A Look Back at the Storied Valpo Coaching Career of Jim Daugherty
Friday, July 31, 2020
By Brandon Vickrey
A Look Back at the Storied Valpo Coaching Career of Jim Daugherty

As Jim Daugherty reflects on his 35-year career as the head men’s tennis coach at Valparaiso University, the championships, awards and well over 300 victories are all secondary.

The accomplishments are meaningful, but the relationships mean the most for the retiring Daugherty, who also served as the head coach of the Valpo women’s tennis program for 10 seasons and taught for three decades in the University’s physical education and kinesiology departments.

The accolades and achievements are numerous, but the most important number is one no statistician can tabulate — the number of lives impacted during his lengthy tenure on campus.

“In a word, I would say community,” Daugherty said when asked what makes Valpo special to him. “My wife and I found Valparaiso University and the city of Valparaiso to be a great community setting. We met a lot of great friends through the years in the area and we’ve enjoyed our time here immensely. The relationships you build with your players and assistant coaches will always trump winning championships.”

The Foundation

From 1985 to 2020, generations of student-athletes learned from Jim Daugherty, the coach. But before he achieved greatness in his longtime profession of coaching and teaching, Jim Daugherty had a commendable playing career at Ball State University from 1974 to 1977.

“He was a great teammate,” Ball State men’s tennis coach Bill Richards said. “I’ve honestly never met anyone who didn’t like Jim Daugherty. He was not someone who would argue with his opponent or get into a controversial situation on the court. He was very level-headed and well-behaved. He was a great representative of the game of tennis and what it stands for in terms of sportsmanship and respect.”

When Daugherty arrived at Ball State, the athletic department was transitioning from the “small college” division to the “major college” division. His sophomore season was Ball State’s first year in the Mid-American Conference. Daugherty played No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles as a freshman before advancing to No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles as a sophomore. He continued at those positions while seeing some time at No. 1 singles during his junior campaign. A chronic back issue sidelined Daugherty for much of his senior season, when he played in only about a third of Ball State’s matches.

As a freshman, Daugherty had one of the biggest wins in program history at that time, helping the Cardinals beat then-rival Indiana State 5-4 by winning the clinching doubles match 7-6 in the third set.

“That was about as excited as I’ve ever seen him,” said Richards, who vividly described details of Daugherty’s matches from the 1970s. “In my early years, that was a huge win. When I look through old scorebooks, those memories jump right out. I can see that match unfolding like it was yesterday.”

Fast-forward to Feb. 21, 2020, when Richards, still the head coach at Ball State, brought his team to Valparaiso for one final matchup with Daugherty. The match was special for many reasons, as a dramatic 4-3 win allowed Valpo to snap a 15-match head-to-head losing streak to the Cardinals that dated back over two decades. Richards, who recently completed 48th season at Ball State, is the longest-tenured Division-I head men’s tennis coach in the nation, and Daugherty was the fourth-longest tenured at the time of his retirement.

“I have nothing but positive memories of Jim,” Richards said. “He did extremely well in school, and he really helped lay the foundation for what has been a good run of success here at Ball State. I’m very proud of him for his commitment and loyalty to Valparaiso and the great success he had there over his last 10 years.”

The Hire

In the summer of 1985, a young Daugherty approached Valparaiso Director of Athletics Bill Steinbrecher with a request to host a tennis camp at the University’s courts. The modest proposal for a few weeks of court usage turned into a relationship that would last 35 years between Daugherty and Valparaiso University.

“Bill asked for my resume to make sure I was legitimate before approving the camp,” Daugherty said. “He called me back and said, ‘It looks very good. You can do your summer tennis camp, but I also wanted to ask you if you’d consider being our tennis coach.’”

Daugherty began as a part-time coach leading both the men’s and women’s programs. A few years later, he had an offer for a full-time position at a different institution, but Valpo came back with the opportunity for him to move into a full-time role teaching classes and continuing his coaching duties, an offer attractive enough for him to stay.

