BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Nov. 25, 2003) — The only soccer coach the University of Indiana has ever known reached the 100-loss plateau this season. It took him 31 years.
Jerry Yeagley entered the 2003 NCAA tournament with a career record of 539-101-45, five wins shy of the all-time record for collegiate coaching victories. Steve Negoesco of the University of San Francisco recorded 544 win in 39 seasons before retiring at the end of the 2000 season.
(Editor’s note: Yeagley was given the record after four of Negoesco’s victories were nullified for using an ineligible player.
Yeagley started the Hoosier program from scratch in 1973. Along the way, Yeagley produced national team players like Chris Klein, Juergen Summer, Chad Deering, Brian Maisonneuve and countless Major League Soccer players.
“It’s hard to put into words how much Coach Yeags affects every player’s life that he deals with,” says Maisonneuve, “Not only is he a fantastic coach, but he is even a better person. He loves every player that goes through that program. It was a real treat to play for him for four years and get the ability to know a man like that. Coach Freitag and Todd Yeagley are going to be there after he leaves.”
At 63, Yeagley will retire after the 2003 season with a full set of memories.
“I can’t remember my dog’s name but I can remember our first varsity game like it was yesterday,” he says. “I guess I have a soccer-specific memory.”
And there is a lot of soccer to remember. The national championships, the players, the former assistants, the wins, the losses, the battles he’s fought, his own playing career, the roots of his coaching career, etc., etc., etc.
For security reason, he can’t tell us which has been his favorite team, or his favorite year. He’s afraid if he did, the next day his office would be filled with angry alumni. As he says this, he is looking across his desk at Kansas City Wizards defender Nick Garcia, who won a national title in 1998 and ’99. Within earshot is Mike Freitag, a former Hoosier All-American, Yeagley’s assistant for 11 years, and Indiana’s next head soccer coach.
“If I said I had a favorite team, I’d have a whole bunch of alums in here tomorrow choking me because they have an awful lot of pride in those teams,” Yeagley says. “I think I am most proud of the consistency of excellence. We haven’t had a yo-yo effect where we have been up one year and down the next.”
No, the Hoosiers have been remarkably consistent. In 1973, his first season as head varsity coach of IU, his team missed out on an NCAA invite. They were 12-2. The next season, Indiana made their first of 25 trips to the NCAAs. In 1976, they lost in the championship game, falling to Negoesco and the San Francisco Dons. They would lose to USF twice more in the finals before winning the title in 1982, then again in 1983. In 1984, they lost to Clemson in the championship game. Since 1973, there has not been a three-year stretch without Indiana in the final four.
“He’s been the architect of a great program for 30 years, and I know a lot of people in and out of the soccer community have a lot of respect for him as a man,” says Garcia. “I think that is the basis of what he created at Indiana. He not only produces good soccer players, but also good people. He always had that respect given to him on and off the field.”
In all, Yeagley’s teams have won five national championships in 10 title-game appearances. All but three of his teams have received berths in the NCAA tournament and they have advanced to the College Cup (semifinals or finals) 14 times. Every player who has played for four years at Indiana has competed in at least one College Cup. In the 10 years the Big Ten Conference has sponsored a championship, the Hoosiers have won all but two.
Yeagley has been named national coach of the year five times. No other coach has won it more than once. He has also been honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year five times. In 1989, he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, his second Hall of Fame induction. In 1988 he entered the Pennsylvania Athletic Hall of Fame in Carlisle, Pa.
Since 1973, an Indiana player has been named first team All-American 19 times, second only to Virginia’s 20. Yeagley has sent 60 players into the professional soccer ranks and six to the Olympics. Five Hoosiers have played in the World Cup. Most impressive, however, is that his 500th win came before his 100th loss. Twenty-three times, Indiana has lost fewer than four times in a season. They had a streak of 41 straight games in which they’ve scored, and four other stretches of at least 23 games in a row with a goal.
The Hoosiers own a winning streak of 23 games (1997) and an unbeaten streak of 46 matches that stretches between 1983 and 1984. Once, 15 years ago, they lost four in a row. Early in his career, Yeagley was results-oriented, he says. Now, though, he is equally concerned with how his team plays.
“I’m a purist now, in terms of making it an entertaining, attractive game,” he says. “I feel sometimes in the early days we won ugly. I recruit and train players that can entertain, first for the players and then for the spectators.”
