When Jerry Simmons took over as men's tennis coach at LSU in 1983, he inherited a program that made only one NCAA tournament appearance in its 58-year history and ended only four seasons as a nationally ranked team.

But Simmons quickly turned a lightweight program into a perennial powerhouse.

In his first six seasons as head coach, Simmons led the Tigers to four NCAA tournament appearances and five top-15 ranked teams, culminating in the 1988 season - the most successful in LSU men's tennis history.

Finishing with a 27-2 record, losing no outdoor matches and going undefeated in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers finished the season as NCAA runner-up, losing to Stanford in the final.

"That was a special season," Simmons said. "Those guys were animals. They were warriors. A dream team, you don't get that very often."

LSU's only regular season loss was to USC at the National Indoor Championships, and for almost four weeks, the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation.

They had four top-20 singles players including current LSU coach Jeff Brown.

Three of the top five winningest singles players in LSU history competed on the 1988 team including No. 1 Donni Leaycraft (135-38), No. 2 Billy Uribe (116-45), and No. 5 Brown (100-49).

The team also included five combined singles and doubles All-American Honors - the most in LSU tennis history.

Brown and Simmons both said the biggest reason for their success was the team's dedication to physical fitness.

"We were in Tiger Stadium all fall, every morning at 6 a.m., with the guys running the end zone, carrying 45 pound bars up and down the stairs, and doing lunges the length of the football field," Simmons said."Nobody lifted weights to the level we were lifting weights at that time. In today's game, everyone does it. I think we were setting the stage for what is happening now."

But strength and conditioning isn't the only aspect of the game that has changed since the Tigers' greatest season.

In 1998, the NCAA switched from a 16-team tournament to a 64-team tournament, giving more schools the opportunity to compete at a high level.

"We were one of the best of a very good group then," Brown said. "It was probably harder to get to the very top back then because there wasn't as much depth, but now it's so hard to separate yourself. There's about 90 teams that on any given day can pick up a win."

The NCAA also instituted many rules that shortened the length of matches, limited practice hours and required mandatory rest days between matches.

"[Coach Simmons] took full advantage of that setup, turning us into physical machines which you're just not able to do anymore," Brown said. "Now everyone practices the same amount whether you want to or not."

Simmons finished his career in 1997 with a 278-105 record, 13 NCAA Final-16 appearances and two SEC Coach of the Year Honors, in 1988 and 1997, respectively.

LSU has remained successful under Brown's leadership, producing 11 singles and doubles All-Americans, two SEC championships and 13 NCAA tournament appearances.

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Contact Spencer Hutchinson at shutchinson

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