Tina Samara played tennis for the University of Georgia, where she was on three national champion teams. Thereafter, she played the pro circuit, and she comes to the head coaching position at Louisiana by way of the University of Colorado. ultoday.com interviewed her.

Tell us about yourself.

Oh boy. I have two foreign parents, polar opposites. Mom's Norwegian, Dad's Sri Lankan. My dad's last name was Samaranayaka-- something like that-- but he changed it.

So we moved to New York when I was a little under three years old, Long Island. I have a brother who's four years older, a professor at George Mason in sociology. Really, it's mostly my brother who got me involved in sports. Basically, I did anything he asked me to do, which was often dangerous.

So you're a little bit of tomboy?

Oh yes, definitely I was, and I still am. If athletics defines that, yeah, I am.

So it was a choice between learning to catch a ball, or getting hit. So every sport my brother did, I did too, and my last sport was tennis.

I had good hand-eye coordination from all of the sports, so I picked up tennis fairly quickly. I started taking lessons once a week when I was ten, and then by eleven or twelve I was playing nationals.

Then I played soccer up until the time I went to college, and I had to make a decision. At the time, soccer was a great college sport, but it didn't seem like there was much potential for continuing with soccer after that.

Of course when I graduated in '96, that's when US women's team won the Olympics.

I enjoyed a pretty nice college career-- it was free, and I went on to play some pro tennis. While I was at Georgia, we won one outdoor and two indoor NCAA championships, and one SEC championship.

Then I played pro for three years. I got to the top 200 in the world in doubles. During college, I was lucky enough to play two US Opens in singles. Both years I think I had the same score-- 6-5?-- I can't remember.

And now you're living in the swamps of Louisiana.

Yeah. When I was first approached about the job, I thought hmmm, move from Boulder to Lafayette? But my former assistant coach at Georgia is Mark Guilbeau from Lafayette, he's now head coach at Virginia. I spoke with him during my two days here for my interview, and he said he'd kill me if I didn't take it. He said I'd be crazy. He said that Lafayette has such a great tennis community, and over the years somehow that got lost, but there is still the opportunity to create that.

He also told me to go to T-Coons, order crawfish, and that I had to suck the heads.

A big part of why I took this position is that I think the athletics department is moving in a great direction. We have a new president who seems to be very connected to the athletic side of the school. Scott Farmer seems to be a great asset, and he's a big part of why I accepted the position.  Everyone seems to be on the same page about where they want the athletic program to go.

We're resurfacing all of the courts in June, and with the economy the way it is, that's a great thing to do. A lot of programs are worried about their funding; Arizona State just dropped their men's tennis program.  But UL made that commitment, and they stuck to their word.

What is a great tennis program?

I think the biggest thing that I enjoyed at UGA was the support you get from the community. That's an intangible, but I think we won matches because of if. As a player, as a coach, it helps you do your job better.

Obviously, you also want support from the athletic program. Having a great men's coach, having two programs competing for the same thing, is great.

Success is a byproduct of the other things. If you can get those, then it's almost impossible not to succeed.

For me, in particular, patience is important, which has never been my strong point.

What is success for your kids?

I think being able to walk away after four years, saying that they left it all out there, on the court and in the classroom. I think there's a lot of different ideas about how to coach, but I don't want any of my students to leave after four years and say, "I had no life, I didn't have a real college experience because I was tied up with tennis."

I think part of the job in college is that I feel responsible for teaching them how to survive when they leave here. I think an important part of that is letting them make mistakes and learn from them, and holding them more accountable. I could put grips on all their rackets before they play, send them a list of what to wear and what to pack, but in my opinion these are things they need to learn for themselves. They need to put their grips on the night before, not 10 minutes before they play.

What do you want your players to be like when they graduate?

I acquired this team, so right now I'm working with them. But I'm constantly recruiting, and I'm looking for players that think the way I do.  But I want them to walk away saying, "I improved, I'm a smarter player, a better player." You can improve tremendously over four years, not get the results you want, and still not be a failure.

I think failure is not learning from your mistakes.