Head Coach of Women’s Soccer at SUNY Albany. After dating for a few years, the couple moved together to England where Colleen played for the Millwall and Arsenal clubs in the English Premier League.
According to Bruley, Colleen became homesick and began to search for jobs on the NCAA website after a few years. She eventually landed the Women’s Head Coaching job at SUNY New Paltz after a telephone interview with then Athletic Director Jim Zalacca.
It was this conversation that would lead Bruley to the United States for good.
“I came back home one day and Colleen said I’m moving out,” Bruley said. “I was like well, I’m not winning that argument.”
Colleen moved back to the United States in July while Bruley moved in Nov. and was hired by then Men’s Soccer Head Coach Stuart Robinson to act as an advisor to New Paltz’s team.
According to Bruley, the day school started in August 1998, Bob Siracuse (the Women’s Tennis coach since 1994) resigned to take a high school athletic director job. In response, New Paltz’s athletic department had a meeting to find a new coach, or risk cutting the program for the season.
Bruley took the job because of his knowledge of tennis.
“I took the job not really knowing what I was doing; I was really just off the boat,” Bruley said.
Transitioning from teaching soccer to coaching tennis was totally different, Bruley said. While he did employ aspects of his soccer coaching, such as footwork drills and conditioning, Bruley was used to the team aspect of soccer and had to adjust to teaching the individual aspects that tennis requires.
“It’s a different kind of sport,” Bruley said. “Soccer is a team sport, but tennis, while we are a team, is still a very individualized kind of thing.”
Bruley’s first team finished 2-8 and was No.10 in the conference, however the team had a “good time” and Bruley’s coaching style gained him considerable feedback. The response to his coaching was so well received that he was offered the head coaching job for the Men’s Tennis team as well.
In 1999 and 2000, the team slowly began to win more games and rise in the conference ranks, and in 2001 the team won 12 games, which was the highest amount in team history.
During this time of slow success, Bruley began recruiting players including one of the most important recruitments in Bruley’s career – Kerry Farrel.
According to Bruley, the Rockville Centre, Long Island native had no intention of coming to New Paltz. But after an overnight stay Farrel decided to turn down a scholarship to a Division I program and be the center point of a rebuilding New Paltz program.
In 2002, the Women’s Tennis team finished 13-3, besting the record they set the previous year, and won the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Championship. Bruley said that it was the first time in 178 years that a New Paltz women’s team had won a conference championship. Besides winning the championship, Bruley was awarded Coach of the Year and Farrel won Female Athlete of the Year for the department.
“In such a short space of time we started to lay the foundation for what we are today: a powerhouse for women’s tennis,” Bruley said. “Since 2002 we have never looked back.”
Bruley believed that his team winning the championship “broke the mold” at New Paltz and a lot of coaches at the school became inspired by the tennis team’s ability to rise from worst to first.
Since the team’s championship in 2002, Bruley has kept the team in the top two positions in the SUNYAC every season, and has won four Coach of the Years, had three female athletes of the year and four championships along the way- including their most recent championship this past October.
While he believes the team’s championship in 2002 was one of his greatest moments in tennis, he was extremely happy with this year’s championship.
“We went into the SUNYACs and no way were we the favorites going in,” Bruley said. “To see how the six women stepped up and went for it, playing fearless tennis … that was great, I was very proud.”
Bruley said that last season’s team is the strongest he has ever put together and New Paltz’s tennis program is now considered one of the top 20 of the east coast along with Williams, Amherst, Wellsley and Tufts. He believes that the program’s rise to success is important considering that it is a “tiny state school.”
“Other state schools see what we’ve done and say ‘why can’t we be the next New Paltz?’” Bruley said. “We have driven the level of tennis in our conference because of what we have done.”