Following up Texas tennis legend Bobby Kleinecke is no easy task, but Rudder’s new head coach brings plenty of experience of his own.
Rudder hired former A&M Consolidated tennis coach Stephen Mercer to replace Kleinecke, Bryan ISD athletic director Janice Williamson confirmed Tuesday.
Mercer will take over for Kleinecke, who retired after 42 years coaching, including 26 with the Texas A&M women’s program and four each at Bryan and Rudder.
Rudder head football coach and athletic director Eric Ezar said Mercer’s 19 years of tennis coaching experience and track record of success made him the top candidate for the job.
Mercer coached the Tigers from 2007-13 and helped build the program into a regional powerhouse and earned the Texas Tennis Coaches Association Class 5A coach of the year award in 2008. During his tenure, Consol produced two state finalists — Anik Cepeda in 5A girls singles in 2009 and Frankie Colunga in 5A boys singles in 2013. Both played in college with Cepeda playing at William & Mary and Colunga at A&M.
“You want to find people with head coaching experience,” Ezar said. “He had that experience and had success. Not only that, but he did it with a program in the area, so he’s what we were looking for to continue building our program.”
Mercer also coached at Fort Worth Western Hills, Cedar Hill, Uvalde and Mansfield Summit.
He stepped away from head coaching and served as an assistant boys soccer coach at College Station from 2013-17 to spend more time with his family. He took over the head coaching job for the 2017-18 season but returned to his true passion of tennis and spent the last two seasons coaching tennis at A&M Consolidated Middle School.
When the Rudder job opened, Mercer leaned on his wife’s experience as he considered applying for it. Mercer’s wife, Meredith Hunt Mercer, graduated in 1994 from Bryan, where she played tennis.
“She talked with me about Bryan ISD, helping with understanding the background and the tennis scene,” Stephen Mercer said. “It was an intriguing opportunity, and she pushed me in that direction even more.”
Mercer said he and Kleinecke have talked about the direction of the program, and he’s excited to continue growing it in a movement Kleinecke started at Rudder and Davila Middle School, where Mercer also will be coaching.
“We’ve had some really good conversations,” Mercer said of Kleinecke, whom he met during his 12 years as a counselor at A&M tennis camps. “He wanted me to understand what he’s done and his goals for the program. We’re going to be starting with the basics of the game [at Davila] and getting kids enthusiastic about playing tennis.”
NOTES — Stephen Mercer is a 1989 graduate of Wichita Falls Hirschi, where he was a district singles champion. He was a scholarship tennis player at Schreiner University, where he also walked on to the soccer team. He won the NAIA Heart of Texas Conference singles title in 1992. ... Meredith Hunt Mercer is the daughter of Monty Hunt, executive director of The Bridge Ministries in Bryan.