“Being a physical education and kinesiology instructor while coaching tennis was at times overwhelming and very challenging,” Daugherty said. “However, it offered a nice balance to my life. Working with students rather than just student-athletes provided a different perspective and infused me into the culture of the University. It was very rewarding to work with all students, and teaching helped me get to know faculty members and others who were associated with the University.”

The man who made the hire has fond memories of his time as Daugherty’s supervisor.

“Jim is the most non-volatile coach that I have ever been associated with,” Steinbrecher said. “He does not get angry or raise his voice. He never complained about teaching a heavy load of classes. He was a quiet gentleman on and off the court. He recruited and developed great tennis players. I was grateful that Jim chose to remain at Valpo even though he had a resume that would allow him to seek jobs at other schools. He has been very loyal to Valparaiso University and he loves this community.”

Dan McGrath ’88 started his Valpo tennis career under the previous head coach before Daugherty was hired prior to his sophomore season.

“It was a welcome change because there had been some instability in the program,” McGrath said. “I was recruited by a coach who wasn’t there by the time I was a freshman, and the coach from my freshman year lasted one season. Coach came in as a relatively young guy. His demeanor hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. He has always been calm and thoughtful and cared about his team members not just as tennis players, but as young men.”

The Championships

The program reached new heights late in Daugherty’s tenure, setting school records for victories in four straight seasons from 2014 to 2017, a stretch that culminated with back-to-back Horizon League titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.

Doubles partners Jeffrey Schorsch ’17 and Charlie Emhardt ’17 garnered individual feats that were previously unprecedented for the program, advancing all the way to the national title match in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in the fall of 2016. In the spring of 2017, they reached the NCAA Doubles Elite Eight, becoming the first All-Americans in program history.

“When Charlie and I were at the NCAA Doubles Tournament, Coach was so excited before our matches that he would go through the dynamic warmup with us,” said Schorsch, a three-time Horizon League Player of the Year who holds the program record for singles victories. “He had never done the full warmup with us, but he was stretching and jogging around the courts to get his energy out. Normally he was so calm and collected, but he was giddy like a schoolkid. You could see he was a child of the game, and that excitement really resonated with us.”

Valpo clinched the first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history by beating Green Bay to win the Horizon League title on May 1, 2016. 

“Winning the first championship stands out because of the jubilation that I saw with the players and the assistant coaches,” Daugherty said. “It was the biggest hurdle that our program had overcome. It meant a lot to me, but most of all it was rewarding to see how much it meant to the players and my assistant coaches.”

The team repeated a year later, edging Cleveland State 4-3 to finalize another NCAA Tournament berth on April 30, 2017. Valpo was assigned to Stanford, Calif. for a first-round NCAA matchup with Michigan.

“Flying to Stanford with Coach our senior year was awesome,” Emhardt said. “He had so many memories of watching incredible Stanford teams for so long, and getting to play in their venue was fantastic. Seeing someone who had been at Valpo for so many years have that first-time experience is hard to put into words.”

The story of Jim Daugherty simply can’t be told without the story of Michael Woodson ‘12, the former Valpo student-athlete perhaps most closely tied with Daugherty’s Valpo legacy. Woodson, whose father Tracy was the head baseball coach at Valpo at the time, transferred in from North Carolina State in January 2010 to play for Daugherty. When his college days ended, Woodson began his coaching career on Daugherty’s staff and played a key role in assembling the championship core.

“Coach Daugherty is a father figure to me,” said Woodson, now the associate head coach at Baylor University. “He is a man who I call when I have questions about anything in life. When something good happens, I want to share it with him. He was somebody who was always there for you. Anybody who has ever played for him or coached under him would say the same. He’s on the short list of people you know you can call and he’ll be there for you.”

The Legacy

Daugherty’s ability to connect with others and the relationships he built with his student-athletes and colleagues will forever be at the forefront of his Valpo legacy. The consensus among the alumni base is clear – Daugherty’s unmatched authenticity made him special.

