John Shearer: Retiring Mark Guhne Looks Back With Fondness On UTC Golf Coaching Career

Saturday, January 22, 2022 - by John Shearer
Coach Mark Guhne
Coach Mark Guhne

Mark Guhne did construction work building houses for nearly 20 years before he realized he wanted to build something else – a college golf program.

 

After being hired as the UTC men’s golf coach in a rather unusual manner, he went on to lead the Mocs through probably their most successful period in history in terms of being able to compete with bigger schools and reach the NCAA tournament multiple times.

 

Deciding to retire late last year, he said in a phone interview that he just felt the time was right with the landscape of college coaching changing a lot.

That includes the new “name, image and likeness” (NIL) marketing deals college athletes now have, and the lucrative broadcasting contracts some conferences like the SEC have with ESPN and which can financially handicap a program like UTC.

 

The transfer portal allowing athletes to change schools once without sitting out a year has been a recent additional issue with which coaches must deal, too, he added.

 

“It’s a new way of doing stuff,” he said of the portal, summing up his feelings about several of the challenges of being a coach now at a school like UTC. “It’s a hard job. And it’s harder than it was.”

 

However, he said he thoroughly enjoyed serving as the head coach since 2005 and found numerous rewards in both the championships and the relationships.

 

“I enjoyed being around the kids,” he said. “They keep you young. And we got to travel around the country and visit a lot of great places.”

 

The team won Southern Conference championships in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013. The Mocs also qualified for the NCAA Regionals nine times from 2007-2015 and played in the NCAA finals in 2009 and 2012.

 

They also finished in the top 25 twice against many of the major colleges that produce so many of the PGA Tour golfers, and they were also ranked No. 1 during the fall seasons in 2008 and 2009.

 

Among the individuals who starred during that time, current touring pro Stephan Jaeger was Southern Conference tournament individual champion in 2012, when he also made all-American. Others who made all-American included Jonathan Hodge in the 2007-08 school year and Chris Robb in 2013-14.

 

Although it was not part of UTC’s golf season, Moc golfer Steven Fox won the prestigious U.S. Amateur in 2012 and Mr. Robb won the 2014 Scottish Amateur.

 

Others listed at the UTC golf website as having contributed significantly to the UTC golf program through various honors or top finishes included Wes Gosselin, Derek Rende, Ben Rickett, Andrew Weathers, Bryce Ledford, Fredrick Qvicker, Benni Wellguni, Liam Johnston, Brooks Thomas, Lake Johnson, Luke Long, Oliver Simonsen, Connor Nolan, Etienne Brault, and A.J. Lintunen, among others.

 

Coach Guhne (whose last name is pronounced like the month of June) was himself four-time SoCon Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

 

All the success came after he was more focused on a wrestling mat as a youngster than one at a driving range. A standout wrestler at Cleveland High, he enrolled at UTC to participate on the tradition-rich grappling team. However, the experience – like much of his life – did not go as originally planned.

 

“My freshman year, I tore up my knee and that ended my wrestling career,” he said.

 

However, he got his degree from UTC in 1984 and continued to develop his interest in playing another sport -- golf -- for fun. And he stayed active with that sport as he began a career building houses. He helped with junior golf tournaments and junior camps, but he felt an itch to do more in the sport.

 

“I loved golf and anything to do with golf,” he said. “But I always wanted to coach. I thought I would be a wrestling coach.”

 

While the two sports don’t seem that much alike, coach Guhne did point out that they are both individual sports, and the competitor is out there participating alone. 

 

He felt like he was doing his own form of stepping out individually in a moment of truth when he decided to try and get into coaching in the early 2000s. And the place he wanted to do it was at UTC with the golf program.

 

“I talked to (then-men’s golf head coach) Reed Sanderlin and wanted to get into coaching,” he recalled. “He said he was thinking about retiring.”

 

He recalled going to see then-athletic director Steve Sloan about a job assisting coach Sanderlin, but the former college football coach and Alabama quarterback from coach Guhne’s hometown of Cleveland said no.

 

Not to be deterred by this bogey-like life moment, he went back and clarified that he was simply wanting to be a volunteer coach and not be paid.

 

“He said, ‘You are not smart enough to work here,’ “ he recalled Mr. Sloan saying, indicating that working for free was probably not a smart step in coach Sloan’s eyes.

 

However, he was able to assist the likable coach and professor Sanderlin on a volunteer basis, and he worked with him for a couple of years until coach Sanderlin had to retire earlier than desired after some health issues with cancer.

 

Coach Guhne – who is also a Class A golf professional, even though he has never worked at a golf club or course -- was then named the new coach before the 2005-06 school year. 

 

Although he said some people around the golf program wanted a coach with more experience to come from another school and lead the Mocs, he quickly got the program headed toward success. He has also still not forgotten early on the excitement of signing to a scholarship his first area golfer – McCallie’s Bryce Ledford.

 

Besides success on the course, he also said he enjoyed good relationships with the various athletic directors and assistant athletic directors over the years, including Rick Hart, Matt Pope and, yes, Steve Sloan, among others.

 

“He and I got to be good friends,” coach Guhne recalled with a laugh of Coach Sloan after the unusual first encounter.

 

He greatly enjoyed his time overall with UTC, although he has faced some adversity in that volunteer assistant and former Moc golfer and good friend David McKenna died last year. He also saw construction firm partner Russ Baker pass away over the years as well.

 

But he was thinking of all the high points of his career and life when he told current AD and vice chancellor Mark Wharton of his plans to retire in December.

 

As a result, Miles Moseley was named as interim coach while steps are made to hire a new permanent head coach.

 

In his retirement, or actually new careers, coach Guhne plans to use his construction skills to do handyman work and is also working some for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He will be an FCA liaison to students at Hixson High and Middle School wanting to be involved with the organization as an extracurricular activity.

 

He will also do some outreach FCA work with area coaches. That might include activities like helping put on a fund-raising golf tournament for them.

 

In other words, he will be trying to follow the lead of another builder -- the Jewish carpenter named Jesus -- and help spread and build up the Christian faith. 

 

But he feels proud of what he built figuratively and golf wise at UTC, even though he is ready for the new adventures.

 

“I think it’s just time,” he said of retiring. “But I enjoyed my time.”

 

* * *

 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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