A Pennsylvania Dutch Version of ‘Hoosiers’
Harold Yeagley wanted his son to become a dentist. But Jerry wanted to play soccer. Jerry had an uncle who was a doctor. Another uncle, a dentist, who offered to help pay for dental school. But Jerry wanted to be like Barney Hoffman.
“He was my high school coach and my greatest role model, and I wanted to be like him,” Yeagley says. “I loved being around athletics.”
Harold Yeagley was a trumpet player, good enough to play in Benny Goodman’s orchestra. During the Great Depression, however, the elder Yeagley gave up the road and taught music at Myerstown High, where Jerry played the trombone in the school band.
The class of 1958 at Myerstown (Pa.) High School had 47 students, and Jerry, like any other boy in the school that could run without falling down, played every sport – basketball, baseball and soccer. He also dabbled in tennis and boxing. His father was six-foot-two and pushing 280 pounds. Jerry was rail thin, but he could play. Those who knew him say he was “very steady and very, very tenacious.”
In ‘58, Myerstown High had a run to the state soccer championship that bore an eerie resemblance to the movie Hoosiers. Myerstown, with its 47 students – that’s students, not male students — played and beat Upper Darby, a large Philadelphia school, for the state title.
“It was David vs. Goliath,” Yeagley says. “I’m asked all the time what was the most important or significant championship. I could never replace that one.”
Yeagley, who was “a whole lot of legs and would stick you in a second,” according to his high school and college teammate Billy Fulk, played outside fullback for Myerstown.
“He was very good defensively, an outstanding fullback,” says Fulk, who went on to play nine seasons of professional baseball in the Detroit Tigers organization, advancing to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. “He was very hard and aggressive. And he was a winner, too – very competitive. Jerry was a good athlete. I think he was our leading scorer in basketball and second in the county. He was competitive in everything he did — even trombone.”
The Pennsylvania state championship game was played at West Chester State College, and watching the game was the coach of the West Chester soccer team, Mel Lorback. He recruited Yeagley and Billy Fulk from Myerstown High.
Three years later, Yeagley helped West Chester to the 1961 NCAA championship. Yeagley is the only person to have played on a state high school championship team, an NCAA championship and coach an NCAA champ.
“I’ve always said Jerry Yeagley was the one who put us in the NCAA Tournament the year we won,” says Lorback. “We played Army in our last game of the season. It was Army’s next to last game because they always played Navy at the end of the year. They scheduled us before the Navy game because they didn’t think we would give them much competition.
“We played this sliding zone defense that I stole from basketball,” Lorback continues. “The defender on the ball side would attack the ball. If he was beaten, the next man would slide over to cover. Army had a very good Korean player, and he came at Jerry, who was playing right fullback. He got by Jerry and the center fullback slid over. He beat him too. Then the left fullback slid over and got beat. Finally, Jerry had rotated all the way over and won the ball. He just would not be denied.”
West Chester, according to Fulk, had just a magical year in 1961. That year, the NCAA tournament consisted of 16 teams. West Chester’s run began with a 4-2 win over Maryland. In the semifinals, the Golden Rams defeated Bridgeport 2-0, a fitting payback for the NCAA semifinal loss the year before. The 1960 match lasted 153 minutes — 10 overtimes — and took two days to complete. The Rams lost 1-0. (Twenty-one years later, Indiana beat Duke in eight overtimes covering 159 minutes to win the 1982 NCAA title).
Saint Louis University, the winners of the past two NCAA titles, fell to the Rams in the championship game, 3-2.
“We beat teams we had no business being on the field with,” Fulk says. “Skill-wise, they were so much better than us. But we just keep pushing them and pushing them. There was an attitude of never giving up. I see a lot of West Chester in Jerry.”
By Tim Nash
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Nov. 27, 2003) — The longest dry spell Yeagley suffered at Indiana was not on the soccer field. It was in the administrative offices of the university. When he came to Indiana in 1963, he was hired as assistant professor/soccer club coordinator. “They didn’t put ‘coach’ in the title,” he says. He was told there was a chance that the club soccer program would be elevated to varsity status, and that was all he needed to hear.
