It has been more than two decades since Timmer Willing used Quincy as his home address, yet this is still home.
Now the head men's tennis coach at UC San Diego, an NCAA Division II school, the Quincy High School graduate relies on his Midwestern roots to help his team develop a strong work ethic and consistent success. The Tritons were ranked as high as 12th nationally last spring, and in five seasons as the head coach, Willing has led the Tritons to a 65-51 dual record and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Willing served as an assistant coach with the men's and women's tennis programs before taking over as head coach. With Willing on staff, the men were NCAA D-II national quarterfinalists three times and recorded their best finish in 2007, placing third in the country. Willing was named the 2011 ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year after helping guide the men to a 20-0 record in dual matches.
On the women's side, the Tritons won seven consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Association titles between 2004 and 2010.
Willing served as an assistant coach at Truman State University and Indiana University before going to UCSD.
How's life as a tennis coach at the D-II level in California?
It's good. We're here in one of the two hotbeds in the country. You've got Florida and Southern California, so I'm right in the middle of all of it. If you want to get to the highest level, that's one of the areas you need to be. Here you have UCLA, USC and down here with San Diego State and USD (University of San Diego). Those are some of the top D-I programs. That's where we're trying to head. So that's kind of where I need to be. There's lots of obstacles getting to the D-I level, but we're on our way.
So how did you end up in California?
When I was at Indiana University -- I was coaching there -- and one of the players on the team owned a club in California. I just kind of came out for the summer, and I was like, "OK, I'll get away from tennis for a little bit and just kind of do some job and take a little break." I didn't even tell them I was coaching tennis, so they didn't start asking me questions and things like that. I started enjoying things out here just for those two months. Sure enough, they found out I was coaching, and the next thing you know, I'm coaching. Then I started getting job offers out here. It was not expected, but all of a sudden I said, "Well, I have more to do out here. I'll stay." The pay was decent, but the opportunities kept coming.
Was the next step getting involved with the college level out there?
I was actually working at an academy, and they were all juniors, so was helping people get placed with colleges. I had left Indiana University, so I already had been at Truman State for a couple of years before that. I had done about four years of college coaching. Then I was on the other end of getting kids into those colleges. Then I started traveling with some lower level pros. I went to South America and traveled a little bit into Asia, taking players there. We did some fun things with players that went on to college and others who went straight on to the pros and tried it. I was coaching the satellites, the challengers and the lower level pro stuff.
You've been at UCSD for a while now. What has kept you there?
I was still working with individuals still traveling around on the pro tour when I started working as an assistant at UCSD, and the schedule just seemed to work for me to work with the women's program and eventually expand it to the men's program. It was a good fit, a good area, good players who happened to be high level at the place I was. As I kept going, it got to the point where I was done with the traveling and wanted to have a life. I shrunk it down and was done with the international traveling, and traveling with the college teams was enough. I stuck close to home, and we were having pretty good success. At one point, we had won 60 or 70 straight conference matches. That opened the doors for me for the head coaching job when one of them opened up.
What was it about tennis that originally drew you in?
Growing up, my brother, Todd, and I both loved sports. We played whatever sport it was for that season. We played through the grade schools and junior high levels. All the kids knew each other because it was Quincy, and you were playing baseball, soccer, basketball, whatever it was. I tended to gravitate toward baseball and basketball. Then I got to where I was like, "Let's try something different." Coach (Mike) Terry was there, and that's kind of where I got my start. I played a little when I was a kid with my dad and things like that and just hit with my brother. I started taking it serious with the pros around there. Dave McDowell and Mark Schuering got us involved, and they were very big for tennis. That culture kind of drew us in. The big thing is you're out there on your own. No one to blame but yourself. I had the personality of just wanting to get better and better and better. That's kind of where it took me. I love the team aspects. I love team sports. I love watching basketball. I love watching football. But I like the individual as we compete.
What kind of influence did Mike Terry have on pushing you forward?
One of the biggest things, not just for me but the players in the past as well, was he played college tennis. So when all of young kids started playing high school tennis, there was an expectation that you have to do the right things, you have to get good grades and the opportunities will be there for you. High school was never the end all. It was the beginning. You don't get that much out of a high school coach in those aspects because not all of them played college tennis and have that experience. He did and wanted it for all of us. A lot of us did get to go on and do some things in college tennis. Even today, in how I coach, as far a developing a team and holding them accountable and pushing them physically and mentally, that's still his techniques that resonate through how I coach and how I teach, It's always kind of right there with me.
Do you ever catch yourself saying something or doing something and go, "Oh, I got that from Coach Terry"?
