Remembering Stephen Negoesco (1925-2019)

While Stephen Negoesco  was coaching some of the greatest college teams in history, he didn’t prowl the sidelines.

“I don’t argue with referees,” he told me in a 1991 interview. “I don’t coach from the sidelines. I go sit in the stands. I always have.”

The University of San Francisco won five Division I NCAA finals in Negoesco’s 1962-2000 tenure, during which he became the first college coach to win 500 games.

“I can see much better from there,” he said. “I don’t complain and offer my players a crutch for why things may not be going well.”

Lothar Osiander, a German immigrant who would go on to become U.S. national team coach, was part of USF’s 1966 national championship team.

“We stepped onto the field and wondered where he had gone,” said Osiander. “Back then, we played at Balboa Stadium and he would go into the press box. He’d come down at halftime or after the quarter – when we still played quarters – and make some adjustments.

“It was a respect type of relationship. He respects the players for being players and they respect the coach for being a gentleman and for being the kind of coach he is.”

A players’ coach. Back in that 1991 interview, Negoesco talked about his method of balancing structure – “some amount is good” – with giving players a chance to "use their imagination." He recounted an example of telling a defender to contribute to the attack:

Player: “How often should I go up?”

Negoesco: “As much as you like, as long as you get back in time.”

Player: “When will I know I should go up?”

Negoesco: “You’ll know.”

“He certainly was a players’ coach,” says Glenn Van Straatum, who came to USF from Suriname in 1978 after Negoesco met Van Straatum’s youth national team coach at a coaching course in Mexico. Negoesco was always on the lookout for foreign talent with academic aspirations.

“Steve respected the players a lot,” says Van Straatum, now Academy Director of East Bay United/Bay Oaks. “He would say, ‘Here are some of the ideas that I have, what do you guys think?’ It was very empowering. He allowed us to make decisions. It got the best out of us.”

‘A soccer dad.’ USF was known as a “United Nations” team, with players hailing from Europe, Africa and the Americas.

“It was very strange for us,” says Van Straatum. “Because back then there were no other examples of teams with players from so many countries. Now, of course, ‘UN’ teams are the norm. Steve was a visionary in that way. And it was magical how he could find right words to get everybody on the same page.”

The diverse group of players that Negoesco fielded included Alejandro Toledo, who went on to become the President of Peru in 2001-2006. He also provided the platform for Bay Area product John Doyle to become a 1988 Olympian and 1990 U.S. World Cup player.

USF players like Van Straatum arrived in San Francisco without connections beyond the university and the team, far away from their families.

“He took care of every player like a dad would,” Van Straatum says. “He was a father figure off the field. And on the field, he created a unique style of play with a diverse group of players. For decades after we played for him, the alums from 20, 30, 40 years, we stayed connected to him and feel the same gratitude.”

The first West Coast all-American. Negoesco was born in Jutland, New Jersey, in 1925. When his mother died, he was sent back to Romania to live with relatives. The move turned him into a soccer player, but otherwise, the timing was bad. The Nazis invaded Romania in 1940. When they discovered his American roots, he was sent to a concentration camp at age 15.

"I got friendly with the guards," Negoesco told Scott French in a 2000 Soccer America interview. "They were kids, 18, 19 years old, and we found a common ground. We were all soccer players. ... So after a couple months, I said to one of them: 'You know, I've been thinking about running away.'”

One of the guards advised him on a good day to escape, and Negoesco fled back to Bucharest, "Where the Germans never thought I'd be stupid enough to go,” Negoesco said.

He returned to the USA after World War II, settled in the San Francisco in 1947 and enrolled at USF. He was the West Coast's first first-team All-American collegiate soccer player in 1949 and helped USF to its first national title in 1950.

The collegiate teams he coached may have been known for their foreign talent, but in the meanwhile Negoesco spurred the growth of youth soccer in the Bay Area and coached youth teams in San Francisco and Marin County for decades.

In 1953, he founded San Francisco’s first youth soccer league, at one point helping coach 11 teams.

In 1961, he coached Hakoah of San Francisco to the McGuire Cup title, the first national youth championship for West Coast team.

In 1962, Negoesco, who taught middle-school biology, took the USF head coaching job for $300 a year ($2,500 in 2019 dollars). He kept his teaching job until 1979.

While guiding USF to national titles in 1975 and 1976, he also coached San Francisco Italian Athletic Club to the 1976 U.S. Open Cup title.

