Mike McGinty was terminated as Men’s Head Coach a month ago. I thought I’d weigh in with some options we might hope the SLU Billiken’s Men’s Soccer Head Coach search is considering. As a mid-major program in soccer and basketball, the only revenue sport on campus, the question becomes what is the profile. I believe, with the list of candidates I’ve assembled as a starting point, that a direct connection to the community is critical. Beyond that, an ability to attract top talent from across the US, much like Jeff Gunn has accomplished at Stanford. I’ll delve into both of these elements below.
— soccerSTL (@SoccerSTL) December 29, 2017
As I’ve discussed the program’s history under McGinty with area fans, and in particular SLU Soccer alumni, a key theme developed around the player roster. If the team was winning with the large number of international players recruited to the program, then supporting the team would be much easier. However everyone was interested in seeing more area players recruited into the program, and more importantly, playing.
In the three games I covered this season, the impression I had was there was only one player getting starts and playing consistently – Anthony Brown. The reality is that there were several players getting regular minutes but starters ranged from one to three, with the number going down at the end of the season when the team only qualified for the Atlantic 10 tournament by dint of winning their final regular season game.
I don’t believe the player roster is the only issue. SLU has what should be an advantage for a team with it’s history and soccer culture. There is only Saint Louis FC and SIU Edwardsville to compete with for soccer fans in the region, making this almost a college town environment. Combined with the large number of SLU soccer alumni in the area I would expect them to draw larger crowds which is a recruiting advantage. A $10 charge to attend games seems excessive to me. Looking at a couple of programs that are worth emulating – Akron and Louisville – attendance averages were 1819 at Akron and 1883 at Louisville. The Billikens drew 1027 on average this season. Only three games exceeded 1000 while every Akron game exceeded 1000 and Louisville had a couple of matches in November fall below that number but otherwise they were also regularly over 1000 plus to reach the averages they did.
All of this is a prelude, a discussion of the issues a possible hire would likely consider in choosing to come to St. Louis. For that reason, it may be time for the Billikens to go back to their roots and hire a Head Coach with a vested interest in St. Louis soccer that would be able to tap the local market for both players and fans. The ability to recruit outside the region will also be required. Gone are the days when a team made up of only St. Louis players can win championships.
The hometown favorite, the first name on everyone’s lips is Mike Sorber, Aquinas and SLU alum.
MIKE SORBER (Florissant), Philadelphia Union, MLS
Aquinas (89), SLU (89 – 92) including 1991 Final Four, SLU assistant coach (2001-2007), US MNT assistant coach (2007-2011), Montreal Impact assistant coach (2011-2013), Philadelphia Union (2014-present)
The first question to ask has to be whether Mike, or anyone else at this level, would consider ‘coming back’ to the college game. That was addressed almost immediately.
“The answer would be yes I’d be interested, for sure,” he said. “It’s my alma mater. I worked there as an assistant. We had good success educating kids, getting players to the pros, getting kids pretty good jobs.”
The quote comes from a Post-Dispatch article by controversial columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz who called Sorb’s to ask about his interest and essentially pitched him as the best candidate. Ortiz story.
Another quote, again from a Post-Dispatch story, during the 2010 World Cup, points to the changes already visible in the program he was only three years removed from. Gone from the P-D archives but a salient quote from a story I wrote in 2010.
St. Louis is slipping, but we’re not so far off,” Sorber said. “It’s not like the rest of the country is producing (Lionel) Messis or Rio Ferdinands. We still have a long way to go as a nation. But if you look at St. Louis, St. Louis has not done well in a while. … St. Louis soccer has always been built on short passes, but there’s more in the modern game. That’s not enough anymore. There are more pieces.
So it’s safe to say that Sorber would be coming into the program with his eyes open and likely with a good understanding of what he would have to work with at SLU. But there’s one additional item. Recruiting.
For the old-timers, folks who saw him play in the 1994 World Cup or later in Major League Soccer (1996-2000), we’ve got a pretty high level of respect for his knowledge of the game. Coaching is not the same but Mike now has 15 years of experience under his belt but how important is that to the kids he will be recruiting, players just born as his playing career was ending. Soccer America looked at that issue in a story in 2002, at the beginning of his career
Today’s college players are less interested in a coach’s past than in what he does for them now. That holds true even when, as happens today, more and more of those coaches were national team-level players.
