SOCCER AMERICA: I’m assuming you spent much of the summer watching the World Cup?
JEREMY GUNN: Well, it's mandatory research, isn't it? That's the beauty of having a job like this. So much of the work is just actually part of enjoying what you enjoy in life. World Cup summers are always special times.
SA: Any revealing trends you spotted during the tournament?
JEREMY GUNN: Not too much, the tournament shows where goals are scored, so it shows coaches where they should work on. That's probably a constant criticism I have with how we coach overall. We have too many people do so much work without goals.
The game's about scoring and stopping goals; everything else is a means to an end. So, you see where goals are scored in the World Cup, a lot of them in and around that second six-yard box. So, we should do more training in those areas.
One thing I did enjoy was that there were a lot of goals scored in set pieces, and while we all prefer to see open play goals, it was fun for me because people have criticized [Stanford] in the past for relying on set-pieces in those tight matches. Well, it's part of the game, isn't it? Seeing the World Cup having many of those goals be decisive was an affirmation that we're already on the right track.
SA: Anything you told your players to look out for throughout the tournament?
JEREMY GUNN: It's always great to have this kind of year because you can draw on the World Cup for a bunch of inspiration and coaching opportunities. This time of the year, the players aren't allowed to report into me. When they went away in the summer, it was very much:
"Enjoy the World Cup but can you look at players in your position, see moments that you can emulate, can you get new ideas of positive reinforcement in how you're doing in your position already."
I'm looking forward to see that feedback because this is an opportunity to see some of the best players in the world playing their positions.
• Jeremy Gunn was born in Harrogate, England, and played in the Grimsby Town and Scunthorpe United youth programs before coming to the USA to play at Cal State Bakersfield.
SA: What did you think of the England squad?
JEREMY GUNN: Well, it was wonderful that they did so well! They overachieved based on the personnel they had; that's all you can ever ask for. When you look at things as a coach, are you helping the teams get a little bit better or a little bit worse?
At a year like this, they certainly had limitations, but they were capable of navigating through the tournament really, really well. That was exciting for me. I'm very much of a dual-nation kind of person when it comes to soccer; my personal pride and culture comes from England but my professional pride comes from how the USA does.
Generally, the England team gets criticized, especially after the 2016 Euros, so it was nice for the country to get excited about something again.
Jeremy Gunn became Stanford head coach in 2012 after coaching stints at CSU Bakersfield, Fort Lewis College and UNC Charlotte. (Photos courtesy of Stanford athletics)
SA: What needs to change for the USA to become a soccer world power?
JEREMY GUNN: It's already happening and nobody knows it. It's quite simple: the parents of all of these youth soccer players all played soccer.
So, the level of coaching for players age 2 to 10 is a million miles ahead of what it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. It's a totally new generation. A 2-year-old now learns to kick the soccer ball rather than toss the baseball.
The most important factor that develops motor skill development and love for the sport will all be happening organically already. That's the most important factor.
Whatever happens between ages 0-10 will dictate the talent pool we're dealing with -- whether people are signing to pro teams or are going to college, playing academy, or playing high school -- the most important factor is naturally happening.
SA: You’ve noticed major changes since you arrived in the USA nearly three decades ago?
JEREMY GUNN: If you look at the rest of the world, everyone gets a bit better every time. But the U.S., on the men's side, we're going on a far steeper learning curve. When I came to the U.S., if you had a foreign accent, you were an expert, whether you actually were or weren't.
The poor dad who was an athlete in football, baseball, or basketball, got thrown the clipboard for the 6-year-old team could not even explain how to pass a ball properly.
Now, every youth player in the country is immersed in the correct soccer environment from 2 to 10.
All the pontification about the national program, college, signing pro, none of that is any more important than the fact that the 2-year-old can kick a soccer ball well. I'm not going to say he has the genetics to play soccer well, but he's in an environment where he loves to kick the ball around.
SA: MLS and USL have made immense strides in the last decade. What about college soccer?
JEREMY GUNN: Here's the thing. People make assumptions that college soccer isn't doing well, which is ridiculous.
College soccer is an amazing environment, producing amazing players. Can college soccer improve? Of course, it can.
Does it need to change some of its archaic rules? Of course, it needs to. But this whole assumption that the whole U.S. system has to change is, in my opinion, ridiculous.
We don't have to copy the rest of the world's systems. And if we do copy these systems, you're just going to leave thousands of people on the scrap heap. That's what happens in the rest of the world. People go to pro clubs at 16, which means they stop being academically driven. And then none of them make it.
Go copy the best coaches in the world. But we have a unique environment in the United States. It's ridiculous for us to think we should be copying a system of a country that so culturally different, geographically different, and academically different. We shouldn't do that. What we should continue to do is enhance every facet of soccer. We're working hard to enhance the college game. The goalposts have shifted, more people have skipped college, and that's OK.
