As assistant coach, he worked with Bob Gansler at the 1989 U-20 World Cup and 1990 World Cup teams, Lothar Osiander in two Olympics, Bora Milutinovic as he started the U.S. national team on its path toward 1994, and with Sigi Schmid, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Carlos Queiroz in MLS.
Perez, who got his first coaching job at D3 Whittier in 1974, guided Santa Clara, Cal State Fullerton and Old Dominion in NCAA Division I, started programs at Cal State Los Angeles -- he recruited future U.S. Soccer coaches Carlos Juarez and Martin Vasquez to play for the Golden Eagles -- and Cal State San Bernardino, worked with the Olympic Development Program and, in the interim between Octavio Zambrano's dismissal and Schmid's arrival as head coach, guided the LA Galaxy past San Jose in April 1999, his only MLS outing as a head coach.
He's in his 15th season in charge at the University of Redlands, a Division III school where he's posted a 208-67-21 record with three 20-win seasons and another three with 16 or more wins, nine regular-season and four tournament titles in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and six NCAA appearances with two trips to the elite eight and another to the sweet 16. Alum include Richie Marquez, who played for the Philadelphia Union, Harrisburg City and Bethlehem Steel in 2014-18.
SA: When you were a player, did you know you'd become a coach?
RALPH PEREZ: No. My focus then as a player was I was going to be a teacher. And if there was an opportunity to do coaching, then maybe so. When I graduated [from Oneonta State], I was offered at my high school, in Brentwood on Long Island, to coach basketball and soccer at the junior high level. But I didn't really ... let's put it this way: I never envisioned going where the game has taken me.
SA: You've worked with so many who meant something in the American game the past four decades, which speaks to your place in the landscape as well as part of the group that took us from the darklands of the 1980s to where we are today. ...
RALPH PEREZ: I think the one thing that really opened my eyes to the game from a coaching side was going to take my coaching license. I did the first one in 1974, with Walt Chyzowych and Bill Hughes and Bob McNulty and Bill Killen. I mean, I was taking the course, and these guys were instructing, and then I went on in '75 to do my B license up at San Francisco State. And that's where I met Lothar Osiander for the first time. Then people like Timo Liekoski and Walt were my instructors. And then doing my A license in '77 at UC Irvine, having Walt and Nick Zlater as my instructors.
[It all] opened my eyes to the game of coaching. And it was really a breath of fresh air to see how much goes into coaching and learning all the intricacies that you need to know to be a good coach.
That was in my younger years. ... Having the opportunity to work with different people in the game, and even some great international coaches like Carlos Parreira and Carlos Queiroz with the MetroStars, I would honestly say that when I look at what I experienced and who I worked with, it's been a real blessing.
And then you throw in the American guys like Sigi [Schmid] and Glenn “Mooch” Myernick and Bob Gansler, those are really influential people in the sport of soccer. ... In my years of broadcasting with the Galaxy, I got to see Bruce Arena and his staff work and see some of their success. It's been a lot of fun.
SA: You were Bob Gansler's assistant with the U.S. team that finished fourth at the 1989 U-20 World Cup and with 1990 World Cup team. How important was the 1990 team, which took USA to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years?
RALPH PEREZ: I think it was a good foundation, a good group of young men who were willing to do anything and everything for us. It was a low-budget infrastructure at that time, that we were really limited as far as finances, but clearly it was a group of young men who served the game very well. And in our choosing of players, we were very conscious of the fact that in '94 we were going to host the World Cup, so we wanted a group who if they continued to grow and were there, were maybe possible for the '94 team.
And that was the thinking that Bob and I had with the youngest team at that World Cup. But clearly, it's a group that when you look at that picture, 85 percent of those guys are still involved in the game of soccer in one shape, form or another.
I stayed on to help, at Bob's insistence, because I felt loyalty to Coach Gansler. I was asked to be Bora [Milutinovic]'s assistant for the first year and a half [after he took charge in 1991]. We won that first Gold Cup in '91 in L.A., and it showed me that to be the best team in Concacaf in '91, in that short two- to three-year period, we made some fantastic growth. And being able to coach that team was really a thrill. Especially winning those games in L.A. and beating Mexico in the semifinals. That was a rewarding experience.
We had some guys that really were uniquely capable of dealing with what we had to deal with, because we didn't really have that bona fide pro league. We had some guys that were playing overseas at the time. Tab Ramos over in Spain, and [Peter] Vermes in Holland and Hungary, and Steve Trittschuh in Czechoslovakia and [Paul] Caligiuri in Germany, so we were really doing things that a lot of people today don't realize how difficult it was. We had some other guys that were playing for the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks [and teams] like that, like the John Doyles. We brought in guys like Dominic Kinnear in that '91 Gold Cup and Brian Quinn.
So we made some good headways there, and then, obviously, it just continues. The Olympic team in '92, that brings in players like Alexi Lalas and Claudio Reyna and Joe-Max Moore and Cobi Jones. And Lothar had asked me to work with that group; I had a good opportunity, I would say, from working with the under-20s, working with the Olympic team in '88 and '92, then qualifying for the World Cup. It was a great time.
Ralph Perez on working with ...
A soccer genius, a soccer mind, very clear on what he wanted to do. He knew what we had to do, he knew what we could do, and he also knew what we couldn't do.
His genius was his ability to relate well with the players. If you ever talk to any player who ever played for Lothar, they all loved playing for him. They're all grateful for what he gave them.
One of the qualities that I loved about Sigi was that he knew where he came from, he was proud of what he was, and he really just never stopped thinking of the next play, the next day, the next week. Even when you won a championship with him, the next day he was back to work: “What do we got to do to repeat?” or “What do we got to do to be as good?” or “How can we improve?”