That was 15 years ago and as I consider the current crop of senior boys, that aspect of what he does for them now is even more important. Thus his five years of experience in Major League Soccer would likely be a strong selling point.
Thanksgiving Interview STL Soccer United FC podcast where he notes he’s out of contract and hoped to sort out plans in December (McGinty released December 10th, prior to this interview).
PAT NOONAN, US Men’s National Team assistant coach
DeSmet (1999), Indiana Hoosiers (1999-2002), Major League Soccer (2003-2012, five teams)
LA Galaxy assistant coach (2013-2016), US MNT assistant coach (2016-present)
Pat Noonan has interviewed for the New England Revolution managerial position according to this MLS story in late October. Brad Friedel was hired November 13th so Noonan is still available but the question would be his interest level.
Noonan, 37, was drafted by New England in 2003 and remained with the club through 2007. He recorded 37 goals and 29 assists in 119 regular season appearances for the Revs. He retired from playing after winning the 2012 MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy and immediately joined Bruce Arena’s staff as an assistant coach. He left the Galaxy to work under Arena as an USMNT assistant last November and is still on staff with the national team despite Arena’s recent resignation.
STEVE RALSTON, San Jose Earthquakes assistant coach
Oakville (1991), Meramec CC/Florida International (1991-1995), Major League Soccer (1996-2010, three teams)
Houston Dynamo assistant coach (2010-2014), San Jose Earthquakes assistant coach (2015-present)
The same story that noted Noonan had interviewed with the New England Revolution also indicated Ralston would be in the mix. He is also still available but like Noonan, it would seem MLS Head Coaching positions are his target.
Second in MLS history to Landon Donovan with 135 career assists and third all-time among field players with 378 regular season appearances, Ralston played for New England from 2002-2009. He recorded 47 goals and 73 assists in 201 regular season appearances with the Revs, and is one of just three players to start all four of the club’s MLS Cup appearances. Ralston scored the first goal for the US MNT team in their 2-0 (dos a cero) in the 2005 qualifier at Columbus.
The MLS original joined Dominic Kinnear’s coaching staff in Houston in July 2010 (after leaving the AC St. Louis dumpster fire where he was the first signee and assistant coach), then moved with Kinnear to San Jose following the 2014 season. The 43-year-old remained with the club after Kinnear’s dismissal in June.
DAVE GIFFARD (Florissant), VCU Rams, A10 Conference (2010 – present)
McCluer (1993), MacMurray (1993-1997), Assistant Coach at UAB, Indiana and Akron (2000-2009)
The VCU Ram’s advanced to the NCAA tournament this year on an at-large bid after losing the A-10 Title game to UMass. They were given a #16 seed and a first round bye. That led to their second round match, where they fell 2-3 to Butler.
Giffard completed his eighth season at the helm of the VCU Men’s Soccer program in 2017, having led the Rams to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013. He was also identified as one of the top 10 coaches in Division I by TopDrawerSoccer.
KEVIN HUDSON, SMU Mustangs, American Athletic Conference (2015-present)
CBC (2000), SMU (2000-2004), SMU Assistant Coach (2007-20014)
The Mustangs captured the AAC Championship this year and the automatic NCAA berth. The team advanced to the third round where they fell to College Cup participant North Carolina. It was his team’s second trip to the NCAA tournament in his three years as Head Coach.
Former SMU standout Kevin Hudson was named the fourth head coach in the program’s history on Jan. 9, 2015. Hudson spent seven seasons as an assistant coach and was promoted to associate head coach prior to the 2014 season after returning to the Hilltop in 2007. During Hudson’s nine years on the Hilltop, the Mustangs have reached the NCAA Tournament on five occasions, advancing as far as the Elite Eight in 2010. In 2010 and 2012, SMU earned the Conference USA regular season title, and in 2011 the squad won the tournament championship. In 2015, his first year as Head Coach, the team reached the NCAA Sweet 16.
JARED EMBICK, Akron Zips Mid-American Conference (2012-present)
Granite City (1996), Indiana Wesleyan (1996-2000), Missouri Baptist Grad/Asst Coach (2000-2002) MBU Head Coach (2003-2006), Akron assistant coach (2007-2011)
Embick led the Zips to the College Cup this season, his second visit in his six years as head of the program, falling 0-2 to eventual champions Stanford in the semifinal. It was the best game of the tournament in my opinion and the Zips came very close to knocking off the Cardinal.