Just look at what's happening in baseball. Some of the talent skips college; it's funny though, for some of the talent that skips college, studies have shown that they're actually outperformed by the people who stay in the three years of college. It's compelling because the players who are signed at 17 are considered the best players, aren't they? They're not the second best.
And this comes back to my point where I get frustrated when I hear people saying that you have to be in a professional environment. I would say no, you have to be in a high-performing environment. There are great professional environments, and poor professional environments. There are great college environments, and poor college environments.
Put yourself in an incredible, competitive, growth environment regardless of the label attached to it. Which MLS academy has put two players on the national team in the last five years? We did, before the players even played a professional game. [Jordan Morris and Brandon Vincent].
SA: Can you address the balance between long-term player development and short-term results?
JEREMY GUNN: They're very much hand-in-hand. But obviously the performance of the team might be in a different direction than a person's own goals. We have these arguments between development and competing. I fully support that until under-10 or under-14, development and competing are definitely exclusive and different.
When you're 16, 17, 18, 19, years old, you should be developing and competing.
We talk about development. Development isn't giving away the ball at the back at every single opportunity possible and losing every single game. You should be developing decision-making. You can definitely be developing and competing. There's no question in my mind because when it comes down to it on the biggest stages possible, the competing level of an entire group is going to make a big difference in the results. Let's face it. If we're saying we're developing people to play professionally, don't all the people who lose get fired? All the people that win get bigger contracts? The mandate at U-10 or U-14 should have nothing to do with winning.
SA: At the college level?
JEREMY GUNN: When you're at the college age, not everyone is going to win. But everyone has to learn how to compete. This would be where some of the players who we've had who have stayed on in our program, they have experienced a much higher level of competing than if they were just playing in meaningless reserve games or training.
You take a guy who leaves college early and trains with the first team everyday, he might be getting some better technical aspects in terms of speed of play, but he's not learning to be the man in the middle.
Now, if you're playing a game in front of 5,000 or 60,000 that makes a difference. But practicing being the man in the middle is very important. Take Jordan Morris, for example. He chose to stay in college for his third year, after being on the national team. Had he gone to Seattle after that second year, wouldn't he have been subbing on for Clint Dempsey or Obafemi Martins? Instead, he was the man here, and was expected to perform. It was a different standard of soccer altogether, different team, but he was learning something in that environment that he wouldn't have in Seattle. We can all argue which would be more important. It's different for every player.
SA: Stanford is known as one of the world’s top academic institutions. How does that affect your soccer program?
JEREMY GUNN: Obviously, we do have tremendous recruiting advantages, because it is such a desirable place. But because of the level of academics is so high, it is also a recruiting disadvantage. For most schools, you could go to the soccer field and probably evaluate at least 20 players on the field. When you're at Stanford, you might be able to evaluate two or three because of the high academic standard.
How high the bar is set academically is both a challenge and an advantage. It's a challenge in that there's a smaller pool of players from which we can consider. But I feel that the academic standard truly helps create a filter to find players who would best help the program in terms of character.
People who get into Stanford are inherently competitive already, inherently hard working, inherently disciplined. So, you're already kind of sifting through the potential candidates, and a lot of that work is sort of forced upon you. There are absolutely zero cutting corners when it comes to a recruit here. There is no lowering the bar like there are at even the most fantastic schools around the country.
Every other school except for Stanford can pretty much look at a player's grades and give them the thumbs up. All we can do is promote them through our admissions process and wait for the outcome from admissions. We cannot guarantee acceptance, and from what I understand, we're the only program in men's soccer that does that.
SA: You’re going into the 2018 season aiming to win a four NCAA Division I title in a row, something that's only been done once before. How do you feel about your chances ... your captains, goalkeeper, and four other players having graduated last year?
JEREMY GUNN: We should be ready for it, let's hope so. All the things we talk about ahead of time don't really mean anything until we get going, you know, I know everybody gets to speculate and that's part of the fun, but obviously we've had a spectacular run for a few years.
We did graduate out a big group this year who were very much the heartbeat of the program. And so we have a good group, but not the same strength and depth as we've had before. We'll definitely have to stay healthy.
SA: After your 2017 season, three players signed professional contracts to MLS teams and three to USL clubs. What does that say about where college soccer is at today?
JEREMY GUNN: It speaks volumes about how great college soccer still is. The MLS game is growing immensely, and so whether you sign as a homegrown or you go to college, those soccer players better get ready to earn their stripes. Only a very select few are going to jump straight into the MLS. Only a select few are going to go overseas to greater things. The large majority of players, whether they go to college or whether they sign homegrown, they're going to have to earn their stripes.
And that's an awesome thing. When you think about the numbers of college players going straight into MLS, we understand a lot of people are going homegrown, so those numbers are going to naturally diminish.
But the numbers of young players going to MLS are going to diminish too because the level of the USL and MLS are absolutely light years of where it was 10 years ago. So, it would be unfair to critique the college environment on a level playing field with that.