A tale of two sports: IUS Coach Brian Sullivan


Mary Kate Hailer

Brian Sullivan, IU Southeast women’s tennis and assistant women’s basketball coach

Mary Kate Hailer, Staff

A coach is more than just someone that stands on the sidelines and yells during games and practices. Coaches help to develop skills and motivate athletes to meet their goals, not only physically, but mentally as well.

What makes New Albany native Brian Sullivan different from most coaches is that he coaches tennis and basketball here at IU Southeast. He is the head coach of the women’s tennis team and serves as assistant coach for the women’s basketball team under head coach Robin Farris.

Sullivan says that in order to be a good coach, you have to have a good work ethic and put in a lot of time. He says it can be tough to make that commitment, and you can tire of the profession quickly.

“I know a lot of coaches that are my age who are long gone from coaching because of being burned out,” Sullivan said. “You have a few bad seasons and it’s easy to walk away from it.”

Sullivan says you have to be willing to do more than just show up for games and practice.

“You really have to have a passion in your heart for it,” he said. “You’re as good as the talent you have.” Sullivan says this is his 20th year coaching basketball at the collegiate level. This is his third year as assistant coach of the Grenadiers. Before coming to IU Southeast he was an assistant for the women’s basketball team at Bellarmine University in Louisville for seven years. Sullivan helped to advance his teams to the NCAA Division II tournament there.

Before Bellarmine, Sullivan was also a dual coach for Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, for two years, where he coached basketball and golf.

He began his career at Franklin College in Indianapolis where he was an assistant for seven seasons.

“I am from New Albany originally. I haven’t been further than two hours from home,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan graduated from New Albany High School, where he played tennis and basketball. After graduation he coached the girls and boys tennis team for two years.

“At that point I quit playing sports all together and just wanted to get a head start on my coaching career,” Sullivan said. All of the universities he has previously coached at, are smaller private colleges. IU Southeast was the first state school he has coached.

Sullivan said he attended IU Southeast as a student for a year and always grew up near campus.

It was a good situation to come back to, because I was already comfortable with the surroundings and the people I would be working with,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he had been good friends with women’s basketball coach Robin Farris while at Bellarmine and had a great connection with him from the start.

One year into coaching under Robin Farris women’s basketball team, an emergency situation occurred where there was a woman’s tennis coaching opening just a month in to the season.

Sullivan said the team was only seven matches away from the start of the conference tournament.

“I did have the background in prior experience coaching multiple sports at the collegiate level, and they were kind of in a bind,” Sullivan said.

The first IU Southeast woman’s tennis coach was actually Sullivan’s private coach growing up, he said. He took his first lessons on the tennis court located on campus next to the activities building.

“I always thought that was kind of ironic and so I felt a kind of responsibility to keep the program going in his honor,” Sullivan said.

He said it started off as a temporary position just to get through the year, and the main thing was how the players would adjust to Sullivan.

“I wanted to see if the players were comfortable with me and if I could juggle basketball and tennis while doing justice to both of them,” Sullivan said.

It turns out Sullivan was able to manage both after all, he said.

“We had lot of success that year we won conference and had a pretty good showing at nationals, while also signing a pretty good recruiting class,” Sullivan said.

At that point Sullivan decided to make it a permanent situation, he said.

“I did have a lot more of a tennis background from knowing the former coach and that made transitioning much easier because I had that background,” he said.

Sullivan said he isn’t sure what sport he prefers to coach.

“Two years ago I would have said basketball,” he said. That’s what I always thought I was going to do,”

Now Sullivan thinks differently.

“I don’t know if I could pick one or the other now,” he said. “Basketball is more of a team game and tennis is individual. They are just different approaches of the game. I enjoy both equally. It is like picking between your favorite kids.”

Sullivan said that a moment he would always

cherish happened in his first year coaching tennis at IU Southeast. In the conference tournaments championship, the Grenadiers won four straight matches to win.

“We were right there on the verge of losing and then we came back and won,” Sullivan said.

A player that really stood out to Sullivan this past year is senior Katie Morrison.

Sullivan said Morrison did not grow up playing tennis. She was playing another sport when she suffered a significant knee injury in high school and was told to not play that sport anymore. She switched to tennis without ever playing before.

Morrison talked about her time under Sullivan.

“Brian is an amazing coach. Every practice he pushes us to be a little bit better than we were before,” Morrison said. “Although we just fell short of winning the conference, I’ve never been more proud of my team. Brian talked to us and said how proud he is of us and how wonderful of a team we are.”

Sullivan said Morrison has made the all-conference team two years in row and said she was a part of the doubles team that won a match at nationals.

“Katie just improves so much and has really worked hard to get to a point to compete where people have been playing a lot longer than her. I just appreciate that about her,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan has had many good memories in his basketball coaching career too.

This year in particular Sullivan talked about when the women’s team played Indiana Wesleyan University, which Sullivan said is the best women’s basketball team at their level and they have won a few national championships.

The Grenadiers won by eight. They were ranked fifth in the nation at the time.

“That gave us the idea as a program that we have got the talent to play anybody, and when we get on the same page, we could be a pretty good team,” Sullivan said.

The stand out basketball player that Sullivan has coached here at IU Southeast was senior guard Heather Wheat.

“It has been interesting to watch how her game evolved, from not really looking for her shot in high school, to being one of the best scorers we have ever had here,” Sullivan said.

According to iusathletics.com Wheat has scored over 2,000 points while playing for IU Southeast.

Wheat talked about her coach.
“I think Brian is the strongest at helping each player become the best they can be,” Wheat said. “He connects with each person individually to try and help them become the best player they can be.”

Sullivan went on to say how Wheat has worked jobs and done student teaching and still found time to be the hardest working player he has ever been around.

“Easily I see her putting in more time on her own than any player I have been around in 20 years of coaching,” Sullivan said.

Wheat would like people to know that Coach Sullivan is very dedicated to coaching at IU Southeast.

“Coaching is not just a job on the court, it is a commitment, and Coach Brian takes time to come to practices and games, as well as games around the area to recruit high school players, hoping to make our programs here at IU Southeast better in the future,” Wheat said.

Sullivan wanted students on campus to know it’s free to go to all basketball games with your student ID, to support teams on campus.

“It’s fun for the student athletes that are putting in that time and representing the college to have people supporting them as well,” he said.

“Whatever the sport is, get out and support them. The students will enjoy doing it and the athletes will appreciate it.”