Elevated to Head Coach after Caleb Porter departed for Major League Soccer and has taken Akron to two NCAA Final Four tournaments now, matching Porters’ record (Akron has now played in four of the past nine Final Four tournaments). The Zips became one of just five Division I programs to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in each of the past 10 seasons in 2016. They scored in the 2nd minute against IU and were unfortunate not to score another before giving up
I would love to see SLU hire Jared Embick but Akron paid him $284K last year so I guess there is no way he is coming back. https://t.co/pmqWagWLAM
— Jason V. Marquart (@jasonmarquart) November 25, 2017
DAMON RENSING, Michigan State, Big Ten (2009 – present)
SLUH (1993 – State Champion), Michigan State (1993-1997), MI State Assistant (1997-2008)
The Spartans earned a #7 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year, one of five teams to advance, three of whom were seeded. A first round bye was followed by a run to the Elite 8 where the team lost in penalty kicks to Indiana, the eventual finalist. It was the second time in four years for the Spartans to reach the Elite Eight, part of now seven tournament campaigns in his nine years as Head Coach.
An MSU soccer standout, Rensing became the fifth head coach in Spartan history on January 1, 2009 after taking over for the legendary Joe Baum, who guided MSU for 32 seasons.
— MSU Men's Soccer (@MSUmsoccer) November 26, 2017
KEVIN GRIMES, California, Pac 12 (2000 – present)
Rosary (1986), Southern Methodist (1986-1989), SMU assistant (1997-1999)
The Bears fell 1-2 to USF in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this year. They advanced with an at-large bid following their second place finish in the Pac-12. It was their 12th time under their 18-year Head Coach.
Grimes was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010. Cal has won the Pac-12 Championship in 2006, 2007 and 2010. They have also advanced to the NCAA Elite 8 in 2005, 2010, and 2013. In 2010, they lost in PK’s at Akron, who ended up winning the NCAA College Cup. Cal has also advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 four times (2002, 2006, 2008 & 2014). They have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in the past 16 seasons.
JOE AHEARN, Northwestern Associate Head Coach (2013 – present)
DeSmet (1996), DePaul (1996-2000), DePaul assistant Coach (2002-204), Colgate Assistant (2005-2006) Missouri S&T Head Coach (2007-2012)
The DePaul Blue Demons, for whom Joe starred and later worked as an assistant coach (after two years with the USMNT as the equipment manager), are in the middle of a national search of their own for a new Head Coach and Ahearn has been mentioned as a candidate. Like every one of these successful candidates, he has set down significant roots in the Chicago community. I loved what he did for the Missouri S&T program (I covered him from day one at SGFsoccer.com) but I wonder if SLU is the gig any would want to come too.
The Wildcats reached the NCAA tournament the first two years of Joe’s time on Chicago’s North Shore. He was promoted to Associate Head Coach in 2016. While at Missouri S&T, Ahearn enjoyed success as the first coach to lead the Miners to the NCAA Division II Tournament and the regional championships game. In 2010 the Miners were GLVC Regular Season Co-Champions and he was honored as a finalist for the Division II National Coach of the Year award while also earning the distinction of Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year.
BILL BECHER, Harrisburg City Islanders Head Coach (2004 – present)
Hazelwood East, Sangamon State
I’ll simply point you to this early report of mine where I suggested Bill would be a fantastic fit for STLFC.
STEVE TRITTSHUH, Colorado Switchbacks Head Coach (2014 – present)
Granite City North (1983), SIU Edwardsville (1983-1986), multiple professional teams including Colorado Rapids (1996-1999) and Tampa Bay Mutiny (1999-2001), Colorado Rapids assistant coach (2001-2006)
He has lead the Switchbacks to back-to-back playoff appearances and top-three regular season finishes in the Western Conference of the United Soccer League.
Trittschuh was a high school All American from Illinois, a full ride scholarship athlete to Southern Illinois University, a US Olympic athlete competing in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a starter on the 1990 US National Team competing in the FIFA World Cup in Italy, the first American to play in the European Championship Cup, played seven years in the MLS and competed for an MLS Cup with the 1997 Colorado Rapids.