“When I was hired, part of the job was to help in the transition from club to varsity in a few years,” says Yeagley, explaining that “a few years” wasn’t really accurate. “Later I learned that it wasn’t in the plans of the administration.”
It was in Yeagley’s plans, though. Jerry Yeagley, you see, is resilient. That’s what his former college soccer coach calls him. Mel Lorback, who coached Yeagley at West Chester, also calls his former player “tenacious” and mentions that Yeagley would still be unable to spit out the definition of “give up.”
Yeagley’s Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing fostered a competitive streak that would help him become one of collegiate athletics’ all-time great winners. When Yeagley was a Physical Education instructor at Indiana in those early days, one of the classes he taught was racquetball. If any of his students could beat him, they would get an A. He didn’t hand out too many A’s.
He clung to the half-promise of varsity made by his bosses. The IU administration said that if the club team was invited to the NCAA tournament, the university would sanction them and send them to compete. They never thought it would actually happen. When the opportunity came, he inquired and was told to back off by some and to go to another school if he wanted to be a varsity coach by others. “Don’t take it so seriously,” his bosses told him. They wanted the soccer club to be more recreational. Yeagley liked Bloomington, though. And he thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing. He decided to let the team’s actions on the field speak for themselves.
“That was a long, tough grind, but he never whined about it,” Lorback says of Yeagley’s 10-year run as assistant professor/club soccer coordinator. “There was a degree of difficulty that he just dealt with.”
His course of action was to make the club team so good it would have been an embarrassment to the university not to make it a varsity team. In 1973, 10 years after Yeagley arrived – and after the club had defeated some of the nation’s top programs — the Indiana Hoosiers fielded a varsity team for the first time. They went 12-2. For the next 10 years, IU went 165-25-13.
“Some of those same people were the first ones to come pat me on the back and tell me that this was what they wanted all along,” Yeagley says.
He had chances to leave. In the early 80s, he could have coached the Montreal Manic of the North American Soccer League, a job that came with a pay raise of $150,000. But he figured he was on to something in Bloomington. When he arrived, you couldn’t buy a soccer ball and there were no soccer goals anywhere to be found. That, obviously, has changed.
In short order, Yeagley became one of college soccer’s most visible figures. He held the position of Chairman of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, president of the old Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America, and he served on a panel that addressed the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce in an attempt to bring the 1986 World Cup to the United States. Also on the panel were Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
“He’s done very well at Indiana,” says Fulk. “He’s the ambassador for soccer.”
Jerry Yeagley almost had a losing season once. In 1986, the Hoosiers went 9-6-4. That was the closest he came. Two years later, Indiana won the NCAA championship, defeating Howard 2-0 in Bloomington to complete a 19-3-3 season. It was the school’s third national soccer title.
In 1986, the program stumbled a bit. It could’ve been one of those moments that turns the program in the wrong direction. Five of his players failed to live up to that which was expected of them. They were released from the team.
“That was my most troublesome year,” he says. “I had to let five players go. They weren’t maintaining the standards that we set. Since then, some of them called and told me that it was the best thing that could’ve happened to them.
“But it was the toughest thing I’ve had to do.”
The next season, standards in tact, the Hoosiers rose to a No. 1 national ranking. In 1988, they won the NCAA title.
In 1989, Chad Deering joined the program, and the seeds of an 18-cap career with the U.S. were planted. Two years later, he left to pursue a career in Europe.
“I used to live in St. Louis, so Indiana and Saint Louis University used to play against each other quite a bit,” says Deering. “I always said, ‘If I can go to Indiana, I’d like to go there.’ It was one of my goals in life that I wanted to play there and I did that. Then I chose to pick up my career up in Europe because there was no professional league here and I could see there was nothing happening as far as that for a while.
“Coach Yeagley said, ‘I wish you’d stay, but I understand.’ It was one of those stepping stones in my life that got me to where I am now. We’re still good friends. There were no hard feelings. He wished me the best. In fact when I went to Europe, he was always wondering how I was doing and he’d call me and see how things were going.”
You don’t win 539 games in anything without being able to coach. But a lot of coaches stick around for 29 years and for the last 10 or so, they simply pick up their paycheck and run a team through the motions. At Indiana, there are no motions. Just standards, and expectations and tradition.
