Men's Soccer head coach Bobby Clark with his good friend, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Irish Extra: Ferguson Not Far Removed from Championship Form

May 1, 2015

It may only be two years since Sir Alex Ferguson walked away from an ultra-successful managing career at famed Manchester United, yet he’s hardly lost a sense of the nuts and bolts of the soccer coaching skills that helped him win 13 English Premier League titles and a couple more UEFA Champions League crowns (1999 and 2008) in 26 seasons (1986-2013) as boss of one of the world’s most popular football clubs.

In town visiting old friend and current Irish men’s soccer coach Bobby Clark, Ferguson spent an hour Tuesday morning in the Joyce Center Monogram Room offering his coaching philosophy, along with a few choice anecdotes in his thick Scottish brogue, to a packed house of Irish coaches and administrators. That came as part of a two-day stay at Notre Dame.

Both born in Glasgow, Scotland, Clark and Ferguson saw their careers overlap with the Scottish Aberdeen club team –with Clark playing as a goaltender there from 1965-82 and Ferguson serving as manager from 1978-86. The two combined to win a Scottish Premier Division title in 1980.

Clark opened the session with the Irish staff members by noting the text he received from Ferguson the morning his Notre Dame team played in the NCAA title game in 2013. The text read, “Play the game, not the occasion.” Then it noted Ferguson’s three “Cs”–consistency, concentration and confidence.

Clark then offered that advice to his squad, without revealing the source. Clark’s smile suggests most of his players figured it out.

Many of Ferguson’s comments reflected a lifetime as a coach and manager that began when he became a part-time coach at age 32 at the East Stirlingshire Football Club in Scotland:

“How do you motivate yourself? I look at all the facilities you have here at Notre Dame and all the other things in place and you are all very lucky. This place is fantastic. When I was at Manchester United I would look out my window at this brilliant pitch and think how lucky I was. So motivation was easy for me.”

Ferguson’s two days on campus included tours of the University’s Main Building, the Grotto, Alumni Soccer Stadium, Purcell Pavilion, the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Compton Family Ice Arena, the Campus Crossroads Experience Center and Notre Dame Stadium. He met with Irish vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick and visited with a number of other athletics staffers on his facilities tours. He also chatted with Irish football safety Matthias Farley, who played soccer for many years before switching to football as a high school junior.

On his stop at Alumni Stadium, Ferguson was surprised to find one of his own quotations on the wall of the team lounge: “We do not train to win championships. Instead, we train like champions and the championships seem to follow.”

On Tuesday night at the Morris Inn, Ferguson–on his first visit to Notre Dame–had dinner with the Irish men’s soccer squad and presented team members with their 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship rings.

Ferguson suggested to the Irish that concentration and work ethic are the two most important keys to team success. He noted that the best players on the team need to work the hardest because they are the examples for others. And he said that playing chess is a great way to improve concentration.

Of Clark, Ferguson offered, “Bobby was a driven man as a goalkeeper and was a perfectionist. He is a winner.”

Clark noted how every team he has coached at Stanford and Notre Dame has made use of an old Manchester United tape. He recalled many cold Thursday night sessions back in Scotland when the managers and coaches would sit in the dugout, evaluating players in the youth programs. That’s where Clark first gained some insight into how Ferguson’s mind worked.

“You can’t know how much you inspired me,” Clark offered to Ferguson.


                                                — by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director