“I can’t stress enough Coach’s connection with his players,” Jon Coles ’99 said. “Coach got the best out of every player because he cared. Guys played hard for him because he is a genuinely nice guy who wanted the best for all of us. So many coaches are about the spotlight — my program, my success, win for me so I can move on to a bigger job. Not Coach D. He was a servant leader who you knew had your back. Coach wasn’t one of those recruiters who ‘talked the talk’ about caring and being a family. He lived it. We played hard for him because we genuinely loved the guy.”

Nate Buckert ’02 was among the many on-court success stories under Daugherty’s tutelage. He started his career as a walk-on and finished it as an elite player and the 2002 Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year.

“Honestly, I think Coach Daugherty was the program,” Buckert said. “He built it from square one. Nothing happened overnight, and the work that he put in paid off at the end of his coaching career. He was a fatherly figure. He was not only the coach, but he was a leader on and off the court.”

Through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, Daugherty has always been there for his student-athletes.

“When my mother passed away was when I became more bonded with Coach,” Woodson said. “When I saw him walking up and down the hallways crying, I knew he wasn’t just my coach. He was a mentor and a friend. He was somebody who loved me for who I was and cared so deeply about each one of us. He asked me to stay on as his assistant coach, and that opportunity is one that changed the course of my entire life.”

From Daugherty’s playing days at Ball State to his final years as head coach, sportsmanship and integrity were paramount.

“There are not many things that make Coach angry, but if you acted out of line as far as sportsmanship, he’d be there to correct you,” said Brandon Ancona ’20, the 2019 Summit League Player of the Year and a member of Daugherty’s final team. “I remember us winning some important matches and him not wanting us to celebrate too long and go shake the person’s hand at the net. He taught me about showing respect to your opponents. This year, it was fun to see how many opposing teams honored Coach because of the relationships he has built and the respect everyone has for him.”

Homecoming weekend has always been a highlight for Daugherty, who hosts an Alumni Tournament where alums of all ages compete with and against current players.

“You can see the sense of community that he has built,” said Nic Kooyers ‘07, the 2006 Mid-Con Player of the Year. “Numerous former players from all different eras come back each year. I’ve come back three or four times since I graduated, and every year it’s a different subset of people. He not only trained us as tennis players, but he helped young men grow up. He improved all of our lives and we became better people because of him.”

Daugherty, who won five conference Coach of the Year awards spread over four different decades, provided unyielding compassion and never expected recognition. He impacted not only 35 seasons worth of men’s tennis players at Valpo, but also 10 years of women’s tennis players, three decades of kinesiology students and numerous coaching colleagues, administrators, faculty members and staff members.

“Jim Daugherty’s accomplishments at Valparaiso are easily seen in the quality of the student-athletes that have made up the tennis program over the years,” Director of Athletics Mark LaBarbera said. “Young people who have been strong students and strong tennis players while on campus. Young people who have gone on to successful careers in a wide variety of professions after graduation. Coach Daugherty has recruited and developed strong tennis players who went on to Hall of Fame careers and who went on to win championships. He did this while teaching classes as a member of the Kinesiology Department. He has been a true educator. He and his teams have represented the University with class and determination. He has for the past 35 years, and always will, personify the Valpo Experience.”

The Next Chapter

Daugherty is set to turn the page to the next chapter in his life as he looks ahead to his upcoming retirement.

“During this isolation due to the coronavirus, I’ve been able to reflect and think about what I want to do next,” Daugherty said. “I’ve been so busy in my life with teaching and coaching that I haven’t been able to sit and ponder a whole lot. I have over 100 books listed that I want to read. I have them prioritized and I’ve got a whole plan for how I want to attack this. I’m working on a prototype for an invention. My wife Cathy and I are making plans for more travel. I’m excited about doing other things, and I’m already jumping into it.”

Daugherty’s time coaching and teaching is over, but the relationships that he has built will last forever.

“I am always surprised when former players say I’ve had an impact on their lives,” Daugherty said. “In my mind, I was just doing my job. I cared about them and enjoyed the process. When I started getting letters thanking me for making their experience fun or meaningful, I realized that coaching can be more impactful than I initially thought. I had the good fortune of enjoying my job and selfishly I enjoyed being with my players. I’m not sure how or why, but I just cared about helping them in some way.”