Bora was just Bora. It was “Bora Time.” When he said it was time to start, that's when it started. His ability to deal with and handle the press was much better than all of us, because he'd dealt with that, being in Mexico, being in World Cups, having all that experience. I always asked Bora that: How do you deal with that all the time? The same questions but in a different language? And he always told me that was a big part of the job.
His attention to detail ... everything that he did in preparation for training to prepare for games was second to none.
Carlos Alberto Parreira
A good, wholesome, humble personality. He had a good balance. Meaning the game was very important to him, but also his family was important to him. So he taught me that.
SA: You started what became the LA Galaxy Academy 15 years ago or so. What was the landscape like for you at that time, and what are the differences with where that that landscape now stands?
PEREZ: One of the things I tried to do when I was asked in '04 by [late Galaxy GM] Doug Hamilton was to go and try to find players who aren't part of the mainstream. Going into areas where the kids don't play on big travel teams, they just play in local leagues. And we went in there, [then-director of special projects] Blane Shepard and I, and we found some players.
But at that time, the MLS rosters were very small, they weren't as big as they are now. There wasn't the landscape of the Galaxy having a lot of control of all the fields at Home Depot Center [now Dignity Health Sports Park], so we were limited. If we started anything, we couldn't even do it there. Now they have full control and autonomy of all the fields and all the space out there, so there is money, there is a budget there that clearly is there for player development.
Then they made that decision that they were going to do the Galaxy II and were going to build the academy program. There's no doubt in my mind that the talent between Santa Barbara and San Diego is as good and rich in talent than anywhere in the United States. And I'm not saying that biasedly, because I live in Southern Cal, I coach in Southern Cal. I just know from my travels.SA: You've coached NCAA Division 1, of course. How different is it coaching at D3, with Redlands?
RALPH PEREZ: I think the biggest issue for me going to D3 is I identify a talented player, I like him, but now it comes down to I don't have athletic-scholarship dollars -- no Division III schools have that -- so you've really got to be a good student who can get an academic scholarship or a good student who also has a high financial need and can get a financial package. And then you can build a good program that way, and that's what we've been able to do, thanks to the quality assistants I've had to help me, because it's surely not a one-man show.
Division III soccer, is in some ways a step back in time, where these kids will work hard for you, they're not prima donnas, in the sense of their attitude, and they just love the game and they love school and it's been a real nice environment to work with. Where I see other guys trying to get their players to stay eligible, trying to get their guys to stay in school. Guys go to college and then they go to MLS after a year or two.
That's got to be a lot of turnover, you know? We all know turnover makes for not good continuity. So we get guys who play for me four years, they get done, and I've been able to put three guys into MLS [Richie Marquez (with Perez in photo below) Ross Schunk and Adam Acosta], which is unheard of in Division III soccer. We've been able to do that by finding players who have been missed. There's always players that are going to be missed at every level of sport, so finding the right guys has been fun, and then, more importantly, they work hard for me.
SA: What's most rewarding about coaching at Redlands?
RALPH PEREZ: Whether it's me starting the men's program at Cal State L.A. and getting them to the NCAA final within four years, or me coaching at Santa Clara, then after two years I leave and they go to the final, and Old Dominion ... the good thing is you are responsible for the people you recruit. So if you do a good job in recruiting and recruit good young men, it’s always fun.
Whether it's D1, 2, 3 or anything like that, I just find that coaching for me has been always an enjoyment of working with young men and watching them grow from an 18-year-old young man to a 21-year-old guy, and that's been the real job, the development of them as young men. There's making them better in soccer, and then I think the third part is being successful is always fun. Losing seasons, poor seasons are not as much fun. I believe there is a strong correlation between the fun factor and winning and losing, but I think also it's good to see a team go from not being good in late August to being very good in early November. That's a real passion of mine.
SA: If we were talking about the greatest assistant coaches in American soccer history, you're right there in that conversation, perhaps leading it. What are the most important elements to be a great assistant coach?
RALPH PEREZ: That, I think, was a learning curve for me, because I started out in '74 as the head coach at Whittier College, at the age of 22 without having been an assistant. The first time I was an assistant wasn't until later on, when I got involved with the national team program.
I think you've got to be supportive. You've got to really be honest. I think most head coaches want a guy who's always going to cover their back, because players will come to you and try to put you in the corner to go against the coach's decision: “Why am I not playing?” Or “why are we doing this?” You've got to be very careful of how you choose your words, what you say to players.
I think loyalty in all jobs is important. I think you've got to really outwork the head guy. You've got to be there on his call, but then you've got to be there to make sure that you're doing all the things so when they say to you, “Hey, did you call Scott French to get the lowdown on that scouting report on Municipal from Guatemala?” you have all the information that they need. Don't ever be unprepared. I always made it a point to be there before and leave after the head guy left. I didn't ever want him to think I was working less than him.
Whatever the job requirements are, do it, do it all, and if you can, do more. For example, when you go scout or you're preparing a scouting report, or you're going to break down videotape, do it diligently, so the head man, when you're presenting it to him or the team, is satisfied. That's the bottom line.
SA: Going forward, what aspirations do you have in the game?
PEREZ: Well, I really would love to be somebody's technical adviser, someone to -- even to this day -- say, “Hey, could you come in and run our academy?” Or “could you come in and coach our reserve team?” Or “could you come in and be our head coach?” I think in any of those positions, I would still be energetic and feasible for that opportunity. Just like if U.S. Soccer came to me and [wanted me to coach a youth national team]. I think working in those capacities is great. They're fun, they're challenging. There's nothing better than to coach for your country, and there's nothing better than to coach in the highest league in your country.
Photos by Molly Craighead/courtesy of Univ. of Redlands Athletics