Ten Questions with Cliff McCrath

Frank MacDonald talks with retiring Seattle Pacific coach Cliff McCrath.

OK, if it wasn’t already crystal clear, he’s not retired. If anything, Cliff McCrath is very much on the go.

Since completing his 38th and final season at Seattle Pacific, Uncle Nubby has delivered a key speech at the National Soccer Coaches Convention and later this week he will again serve as secretary to the NCAA Rules Committee meetings in San Diego.

Beyond winning 597 games and five NCAA championships at SPU, he heightened local soccer’s profile, whether by crawling over Queen Anne Hill, serving as analyst on TV broadcast of the original Sounders or stealing the show (and microphone) at many a Sports Star of the Year banquet.

Come June, Cliff will host his Northwest Soccer Camp on Whidbey Island for the 36th year, once more entertaining the campers with his legendary campfire stories regarding the Legend of the Nub.

What’s the question most asked of you over the years?
The question most asked of me, especially by kids, is ‘How’d you lose your fingers?’

Which of your teams gave you the most pleasure and why?
The 1978 championship team would have to be No. 1 because of their irascibility, their unpredictability, and the fact that they were living proof that mules can become racehorses. A close second would be the 1993 championship team for what occurred in that semifinal game. [Eds: the Falcons came from 5-3 down with 62 seconds left to tie and eventually prevail in a shootout.]

Thus far in your career, what has given you the most satisfaction?
People may not know what I’m talking about, but it’s the belated birthday gift which was put in my hands the other night, a leather-bound volume entitled Over 47 Years of Influence... For me, to read how answering the call of God, and holding the constant distaste for failure has helped other people get their program going, is the single-most gratifying thing.

What do you like doing away from the office, away from the field?
If it’s not watching the Detroit Red Wings win a Stanley Cup, then it’s sinking a 25-foot putt as if I’m Tiger Woods–even if it’s for a triple-bogie. And this will sound really corny, but I also really enjoy having good food and good juice with good friends.

People talk about you being one of the pillars of the game in Seattle, but whom do you consider among the pillars of the local soccer community?
Mike Ryan would be one of my heroes, for his zeal and enthusiasm and light in his soul and his eyes that he still carries, whether coaching a bunch of 70-year-olds or the first women’s national team.

You’re known for your public speaking, an exercise most find extremely intimidating, yet you never seem nervous. But tell the truth: name a couple people who give you sweaty palms.
I’ve often said to my teams if they’re appearing cocky, that a boxer without fear is suicidal, and speaker who stands before a throng without some trickle of fear would be less than honest. That said, my college soccer coach, Bob Baptista, was a guy I felt was bigger than life. Of course my good friend, (former Seattle Pacific track & field coach) Dr. Kenneth E. Foreman, when he’s upset with me, certainly causes me trepidation, and the thought that I’d better get my act together fast.

Who are your favorite all-time player and teams to watch?
I would have to go with the 1974 & ‘78 Dutch Swirl because I could not get over the mind of Rinus Michels and the absolute daring, futuristic view he had of how the game should be played. And for the player, Johan Cruyff because of his absolute versatility, his lightning-like moves, his finesse, his brains and his comprehensive view of the game.

If you could’ve studied with any coach over the last 47 years, who would it be and why?
In the world of soccer, I would love to have been around Rinus Michels. I consider him one of the great giants of the game. I would have liked to have lunch with Vince Lombardi, Frank Leahy and spent more time with John Wooden and Scotty Bowman. And I feel privileged to be in the shadow of Ken Foreman because I’ve learned more just watching him tell a person how to hold their leg than I would in reading 47 books on coaching.

Those magical first couple seasons of the Sounders were called Camelot. Can any of that be recreated come Seattle’s first MLS season in 2009?
It’s tremendously difficult if not impossible to recreate your first kiss. I think it’s possible to provide an experience that goes higher than what the past couple of decades have brought to people. Anytime you open a new chapter, there are possibilities for a Pulitzer. You should strive not to duplicate something in the past, but to make the future just as special, if not more so.

So what’s next?
I’ve lived my past 50 years with Christian principles, and there’s a verse that says commit your life to the Lord and He shall lead you in the path you should go. Everyday I day I get up and knock on that door, and I ask ‘Is it time?’ Right now I feel like I’m a teenager out looking for my first job. There are a couple coaching opportunities, there are some international challenges and some other things, but the answer is, I really don’t know.