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Eric Shore reflects on 26-year career

2335 days ago
Jeff Shearer | AuburnTigers.com
Photo: Auburn Athletics

AUBURN, Ala -- For Eric Shore, the hardest part of his job interview at Auburn was finding the campus.

A 29-year-old assistant coach at South Carolina, two years before the Gamecocks joined the SEC, Shore had never been to the Plains.

It was 1990. No GPS, no Google maps, no smartphones.

"I flew to Atlanta. I'd never been to Alabama before. And I kept looking for some sign for Auburn," Shore says. "I'm just going straight down 85, and finally, I'm like, 'Where the heck is this place? Is it in Georgia? Is it in Alabama? What's going on?

"I finally pulled over, got a drink at a convenience store," he says. "I asked the guy, 'Hey, man, do you know how far Auburn is from here?' He goes, 'Yeah, it's like 30 miles down the road.'"

A half-hour later, he was face to face with Pat Dye. At the time, it was not uncommon for a head football coach to also serve as Athletic Director.

Shore grew up in Ontario, Canada, before moving to Florida as a teenager. Hockey was and still is his favorite sport, but football wasn't far behind.

"I came over for my visit, and I remember meeting him in his office," Shore says. "I was pretty in awe of the guy. I remember walking in and going, 'Wow, Coach Dye, you're a legend.' I remember him talking to me for a few minutes. Buddy Davidson took me around. That was quite an experience."

Twenty-six years later, Shore is stepping down as Auburn's men's tennis coach at the end of June.

"I love Auburn. I think it's a great place," he says. "If you told me it would be 26 years later I'd still be here, I'd say, 'Wow, I would have never expected that.' I fell in love with the place. I loved it."

To build his program, Shore started by recruiting nationally. It didn't work out like he had hoped.

"I remember my first year, I brought in 11 American kids. Top 50 kids. I got one kid. I thought, 'You have a decision to make.' Auburn, recruiting wise, American kids, had no base. Zero. It wasn't going to happen," Shore says.

"We weren't going to be able to compete with Georgia and Florida in tennis. No chance. So, I went international, and I started from that," he says.

From all over the world, top tennis players came to Auburn.

"Selling Auburn to international kids: not hard at all. 'Come to the South, play in a great climate,'" Shore says.

Auburn's tennis facilities were another matter.

"We didn't have this nice indoor facility. Eighteen years we were over at that other place," he says. "It wasn't the greatest facility, but then (Director of Athletics) Jay (Jacobs) came in and he made some changes. He got us up to par, which was what we desperately needed.

"It was an easy sell for international kids," Shore says. "Once they got here on a visit, they loved it. When you get a little bit of a base, and a little history going with some of these guys. They go back and they talk to their coaches, and then other players come, and that's how it evolved for me."

One of those international players, Australia's Mark Kovacs, teamed with Andy Colombo from Rochester, New York, to win the 2002 NCAA doubles championship against Stanford.

"I remember walking out before the match," Shore says. "It was Dick Gould, the coach at Stanford. He's a legend. And I remember standing next to him, and I was thinking, 'Man he's had like - I remember looking it up the night before - he had like 31 individual national titles, singles and doubles. I'm like, today man, give me one, right?'"

Colombo and Kovacs entered the tournament ranked No. 27 in the country. En route to the title, they knocked off four higher-ranked duos, including Stanford's.

"We started so well," Shore remembers. "We were up 5-0 in the first set. And this kid Colombo had the biggest serve I've ever seen in college tennis. And he was just serving bombs. The adrenalin was flowing. We're rolling."

Auburn won the first set, 6-2, before losing the second set, 3-6.

"It's been a good run, if we don't win this," Shore thought to himself.

Then in the third set, Auburn won the first three games.

"'There's no way we're going to lose because Colombo's serve is not going to get broken twice. There's no way,'" Shore recalls thinking. "I knew we were going to win. And that was pretty special."

Colombo and Kovacs closed out the match, 6-2, bringing a championship to Auburn.

Three years later, another Australian, former Tiger Stephen Huss, became the first Auburn player to win Wimbledon.

Huss and partner Wesley Moodie became the first qualifiers to ever win the men's doubles title.

Months before that historic victory, Huss stayed with Shore, practicing with the players on Auburn's 2005 team.

On the way to the Atlanta airport, Huss told Shore he was contemplating retirement at the end of the year.

Then came Wimbledon. Two victories in the qualifying rounds just to advance to the main draw.

"And then I kept watching it every day online, and they're winning, they're winning, they're winning," Shore says. "They got to the quarters, I'm like 'What's going on here?' Then, they win that, and they played the Bryan brothers in the final."

Not known for a huge serve, Huss surprised Shore by hitting 119 miles per hour while serving for the match in the fourth set.

"He's like 10 miles an hour more because he's so jacked up," Shore says. "So that stuck out to me. We have a mural of him in our locker room, when he's lying on the ground holding the trophy. Winning Wimbledon, for a tennis player, not too many guys get to experience that."

Shore says the recruitment of Huss to Auburn was "bizarre," another example of the importance of relationships.

As a junior, Huss had given up tennis, but Auburn's Lee Pearson, a fellow Australian and the SEC Player of the Year, convinced his coach to take a chance.

"He said, 'Coach, you need to take this guy. Trust me on this one.' So, I did," Shore says. "And I'm glad I did. He turned out to be unbelievable. He's still a good friend. Great guy. I've had a long friendship with him."

After more than a quarter-century at Auburn, it's those friendships that stand out, even more than the 359 wins and two trips to the Elite Eight.

"I've heard from so many players. Wow. I mean, you just go, 'Holy moly.' That's what I take away," Shore says. "Yes, the matches stick out, but that's not what I remember most. I remember some of those relationships with those guys, and being on the road with them. I remember that.

"Then, the messages, wow. It's been pretty overwhelming. I'm not going to sit here and tell you differently. The nature of what I did as a coach, you invest. You invest an awful lot," he says. "That's good and bad in a way, because you get a little fried at times.

"To hear from them, that means more to me now. I've got guys calling me who played for me who, now, years later, I'm still friends with. That means more."