After 39 seasons, Negoesco retired in 2000. That’s when French interviewed him and pointed out how important Negoesco was for California soccer: “The West Coast, was nothing soccer-wise before Negoesco. He was on the forefront of everything -- recruiting foreign athletes, playing a national schedule, building a soccer-specific facility.” Negoesco actually contributed personally to the construction of the USF stadium that bears his name, pouring 49 cubic yards of cement.

Negoesco died on Feb. 3 at age 93.

15 comments about "Remembering Stephen Negoesco (1925-2019)".
  1. Dan Woog, February 5, 2019 at 6:23 a.m.

    Great info about a very important soccer pioneer. Thank you.

  2. Wooden Ships, February 5, 2019 at 7:50 a.m.

    Another excellent article about a very Significant person. USF was one of the handful of programs that the best players hoped to play for in the early years. A life well lived, Bravo. 

  3. Richard Broad, February 5, 2019 at 7:59 a.m.

    I never had the opportunity to meet him yet he was a legend, a person revered by all young coaches getting started in their careers in the 70s and 80s.

  4. Ted Howard, February 5, 2019 at 8:33 a.m.

    He was an exceptional individual and a wonderful humanitarian.  I played and assistant coached against his teams in the late 60s while at Chico State.  I got to know him over the years and enjoyed the oportunity to watch his teams play, especially those National Championship teams.  He was so instrumental in the development of the game in Northern California.  Thanks Steve. Rest In Peace. 

  5. frank schoon, February 5, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.

    It's so sad to see another soccer pioneer leave us. Even though I never met him, the loss does effects everyone who is part of this special community, the soccer community, which ,to me, is a special part of our American sub-culture. Thank You, Steve...RIP

  6. beautiful game, February 5, 2019 at 10:02 a.m.

    Great story...U.S. soccer desperately needs Negoesco's DNA.  

  7. Alvaro Bettucchi, February 5, 2019 at 12:42 p.m.

    In 1953-54, while putting together soccer in South San Francisco, I became a close friend of Steve.  We exchaged ideas and he helped me throughout my soccer teaching years. I went to see quite a few USF games, and he was always the friendly individual, always willing to take time out and talk about the latest soccer news.  We are, where we are to day, in Bay Area soccer, thanks in part to a great human being and to the many like him.  He will not only be missed, but he will always be remembered in our building the history of soccer in our area.

  8. cony konstin, February 5, 2019 at 12:58 p.m.

    Long Live Coach Steve Negoesco. He is playing soccer with my dad in paradise. 

  9. Mike Lynch, February 5, 2019 at 1:47 p.m.

    I never met Coach Negoesco, but certainly knew about him as my college coach, Lou Sagastume, was on his 1966 championship team. We played USF in 1980 and had the challenge to stop their UN attack. We lost.

  10. Terry Weekes, February 5, 2019 at 2:29 p.m.

    Steve was a gentleman of the game. He played such a tremendous role in developing the game in California and throughout the country. Having played against his teams and coached against them as well, he always had a positive word of support and encouragement at the end of the match. Like Lothar Osiander, our American soccer community owes these men a great debt of gratitude not only their leadership and accomplishments, but for their tireless contributions to the countless players that were fortunate to have played for them. 

    Thank you Steve and Rest in Peace!

  11. Ric Fonseca, February 5, 2019 at 4:23 p.m.

    As mentioned above by TH, Coach Steve was an exceptional individual, a humanitarian, and just as important a grerat friend.  I had the honor and discinct pleasure of having met him as well as coaches Menendez (San Jose St) and DiGrazia (UC Berkeley) while an undergraduate in Oakland JC (now Merritt College) and CSU Hayward (now CSU East Bay), and was even more honored to get to know them during my grad years at UCLA.  RIP, Coach Steve!

  12. Mark Landefeld, February 5, 2019 at 5:05 p.m.

    First Sigi Schmid and now Steve.  This is a tough winter for California soccer, losing two of our greatest builders of the game.  Fortunately, their "family trees" in the game will be with us for quite awhile.  Rest well, Coach.  You earned it.

  13. frank schoon replied, February 5, 2019 at 10:28 p.m.

    Mark, you forgot Steve Parker who recently passed away. He was not from CA but he  was part of our soccer community 

  14. Craig Cummings, February 5, 2019 at 11:45 p.m.

    Lets hear from Scott French as I just saw him last month at a HS soccer game. he is a great scribe.

  15. Kent James, February 6, 2019 at 2:22 p.m.

    Because I began reading Soccer America in the 1980s when I was playing college soccer, I knew who he was and how good his teams were.  This tribute shows I didn't know the half of it.  Very impressive life, and what a positive impact he's had on American soccer.  

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