With keeper’s experience, Wiercinski ready to win

By Tim Murphy

When John O’Connor, the winningest coach in the Maroons’ men’s soccer history, resigned March 3 to take the head coaching job at the University of Rhode Island, the program was swept into a swirling sea of uncertainty. Without a steady hand at the helm, the Maroons went through their spring season unsure of who would lead them next year. Now, after a two-month long nationwide search, it looks like the team is back in good hands.

In a move officially announced Monday, Brown assistant coach Scott Wiercinski will take over the reins of a team that went 14–5–1 in 2005. After five years on the sidelines with the Bears, Wiercinski underwent a thorough interview process before being selected by athletic director Tom Weingartner.

The school conducted a grueling three-step process in narrowing its candidate field. After first going through the standard procedure of checking references and making initial calls, the University’s search committee conducted a number of lengthy phone interviews with the would-be coaches. The three finalists were then shown around campus, where they attended their final interviews. From the start, Wiercinski’s engaging personality and drive to succeed shown through.

“He was personally very dynamic. I could see him being a head coach and leading,” Weingartner said. “His background was really excellent—he worked with good students, he’d been around high-level DI and DIII soccer.”

“I was really impressed with his will to win and his passion for coaching,” said third-year midfielder and captain Joe Frontczak, who met with Wiercinski last week. “He appears to demand a lot from his players which should help us a lot next season.”

Bringing a number of different assets to the table, Wiercinski has the intangibles and experience to succeed at the highest level. After dealing with the rigors of an academically oriented Division 1 school, he knows what to expect out of his players and how to work within such a system. As a former player himself, he can relate to the action on the field and provide insightful instruction. He also carries with him an undying love for the sport, which bodes well for continuing a strong program in Hyde Park.

“I’m very passionate, very emotional about the game,” Wiercinski said. “It’s the most beautiful game in the world. I knew I was getting into something that’s easy to love. I think that I’ve got a pretty good mind for the game.”

Growing up as the youngest child with four older brothers, Wiercinski developed a competitive fire from an early age. A three-sport star at Brunswick High School in Brunswick, Maine, he turned down offers from a number of different suitors to play collegiately at Middlebury. With the Panthers, Wiercinski flourished, as the NECSAC squad advanced to four consecutive NCAA tournaments and lost a total of 11 games during his four years.

“He was a terrific athlete, one of those blessed athletes. He was a great all-around athlete in high school—basketball, baseball, soccer,” Middlebury head coach Dave Saward said. “He was an outstanding goalkeeper, very technically capable. I’d say he was a Division I athlete that decided to play in Division III.”

After graduating in 1999, he used his environmental geology major to earn a job at an environmental consulting agency. He soon realized that such a job was not his cup of tea, and with a little help from his friends at Initech, did an about face with his career choice.

“It was a very distinct moment. I had been out of college for a year and a half, working. And then I saw Office Space. I really looked in the mirror after that. I quit my job, looked into coaching, and I’ve been very, very fortunate.”

Spurning Saward’s contact network initially, he took a job at rival Bowdoin and helped to lead the Polar Bears to their best-ever season, a 15–2–1 record in 2000. The next year, taking a tip from Saward, Brown head coach Mike Noonan hired Wiercinski as an assistant specializing with goalkeepers. For an Ivy League school, Brown had become a prestigious and prolific soccer factory with Noonan leading the squad, and under the tutelage of his new boss, Wiercinski came into his own as a coach.

“Working with coach Noonan has really been an education,” he said. “I’ve been learning every day, not settling for anything that’s just good.”

Having made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament behind the defense of All-American Cory Gibbs (’01), a member of team U.S.A.’s world cup roster, the Bears program had already established itself when Wiercinski arrived, but he helped to keep them on top. As the recruiting coordinator for the program, he brought half a dozen future MLS draft picks to Providence while still managing to adhere to the university’s strict academic standards.

With Wiercinski finding new players each year, the squad was able to replenish itself each season without missing a beat. Last November, Brown started five first-years in its second round tournament loss to Maryland. He will look to continue that success next year in Chicago. Already, he has been in e-mail contact with O’Connor’s recruits, most of whom are still expected to matriculate in the fall.

“[Losing Wiercinski] is the worst thing that’s ever happened. Now I actually have to do my job,” Bears head coach Mike Noonan said. “You’re getting a real bright future star in soccer coaching. He’s well rounded and comes from a good sports family. He’s intelligent and he knows how to teach. He worked with everyone when he was here, but he had specific duties with the goalies. If you look at our development in that area, Scott’s the backbone of that. I’m ecstatic for him.”

As the personal coach of the team’s keepers, Wiercinski was directly responsible for the squad’s miniscule goals against average. Last season the Bear’s held opponents to 0.78 goals per game. Chris Gomez (’05), currently a reserve on FC Dallas, was personally coached by Wiercinski. The new presence of an ex-goalie on the sideline should only help with the continued development of third-year keeper Keith Crum. Crum is the single-season record-holder here with 11 shutouts and a GAA of 0.48 from 2004. Last season those numbers dropped to a still outstanding 6 and 0.83. The combination of the incoming coach with the current talent in Hyde Park spells doom for the opposing UAA striking corps.

“I’m excited, and I know the other goalies are as well,” Crum said. “I think it’s going to be big having a goalkeeper on staff. It’s very technically different from the other positions, and I can’t remember having a goalie coach during my time here.”

Stylistically, the new coach plans to take a cautious approach. Under O’Connor, the Maroons executed a conservative but effective defense-first philosophy. With two fourth-year midfielders graduating and a host of youngsters ready to take on new roles, now might seem as good a time as ever to switch to a more attacking philosophy. For now however, Wiercinski has just one goal: to win.

“John did a lot that was very, very good. They didn’t give up a lot of goals and we’re gonna have to keep that up,” Wiercinski said. “Defense is going to be our cornerstone. At no time will we be lax there. The flip side of that coin is that we want to attack and put up a lot of goals as well.”

With nine years of experience playing for and coaching alongside two of the top coaches in the northeast, Wiercinski has developed an even-keeled mindset that makes him well suited to adapt to his first head-coaching gig. But with seven starters returning from last fall’s NCAA tournament squad, he will have a chance to make a first impression for the ages.

“The most important thing is he cares about people, he’s thoughtful, opinionated—but they’re strong opinions,” Saward said. “He will be decisive, he will earn the respect of his team with his knowledge of the game. Chicago will be very happy with Scott. He’s a gem. He’s the perfect guy to follow John. They won’t miss a heartbeat.”