30 years of greatness
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
Sigi Schmid is in his 30th year as a head coach - a career filled with championships and great stories.
Asking a player who has been coached by Sigi Schmid to tell a good story about the Sounders FC head coach will induce the same reaction nearly every time - a laugh followed by a contemplative look.
When you’ve been a head coach as long as Schmid, your players will likely accumulate some tales to tell. When they open up, the story undoubtedly draw a laugh.
Tyrone Marshall, who played for Schmid for three years with the LA Galaxy a while before joining the Sounders FC last season, noted of some of his more unorthodox superstitions.
Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson played collegiate ball at UCLA for Schmid 20 years ago, but still recalls vividly Schmid leaping into the arms of defender Mike Lapper, and the subsequent look of dismay on Lapper’s face, after the Bruins topped Rutgers to win the national championship in 1990.
They all eventually return to the same theme though - that Schmid is great for soccer in America. As he embarks on his 30th season as a head coach, a look to the stands in Seattle and the success of the Sounders FC offers a glimpse into the respect that he has earned over that time.
“He’s put in the hours. He’s seen it all. He’s always learning and he always has an open mind for other ideas, but he always has a wealth of experience that he can fall back on,” Henderson said. “He does not like to lose and you can feel that as a player. That’s one of the big reasons why we hired him here.”
Added midfielder Peter Vagenas, who played under Schmid at UCLA then with the Galaxy and now Sounders, “The man never seems satisfied. He’s won everything he’s ever strived for and yet he’s still as passionate about the game as the day I met him. He still takes it just as serious, he still looks after the small things. He truly loves this game.”
His tremendous passion for soccer may be exceeded only by his vast knowledge of the game.
“He’s always learning and you can tell he loves football because he’s always watching football. He’s a student of the game,” Marshall said. “I call him wikipedia for soccer. Anything you want to know, go ask him and he knows it. If he doesn’t know it, he’ll find it out by the end of the day.”
For all of his love and longevity, though, Schmid freely admits that it all could have gone a different direction in Year One. At just 27 years old, he took over as head coach of the UCLA Bruins in 1980. Upon taking the post, three of his best players approached him to discuss red-shirting his first season. With a hint of desperation, he asked them to stay for a few games, then decide. All three decided to stay on the first team and contributed greatly to UCLA’s 18-1-2 record before falling in the playoffs.
“You realize it all could have gone wrong right there,” he says one of the players told him later.
Even with his highly successful first year, he spent the majority of his early years earning the respect of his peers. By 1985, he had done that and then some by taking the Bruins to an NCAA Championship, winning 1-0 over American University in an epic, eight-overtime game at the Kingdome in Seattle.
Five years later, he took Henderson and his teammates to his second title in 1990 and won a third in 1997.
“It’s all about the players and getting the good players. When you get the right pieces to the puzzle, it works more often than it doesn’t,” Schmid said. “I love coaching and I love the sport and I’ve had a lot of good players that have allowed me success over that period of time. They are the legs that carry it out on the field every day.”
He made it his goal early on not just to win games, but to produce professional players.
A quick scan of current MLS rosters list as bevy of players whom have called Schmid their coach either with UCLA, the Galaxy or the Crew. Matt Reis, Nick Rimando and Kevin Hartman all suited up for the Bruins while Schmid was there - and that’s just the goalkeepers.
“Being around John Wooden at UCLA, the philosophy was to make every player better and the wins will follow. If I can get the player to the next level, chances are my team is going to win more games than they are going to lose,” Schmid said.
In 2000, he sought a new challenge and didn’t have to travel far to fulfill that desire. The LA Galaxy hired him and again found quick success. While it was an adjustment coaching professional players as opposed to college amateurs, Schmid said the desire to win eased that transition.
“What you end up learning at the end of the day is that players are players. Whether they are 42 or 22, they still want to hear from you when they’ve done well and they want to have some feedback when they’re not doing well. And they all have egos and they want to win – it’s always the same,” he said.
The Galaxy were on the brink of championship success and Schmid proved to be the missing piece to push them over the top. In successive years, he led the team to the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2000, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 2001, and the MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2002.
Two year later, though, he was relieved of his duties causing him to reflect on everything from his coaching style to his stress levels.
“The first time you get fired and are told they are not pleased with the job you're doing, it was a blow to the ego,” Schmid said. “Up to that point, when I left a job it was my choosing, so it was a bit of a blow, but it was something that I learned from. When you have success for a period of time, sometimes you can relax, but shocks like that tend to wake you up.”
He came back refreshed and rejuvenated just four months later to coach the US U-20 National Team for one year before returning to MLS with the Columbus Crew. Three years later in 2008, he once again hoisted the MLS Cup after leading the Crew to the MLS Supporters’ Shield for another double.
When his contract wasn’t extended, he looked for a new challenge and found one waiting in Seattle with the expansion Sounders FC.
“Columbus was a rebuilding project. It was broken and we had to fix it. We rebuilt the whole thing and I’m really proud of what they are doing now because it meant that the nucleus was there after I left,” Schmid said. “Now it’s a new challenge here because we were starting from scratch. Can we build it better and be more effective than the other teams have done it?”
Now he enters his 30th year with experience in virtually every situation. In his second season with the Sounders FC, he is giving a new group of players a whole new set of stories to tell.
Already with a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup to his credit, history says Seattle can expect more championships as well.