College Soccer: Putting U.S. Experience to Work

Products of the U.S. national team's rise since the mid-1980s are bringing their expertise to the college game.

Occasionally, as his Loyola Marymount men's team watches tapes, Coach Paul Krumpe throws old snippets of his own games into the mix. As expected, his players laugh. Yet the chuckles come not because Krumpe can't play - he earned 25 caps in 1986-91 and played in the 1988 Olympics - but because watching their coach "back in the day" is an amusing diversion.

The reaction is typical. 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.

U.S. players moved to college coaching in the past. Walter Bahr and Harry Keough, members of the 1950 World Cup team, had long careers at Penn State and St. Louis. Barry Barto (16 caps in 1972-75) and Willy Roy (20 caps in 1967-1975) still head UNLV and Northern Illinois, respectively. Lately, that trend has accelerated.

But despite their pedigrees, former stars must constantly remind themselves that their successes a decade ago means little to players who were starting just as their coaches hung up their boots.

Jeff Hooker, the University of Denver women's coach, typifies the new breed. Touted as a future phenom with the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, he earned 12 caps in 1984-87. Too old for the NASL yet too young for MLS, he spent his career in the A-League. In 1993, while playing with the Colorado Foxes, Coach Dave Dir suggested he take the part-time job at UD. He agreed, and after tearing his ACL, was offered a full-time slot as director of soccer.

Hooker had never taken a coaching course.

"There was a lot of trial and error," he says. "Dave helped a lot, and then I took my B license. Some of it seems pretty basic, but I've learned a lot about practice organization and structure."

Krumpe's route to coaching included a detour. In 1989, while recovering from a stress fracture, he worked as an engineer for McDonnell Douglas. His U.S. career ended in 1991, just when the aerospace industry was contracting. Krumpe asked his former college coach, Sigi Schmid, for advice. The UCLA mentor told him to start coaching at the high school level, then work his way up. Krumpe began teaching math at West Torrance High School while coaching soccer, cross country and track. Now in his fourth year as a college coach, he still teaches two periods of high school geometry, then grabs breakfast before heading off to LMU.

For Saint Louis assistant Mike Sorber, college coaching is one more transition in a career that saw him earn 67 caps and play in MLS and Mexico. He often trained at SLU, his alma mater, in the offseason. When Dan Donigan (1 cap in 1990) became head coach last year and needed an assistant, it seemed a rare opportunity of "the right job in the right place at the right time."

Sorber had already taken his B course. However, most of his coaching experience came from watching his father.

LESSONS FROM FATHERS. John Kerr Jr., who in 1984-95 earned 16 caps, began as a "reluctant" assistant at his alma mater, Duke. A few weeks into the job, however, he realized he enjoyed "preparing young men as players and people." He continued playing professionally in England and MLS. His wife, Tracy, became assistant coach at Harvard, then head coach at Providence College. Kerr's two years as player-coach of the A-League Boston Bulldogs prepared him for the Harvard head coaching position.

Kerr's style of coaching has been influenced by many of his coaches, but none was more important than his father. A professional player in Europe and North America, John Kerr Sr. also coached Kerr Jr.'s teams to two national youth championships and an Amateur Cup title.

"I saw the satisfaction he got out of helping less-talented players improve," Kerr Jr. says. "I always thought he was wasting his time on them, but as I got older I realized how important that is."

As a player, Hooker enjoyed studying the game and his coaches. He was particularly impressed with U.S. national team coach Alkis Panagoulias (1983-85), who explained concepts cogently and handled a diverse group of players with tact. Schmid taught Hooker the importance of integrity - a concept he applies in recruiting.

Sorber notes his good fortune in playing for coaches such as Bora Milutinovic and Carlos Alberto Parreira.

"All that experience, though, doesn't necessarily translate into my being a good teacher," Sorber says. "It's easy to say things, but it's not easy for players to understand and apply it. When they do, that's when the rewards come."

Sorber learned a great deal from his father, who in 30 years coaching St. Louis community college power Florissant Valley won 10 national championships.

"I saw how, every two years, there was 100 percent turnover, so the key was simplicity," Sorber said. "You can't overwhelm players with information. I know when I played, I never remembered scouting reports. It's important to build your game on fundamentals. Coaches who break the game down too much don't allow their players to flow."

Krumpe believes that his background makes him best suited to coaching defenders. His two assistants, Brian Irvin and Jim San Martin, add midfield and attacking expertise.

ENJOYABLE AGE GROUP. Moving from national team playing to college coaching has been satisfying, the new generation of coaches agrees. Krumpe enjoys working with the 18-22 age group because "they have great personalities and are still naive about a lot of things, but they're very coachable and willing to learn."

Hooker looks forward to producing players for the WUSA who might have been overlooked by Top 20 schools, while Sorber said simply, "This is fun. It's not work."

Inevitably, these men cannot escape the fact that they occupy a unique niche among college coaches: They once wore a U.S. uniform. Does that influence the way their players relate to them - or at least earn a little bit more respect?

"Honestly, I don't think my players know much about me," Hooker said. "They may have a sense I was on the Olympic and national teams, but I don't live in the past. That's no way to live, and it's certainly no way to coach"

Kerr agreed. "The last thing players want to hear is, 'Back when I played.' So I try to pick and choose my examples from the past. When I do say something, I try to balance it by pointing out that many parts of soccer are better today than when I played."

Krumpe, the coach who jokingly inserts clips of his own playing career into Loyola Marymount videos, is still intrigued by the national scene. This time, however, it is the college soccer picture, not the U.S. team's.

"One of my most exciting days was when we made the NCAA tournament this year," says Krumpe, an NCAA title winner as player and assistant coach with UCLA. "It turned out to be bittersweet, because in the first round we lost, 3-2, in double overtime to UCLA. But I've spent 10 years trying to get to this level, from junior college to UCLA assistant coach, and now I'm here. Now my job is to win one as Loyola Marymount head coach."

by Soccer America Youth Soccer Letter Executive Editor Dan Woog

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