Some surprising news on the CIS soccer front broke this afternoon with Neil Davidson's CP story that coach Paul James is leaving York.
James has been with the Lions for the last six years, at first coaching both the men's and women's teams and then focusing on the women while overseeing both programs. He's created a very impressive dynasty; the Lions never made the nationals on the women's side before James' arrival, but went 66-19-15 under him and made it to the championships in four of his six years, finishing as runners-up in 2007 when he was selected as OUA and CIS coach of the year. The men also improved dramatically under his tenure and won the 2008 national title under head coach Carmine Isacco, the former University of Toronto head coach and Toronto FC assistant James brought in to run the men's side in 2007.
James has plenty of soccer credentials and is one of Canada's best-known soccer personalities, thanks to his impressive playing career with the national team (44 caps, inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003), his stint coaching the U-20s, his work at the CIS level, his regular appearances on The Score's Footy Show and, most recently, his soccer blog for The Globe and Mail. It's too bad that he's moving on from CIS coaching, as his presence not only dramatically improved York's programs but also gave the university game a tremendous amount of credibility.
James' comments to Davidson are worthy of some examination. Here's a few of the key ones:
"After 20 years of coaching, I've just come to the decision that I want to just move away from that career. In a way, I've lost a little bit of the passion for it," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I actually think, in part, the coaching career path I took has definitely been challenging and I think over time, in my experience, it can wear you down a little bit.
"In Canada I've found the only way to be successful, if you coach at a significant level ... you really, really do have to be fanatical about it - fanatical in recruiting, fanatical with your tactics, and always having your eye on the ball. It doesn't mean that it would be the same for other people but for me personally I think over time it's wore me down and I'm just at this point to be happy to look to move in a different direction."
Coaching is a very stressful job, particularly at higher levels. In one way, it's very positive for the university game that James thinks fanaticism is necessary to succeed. That shows that it really is making leaps and bounds and the quality of competition is improving. If James thought he could continue to dominate while putting in a partial effort, that would be concerning.
However, the other side of those comments demands that we look at if our university coaches are getting enough support. Full-time coaches are becoming more prominent in CIS sports as a whole, but soccer is still largely seen as an afterthought at many schools next to programs like football, basketball and hockey.
There aren't a lot of full-time CIS soccer coaches that I know of, and I don't think there are likely to be too many in the near future. Even hiring a full-time soccer coach may not be enough to alleviate some of the pressures; university coaches have a massive workload on their shoulders, including budgeting, recruiting, game-planning, and training their players. In order to cope with all that, significant resources have to be put into a program for both head coaches and assistant coaches, as well as training facilities and scholarships.
At the moment, CIS soccer plays a significant role in developing club/national team players on the women's side and a more minor role on the men's side. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as there are other avenues of development for those players (such as the academies of Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps), but many fans of the CIS game would like to see university soccer take on a bigger role on the men's side. It doesn't have to compete directly with academies, but could serve as a better complement with further resources added. In order to improve CIS soccer, schools will have to make investing in it a priority. One of the key ways to do that is by bringing in knowledgeable and credible coaches, and giving them the support they need to do their jobs. That's why James' departure is a blow for the CIS game.
(Cross-posted to The 24th Minute)