SQUASH: For father-son duo Ming and David Tsai, and countless Bulldogs, Dave Talbott was more than a coach
While Ming Tsai ’86 was a member of Dave Talbott’s first class at Yale, Ming’s son David Tsai ’24 was a member of his last.
After what he called a “heck of a run,” former Yale squash head coach Dave Talbott announced his retirement last month. He told the News he felt the timing was “just right” for him to depart, ending a career that constituted decades of success with the Bulldogs.
During his 38 years at Yale, head coach Dave Talbott won eight Ivy League titles, mentored hundreds of athletes and coached one father-son duo: Ming Tsai ’86 and David Tsai ’24.
While his coaching tactics brought Yale success on the court, for Ming Tsai, Talbott’s actions away from squash eventually turned the beloved coach into not only a friend but a family member. Ming, a member of Talbott’s first class at Yale and now a celebrity chef and TV host, speaks highly of Talbott’s character both as a coach and as an individual. He even compares his time under Talbott to life in the kitchen. In fact, Ming “got a wife out of this deal,” as he married Talbott’s sister, Polly, in 1996.
“We became fast friends as well as developed a strong player/coach relationship,” Ming wrote in an email to the News. “It was almost like he was the chef and all of us were his line cooks. At time of business, the matches, we were serious and he guided us and coached us. Huge mutual respect. After practice and after the matches, we could hang out like buddies.”
When asked about his relationship with Ming, Talbott jokingly commented that “he chased my sister for 10 years, and he wouldn’t be anything without her.”
While Ming was a member of Talbott’s first class at Yale, David was a member of his last. Together, they have experienced both ends of his illustrious coaching career. As David notes, Talbott has never lost his sense of community. Encouraged by the longtime head coach, he said members of the squash team volunteer weekly at Squash Haven, a local youth program. Talbott received the Ivy Award in 2015 for his work with the program. In addition, Talbott recognizes the importance of a cohesive team, even for an individual sport like squash.
“Talbott emphasizes bringing people ‘in,’ no matter how much of an outsider they may feel themselves to be at the start,” David Tsai said. “Yale squash has represented 32 different countries, and Dave’s been the catalyst behind the program’s diversity. Undoubtedly, he’s had a legendary career of  years, but he’s also the humblest person I’ve ever known. This combination — of longevity and authenticity — is hard to find in today’s world.”
Ming remembers Talbott’s ability to lead by example. In particular, he noted that Coach Talbott was “always smiling” as he instructed the athletes. His son, on the other hand, remembers Talbott’s “powerful center of gravity for everyone in the room.” Ming said this leadership style rubbed off on him and stuck with him after Yale.
Over the years, Talbott has left his mark on the squash community. In 2019, he was inducted into the College Squash Association Hall of Fame. Under his guidance, both of Yale’s squash teams have achieved notable success and finished with strong national rankings. In 2016, the men’s team took home the Potter Cup to become national champions, and although the women’s team last won the national Howe Cup in 2011, they have consistently finished in the top six since then.
“He’s one of the most important reasons why alumni, especially recent grads, are still extremely involved in the program,” David said. “When I arrived, I instantly felt like I had a group of mentors to look up to — mind you, these were players that had already graduated but still cared deeply about the team.”
As the search for Talbott’s replacement gets underway, associate head coach Lynn Leong stepped in to serve as the program’s interim head coach on Monday, Feb. 1. But David said Talbott will remain nearby, focusing his energy on Squash Haven and prepared to celebrate with the team as a supporter “in PWG when we win our next national championship.”
When asked about his legacy, Ming emphasized what he viewed as Talbott’s philosophy: “You can still be champions and have fun along the way.”
James Richardson contributed reporting.
Rehan Melwani | email@example.com