Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Carrying the Verdieck legacy forward, on and off the courts

“When my daughter came to Redlands and began playing tennis on the same courts I played on for Coach [Jim Verdieck], admittedly it was emotional for me,” says Rusty Miller ’78 (left), here with daughter Rachel Miller ’10 and U of R basketball coach Jim Ducey ’78.

I chose the University of Redlands because of Coach Jim Verdieck. It was a fortunate decision: He not only made me a better tennis player, but changed my life with his example.

My father played football for Coach Verdieck at the U of R in the 1940s, and Dad knew that Coach’s tutelage would help me improve my game. Building on the tennis I had learned at Foothill High School in Tustin, I thrived in the college team atmosphere. At first, I relished the one-on-one competition, trying to beat the other team members. But under Coach’s influence, I learned it was more important for us to work with one another to clinch a championship—together as a team. Between tennis and my studies, I did not have lots of spare time for social activities, but it did not matter—my team was my social network, and we helped each other with schoolwork and shared meals in between practices.

Everything I did on a given day made me a better player the next day, driving home the value of a work ethic. I vividly remember winning a match in which we defeated one of the top seeds. As I came off the court, I received a firm handshake from Coach, and this was a big moment for me. Also during my Redlands years, I was honored twice as an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American, and as an National Collegiate Athletic Association All-American and Small College Player of the Year. Even with those accolades, I sometimes questioned whether I played as well as I could have—when I temporarily coached the U of R team in 1979 after Coach had a heart attack, and I joked with him that while I had lost him two championships, I gave him one back that year!

My dad always told me, “Figure out what you like to do, and then figure out a way to make money at it.” As a psychology major with minors in business and history, I had originally considered law school, but the combination of Dad’s advice and Coach’s passion shone an even brighter light on my love of tennis. After graduation, I joined the satellite pro tour, playing and coaching the sport I loved, and I furthered my professional career by teaching tennis throughout the state, including at my own clubs and facilities. Coach’s influence was evident—I approached my junior program like a college program.

For 30 years, I served on the junior competition committee of the Southern California Tennis Association, where we initially noted the lack of team opportunities for youth. This conversation led to the creation of the Coach Jim Verdieck Team Cup Tournament, which we established shortly after Coach passed away in 2001. It seemed like a perfect way to honor his legacy. We completed our 17th annual event on July 8, welcoming 60 10-year-olds to an experience designed to prepare them for future tournaments—complete with everything from a traditional format to advice on acceptable court behavior. By naming the tournament for Coach, we continue to remember his legacy and share his inspiration with young players. I still say he is one of the greatest people I ever met—most people who knew him would say the same.

When my daughter Rachael Miller ’10 came to Redlands and began playing tennis on the same courts I played on for Coach, admittedly it was emotional for me. I had not been out there much since Coach passed, but I was happy for her and the successes she enjoyed. She was not “Rusty Miller’s daughter”; instead, I was “Rachael Miller’s dad.” Redlands was the perfect atmosphere for her, and she loved it, just like I did. Her experience, as well as my own, inspired me to join the Tennis Complex Campaign Committee.

On the committee, I work alongside other alumni, some of who also played for Coach, and we are united in our desire to enhance our tennis athletic facilities and increase our ability to recruit even stronger players. Our family has made our commitment to this important project to build on Coach’s legacy both on and off the courts. We knew we were part of something special, and we want that experience for generations of Bulldog tennis student-athletes in the future.

Learn more about plans for Bulldog tennis as part of the Campaign for Bulldog Athletics.