“It’s something we work very hard on each year and with each team,” Yeagley says. “It’s a strong part of the tradition of excellence here at Indiana. Players learn pretty quickly that there are no shortcuts, and that we work very hard at getting better every day, and we take pride in that. The psychological part is taken seriously.”
After 665 games and five NCAA titles, Yeagley perhaps could be forgiven if he relaxed a little. Perhaps he would see something in training one day, something that in previous years would be unacceptable. Maybe it was done by a junior who had been corrected over and over, and maybe this time Yeagley would just look away and say, “Oh well.” Just once.
Does it get harder to demand the same things each year, to personally maintain the standards he sets from his players?
“Actually, I don’t think so,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with winners. I have my strengths and weaknesses, and the people we’ve had here – players, coaches, everyone – have complimented my strengths very well.”
And Yeagley knows that if he is doing his job right, those things take care of themselves.
“We give the players ownership of the team” he says. “There is only so much you can do as a coach. We recruit leaders and winners.”
Yeagley is often asked to give speeches on leadership, and one of the things he tells the audience is “one of the primary functions of leadership is to inspire personal motivation within individual players.”
Yeagley believes the most valuable role of a leader is to get people to lead themselves. Motivation can’t be transferred from the coach to player. It has to come from the player.
“That can almost define what Coach Yeagley is all about,” says Chris Klein, a Hoosier star in the 90s now playing for the Kansas City Wizards. “He expects players to govern themselves. You are held accountable for what you do. It trickles down from him to the assistant coaches to the captains, to the seniors, to the juniors and so on.”
There are certain things that every team needs, no matter what they say. According to Freitag, defense heads that list. A common thread through all of IU’s success is solid individual and team defense. Freitag points to a game in 1976 against Saint Louis as the prime example.
“That was the game that really put us on the map,” he says. “Saint Louis was still the class of college soccer, and we beat them 5-1. Angelo DiBernado had five goals and Saint Louis had probably 75 percent of the ball. Defending was our strength.”
That game, says Freitag, opened a lot of doors in recruiting. Yeagley’s personality, almost perfectly suited for the recruiting game, did the rest in living rooms across the country.
“When he was in college, Jerry had a personality like he has today,” says Lorback. “Very humble with a great deal of charm and a great sense of humor. He has charisma. That’s a word that is overused today, but it describes Jerry well. He has a magnetic personality that has been focused into a leadership position in sports.”
When it was time for Chris Klein, a 1993 high school All-American from St. Louis, to pick a college, Yeagley had won three national titles. Klein had talked to Yeagley on the phone a couple times before they met, and when they first met, Klein witnessed the charisma and the magnetic personality, to which Lorback referred.
“The first time I met him was at a soccer showcase tournament in St. Louis,” remembers Klein. “I was in high school and all the college coaches were sitting in the stands in their sweat suits, and you really couldn’t tell them apart. I just remember Coach Yeagley walking in with a full-length adidas coat, flanked by his two assistants. Everyone just kind of stopped and said, ‘There’s Coach Yeagley and the Indiana staff.’ I remember there was just an aura of respect about him.”
More Than Wins
Once over the initial intimidation, players found their coach to be an ally, father figure and mentor.
“I have all kinds of coaches throughout my career,” says Garcia. “The biggest thing for me was he was a father figure as I was evolving into my own person. He allowed me to mature on and off the field.”
On Nov. 26, Yeagley will go after win number 540 when the Hoosiers play the winner of Cincinnati and Kentucky, who will square off Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. If Indiana, 12-3-5 entering the NCAAs, wins the national championship Yeagley will finish with 544 wins, tying Negoesco’s record.
But his players don’t talk about wins and losses much.
“Coach Yeags has been such a phenomenal college coach and an even better person,” says Maisonneuve. “His record speaks for itself, but he is the kind of guy who I still talk to on the phone. We can just talk. He really cares about his players whether you are an All-American or you never play a minute. He bends over backwards for you during your time at Indiana and even when you graduate. He’s a phenomenal coach but he is an even better person. He’s a great role model for everyone.”
Yeagley knows he owes a debt of gratitude to all the players who have come through the IU program, but the players – some of the most successful ones – feel they are the ones who owe their coach.
“He is really the guy who taught me so much about the game and how to be a true professional,” says Klein. “Now that I am gone from there, he is like a dad that watches over his whole family. He is the guy that calls you when you do something well. We are still very close.”