Before his career on the Hilltop, Bradley women’s tennis coach Matt Tyler’s tennis journey has taken him across the country.
The Colorado native moved around the Rocky Mountain states throughout his youth. His family eventually settled in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is where he attended high school and played in junior tennis tournaments. Tyler said his recruiting process was more limited compared to today’s college athletes.
“We didn’t have as much Internet recruiting that goes on today,” Tyler said. “It was a very different experience for me and that just wasn’t contacted by as many coaches as student athletes are today.”
Out of high school, Tyler accepted an offer to play tennis at the University of Northern Colorado, which was a Division II school at the time. He achieved success during his freshman year as the team won the conference championship. However, the school was not the best fit for Tyler.
“I didn’t see eye-to-eye with my coach at the time and felt like the best option for me was to leave,” Tyler said.
Tyler was recruited by two schools after leaving Northern Colorado: Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California and Division II school Mesa State College, now known as Colorado Mesa University. He originally planned to attend Saddleback to play tennis for a year, but got a better offer from Mesa State and accepted.
At MSC, Tyler was an all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference doubles player under the tutelage of coach Jim Heaps, who served as an inspiration in his playing and now coaching career.
“[Heaps] was a super motivational guy, passionate guy and went really to the ends of the earth for all of us student athletes, tennis players and basketball players,” Tyler said. “His coaching style had a lot of impact on the way that I go about it.”
The Division II tennis circuit provided tough competition, filled with under the radar players.
“At that time, Division II tennis was even more international than Division I, so we had a lot of really great players that didn’t get recruited by the Division I schools that would end up at the D-II schools,” Tyler said.
Tyler graduated from Mesa State in 2005 with a degree in psychology. His first job was an instructor position at his private coach’s tennis academy. He also saved up money to play at lower level professional events.
Though Tyler’s professional career saw some success, like being the top-ranked pro in Iowa for three consecutive years, he knew he couldn’t keep it up long-term.
“I was never good enough to be a professional tennis player to make a living playing professional tennis,” Tyler said. “I got later in that playing career and [realized] that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain myself playing professional tennis.”
He then became intrigued by coaching college tennis instead of teaching at tennis clubs, and wanted the chance to coach different types of players.
“I always wanted to work with the elite level tennis players,” Tyler said. “The clubs that I was teaching at, I had to mix in a lot of adult lessons and little kid lessons.”
Tyler entered the college coaching ranks in 2008, earning the assistant men’s and women’s coach job at Colgate University, leading its team to a second-place finish in the Patriot League. He got his first head coaching job a year later at Division III Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, serving in the role from 2009-2013.
At Wartburg, Tyler was named the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Men’s Tennis Coach of the Year in 2010 after leading the men’s team to a third-place conference finish, their best finish in 15 years at that time. Tyler, however, had bigger goals in mind after achieving success at Wartburg.
“[I] loved being a D-III coach, but [I] wanted to be with a little bit [of a] higher-caliber athlete,” Tyler said.
His success at Wartburg led him to the Hilltop in 2013, where the women’s tennis program has steadily improved throughout his time.
Tyler’s tennis career is a journey that has taken him through the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest. But he has found his place on the Hilltop, leading the Braves to two straight winning seasons for the first time in over three decades.