Texas tennis coaching legend Bobby Kleinecke is hanging up his whistle, but luckily for the sport, he’s not going anywhere.
The former Texas A&M women’s team and current Rudder coach is retiring from the profession, but he plans to stay heavily involved, continuing his role as the executive director of the Texas Tennis Coaches Association.
“I enjoy doing that, and it keeps me in tennis,” Kleinecke said. “[I’ll stay] as long as they’ll have me.”
That’s good news for the tennis community, which holds on to one of its biggest and most experienced advocates. Kleinecke coached for 26 years at A&M in addition to 16 years at the high school level, including four years each at Bryan and Rudder.
After starting his coaching career with seven seasons at the high school level at Corsicana, Amarillo and Bryan, Kleinecke took over the A&M women’s program in 1985 from David Kent, his former college coach at West Texas State who was then coaching both the A&M men and women.
“I was still early in my coaching career, so I did something then that you can’t really do now going from high school to a top tier university,” Kleinecke said.
Kleinecke quickly built a winning foundation with the women’s program as the Aggies won their first Southwest Conference title and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in his first season. A&M made the tournament 14 times during his tenure and added a Big 12 regular-season co-championship in 2003. The following year, he led the Aggies to a Big 12 tournament title and a berth in the Sweet 16, the program’s best finish in the tournament until 2013, when A&M fell to Stanford 4-3 in the NCAA championship match under Howard Joffe.
Kleinecke’s A&M teams went 421-267 during his tenure, including 183-65 in conference matches.
But for Kleinecke, it was about more than winning. What he liked most about the high school and college games was the team format and the camaraderie it generated in a typically individual sport. Some of his favorite memories were from long road trips and team retreats.
There was a particularly eventful trip in which the team played in Florida, and split up for a day of downtime — one group to the beach and one group to Disney World. The plan was to meet back up at an Exxon station on the highway between both places before departing for the airport to fly to Miami for the next day’s matches.
“What I didn’t realize was that there were two of those [same-numbered] highways and both of them had Exxons,” Kleinecke said with a laugh. “One group was at one. One group was at another. We missed three or four flights and didn’t get to Miami until midnight.”
Kleinecke’s impact at A&M can still be felt nine years after leaving. Current women’s head coach Mark Weaver played on the men’s team from 1990-94 and developed a close relationship with both Kent and Kleinecke. Weaver began helping the women’s team as a volunteer assistant in 1999 and became a full-time assistant coach in 2007, coaching under Kleinecke for 13 seasons. He ascended to the head coaching job in 2016.
“In a lot of ways, he’s had the most influence on how I run the team,” Weaver said. “Like I tell college recruits, it’s really the only time they’re going to be part of a team program, since they’re usually not on high school teams but competing in national and international events. I really learned a lot from Coach Kleinecke about the team harmony aspect of [the college game]. Even though it’s an individual sport, anybody that knows anything about college tennis knows that the team aspect makes a huge difference with the excitement and the girls pulling for each other and playing for each other and Texas A&M.”
After his time at A&M, Kleinecke decided to get back to his coaching roots at the high school level where, even more than in college tennis, the goal is to build teams, teach life lessons and grow the love of the game in young people.
He coached at Willis for five seasons before coming to Rudder, where he made a tremendous impact in a short time.
When he arrived, there were only six members on the Rangers’ tennis team, so he went to work drumming up interest.
The Rangers don’t have any district titles or state tournament berths, but Kleinecke is proud of the progress of the program the last four years in more important metrics. Rudder’s participation numbers are up, and he sees the appreciation of the sport growing in his student-athletes every year. Senior Dakota Hendrickson recently became the first player in program history to sign to play the sport in college and will continue her career at Division III Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia.
The affect tennis can have on young people is what Kleinecke enjoys most about coaching. One thing he tells students is that it’s never too late to pick up a racket.
It’s something that has rang true throughout his time coaching high school — from the late 1970s through 2020.
Kleinecke fondly recalls a player he coached in his first stop at Corsicana — Mike Tesmer — who didn’t play a point of tennis until he joined the team as a senior.
“He’s still playing three, four, five times a week to this day,” Kleinecke said.
He’s seen many similar instances over the decades, including at Rudder, where senior Gustavo DeLeon played his first season of tennis this year. Kleinecke hopes the sport sticks with those players the way it has for him.
“It’s a great sport,” Kleinecke said. “It’s a game you can play for the rest of your life. It’s such a positive sport that people can get into.”
It’s no surprise that Kleinecke can’t stay away. A leading role at the TTCA is perfect for the Texas tennis staple.
“Anybody who’s ever hit a tennis ball, at least in the state of Texas, knows who Coach Kleinecke is,” Weaver said. “It’s almost like there’s 10 of him. He’s always out and about, going to conventions and meetings. I can’t think of many people who’ve had such a huge impact not only in Texas but well beyond that. He’s great for tennis, and we need more people like him.”