Oh, yeah, I'd say that happens quite a bit. That's especially true with the fitness we do. He was very big into the fitness and conditioning. I feel like there were teams in high school that were extremely talented, but we're in a small town and don't know any better and we think we're good. We were the big fish in a small pond. He pushed us a little bit harder physically. I remember there was a time where we could start practicing March 1, and I don't even know if we touched a racquet the first two weeks. I think we were running more than the cross country team. Soccer players were wanting to come out and train because they needed to train like that. You weeded out the weak. If you weren't ready to go, you were going to struggle. I do a lot of that with my team. They come in and need to be in shape, not get in shape because challenge matches start this day. It's making sure you are taking individual responsibility and making sure you are prepared for yourself. Don't let someone else do it for you.
Could you have imagined while playing for him that you would have ended coaching like him?
No, I was actually en route to be a school teacher. Every time I had the chance to get out of coaching, it sucked me back in. Never in my mind did I think I would be living in California. That was not even on my radar at the time. I didn't think I would be coaching at Indiana in the Big Ten. Things just kind of kept going. You put your head down, you keep working, and things keep happening. You create opportunities for yourself. That's kind of what happened for me. I never had those dreams to go play pro or anything like that. But I ended up playing some pro rounds at the lower levels and did OK, enough to pay the expenses once in a while. Most times, it's not going to be that way. I've never been on a plan. The game has just kind of taken me for this ride.
Along the way tennis became the family sport, didn't it?
My grandfather coached basketball when he was younger. My dad helped out with a lot of teams. A lot of fathers and men in the community get involved in their kids' sports, and they help out the teams. Even if they're not the coach, they're there to support the team. That's one of the great things about Quincy. You're just around it. You're encouraged by it. You encouraged by the families being around it. Dad kind of got us out there a little bit, and Grandpa supported us and watched us and came to the matches. A lot has to be said for the Quincy Racquet Club and Monica Hinkamper. Bill LaTour was a big part of that, too. You can go back even further with the Costigan family and the doctors who were there who started the Racquet Club. It's deep rooted back to Candy Greeman, who I never knew or met. They loved the game, and it allowed us to have the opportunities that we had.
Is it fun to see your nephew (Zach Willing) playing and the family game carrying on to the next generation?
It's good. When he comes out here, I'll give him some lessons. When we stop there, I'll give him some lessons. It ends up more of a head-butting contest between me and his dad (Todd). Because I'm like, "Hey, you've got to get this done. You've got to do it this way." Zach's standing in the middle of it. Todd's like, "You're pushing him pretty hard." I'm like, "That's not good enough." With me, there is no, "Good try, get it done next time." I'm all about fix it, and let's not go back. It's a different approach, My brother is more laid back. He's probably cussing me in his mind. I'm the crazy uncle, according to him anyway.
Since your given name is Timothy, where did Timmer come from?
I was born with it. I had cousin who was named Timothy, and we weren't that far apart age-wise. We graduated together actually. We had four or five us of Willings who graduated around the same time. I've always been known as Timmer. I think it even says Timmer on my high school diploma. My passport has both names. It was Timothy William, which is my birth certificate name, and it also as the "A.K.A. Timmer" on there because there are so many documents that cross over. I had to make sure both were on there because sometimes they wouldn't let me on a plane because I didn't have IDs that matched. It's been a struggle sometimes, but it's gotten better now.
You mentioned you still consider Quincy home.
Oh, yes, that's home. It always will be. I try to get back there at least once a year, sometimes twice a year. That's home for me. It's in my phone. I don't even have it listed as mom or dad in my phone, it says "home" when someone is calling.
Why does this still feel like home?
The way people are there is a big thing. Yes, you have your family there, but people walk by and they'll say, "Hello." They'll look you in the eye. They'll shake your hand firmly. You grow up, and you always have in your mind that you've got to get out of Quincy, that you've got to go do something. You get away, and you start having a family yourself, and you start realizing how the people are there. You're in a bigger city here. You're in San Diego. People just go by with their blinders on, and it's all about yourself. You'll run into a few here and there who have that Midwest mentality. I feel like when you go back to Quincy that people are always willing to lend a hand and help out and just be cordial. The big thing for me, and I'm trying to instill this in my players, are the things like holding doors for people, saying hello and doing the things that were taught to me in Quincy. There were coaches my mom always pointed out to me the way they made their players show respect. Coach Terry instilled that in his players. One of the things Coach Terry said was, "You leave this place better than the way you entered it." If we came into a restaurant or a hotel, you made sure your chairs were pushed in. You cleaned up your mess. Those things don't happen everywhere. Those things still happen in Quincy. It happens at the university there and the high schools there. It's instilled in Quincy.