Sept. 19, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – While the University of Notre Dame men’s soccer schedule is littered with several high-caliber opponents and marquee matchups the recent showdowns with Georgetown and Dartmouth caused head coach Bobby Clark a little more angst.
Members of Clark’s flourishing coaching tree lead both the Hoya and Big Green programs. Georgetown head coach Brian Wiese played for Clark at Dartmouth and later served as an assistant coach for him at Stanford and Notre Dame. Chad Riley earned four monograms during Clark’s early years at Notre Dame and he later joined him on the Fighting Irish bench before leaving for Dartmouth.
“It was hard to have those games (Georgetown and Dartmouth) one after another because you’re facing people who have played for you and coached with you,” Clark says. “It’s always funny because you know sometimes a tie is the best result for all concerned, but you can’t go that way. You have to try and win, as do they. They certainly want to get one over on the `old guy’ so I have to keep the young bucks in their place. It’s not easy, but it’s nice because they’ve both done a good job.”
During his 13-plus seasons in South Bend, Clark has witnessed only four assistant coaches depart the program and all four currently are head coaches at the Division I level. Along with Wiese and Riley, Mike Avery leads the Valparaiso squad and Clark’s son, Jamie, is the head coach at Washington.
The Hoyas were the national finalist in 2012 under Wiese, while Jamie Clark guided the Huskies to the quarterfinals of last season’s NCAA tournament and Washington was one win away from facing Notre Dame in the College Cup. It would have been the first time that the two Clarks were on opposite sidelines. The elder Clark has squared off with Wiese’s Georgetown program on nine occasions and this year marked the first time the Irish met Dartmouth during Riley’s tenure. Clark has yet to face Avery’s Crusaders during a fall season, but they have taken to the pitch for spring friendlies.
“It’s nice because along with Brian (Wiese) and Chad (Riley), I can look around and see Mike Avery doing well at Valpo and Jamie (Clark) is snapping at my heels,” Clark says. “None of the assistants I’ve had have rushed away until they’ve gone to a better place. In all cases I’ve made just one phone call (to replace them) and it’s always people you’ve seen as players who were good soccer people, but most of all were good people. That’s very important for us. You want to find people who are good role models for your players. You want them to be people who your current players will enjoy and not just purely in a soccer sense.”
Those four coaches are not the only Clark disciples in the college game. Castleton State head coach John O’Connor worked under Clark at Dartmouth, as did Wesleyan University head coach Geoff Wheeler, who also played for Clark at the Ivy League school. O’Connor spent seven seasons as the head coach at the University of Rhode Island and in 2007 brought his squad to South Bend to meet Clark and the Irish.
While it can be difficult for Clark to face his former pupils, matching wits against a mentor is something he has not experienced. The Scotland native has been a head coach his entire career, which now is in season 28 at the college level. He steered Notre Dame to its first national title last year and that was just the latest accomplishment during his impressive tenure. Clark has mentored numerous All-Americans and Academic All-Americans and has sent several student-athletes to the professional ranks in addition to churning out quality coaches and people.
“He (Clark) calls coaching a hobby which is exactly right, but it’s a passion too because it’s a seven-days-a-week job that you feel so lucky to do,” Riley says. “I got so much of that perspective from him.
“He’s been a mentor, a friend and is still my coach. I obviously don’t ask him for advice on how to beat him, but he’s someone you know you can call at anytime. He’s seen it all. He’s coached for so long and has done a great job so he’s someone I always want to lean on for advice.”
It feels as though Clark has experienced everything imaginable during his soccer life, but every tree has to start out as a sapling.
“I learned something from all the coaches that I had throughout my playing career, but there’s no question the two that made the biggest impression were Eddie Turnbull and Alex Ferguson,” Clark says.
“Eddie Turnbull was my first real coach who taught me a lot. Eddie was my coach at Queen’s Park when I played in the Scottish second division. When he moved from being the head coach at Queen’s Park to being the head coach at Aberdeen that’s the real reason I went to Aberdeen. He was the best coach in the country at that time by a country mile. He’d been a very good player and when he’d finished playing he went to Germany and looked at the German system. He was so far ahead of his time in Scotland in the early to mid 60s. He was the person who really made me start to think about the game in depth.
“I was lucky because I had a lot of good coaches. My last coach was Alex Ferguson. Having him as my final coach was fantastic. I was playing for Aberdeen, but I was also running their youth program with another lad. We came in contact with him (Ferguson) all the time so I got an even deeper insight into a young Alex Ferguson.”
Ferguson is one of the most successful coaches in soccer history. Following his stint with Aberdeen he served as manager of Manchester United from 1986-2013 and led the Red Devils to 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles.
Clark stays in contact with Ferguson, who sent the Fighting Irish head coach a text message prior to last December’s national title game. Ferguson wished his former player luck and offered some advice to the team: play the game, not the occasion and remember the three Cs – concentration, consistency and confidence.
“One of his (Ferguson) great assets is that he’s able to keep in touch,” Clark says. “He’s been a mentor to me, but he’s been a mentor to so many people. He’s very good at staying in touch and that’s one of the nice things about him.”
Clark has continued the legacy of being a mentor who cares and it’s not surprising to see the branches on his coaching tree thrive since they sprouted from such solid roots.
— Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director