Randy Waldrum

The Randy Waldrum Era: A Success by Any Account

Feb. 3, 2014

By Pete LaFleur

On Jan. 3, 2014, Randy Waldrum announced his resignation as the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer coach in order to accept a position as head coach of the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The news came nearly 15 years to the day that the previous Notre Dame women’s soccer coach, Chris Petrucelli, was announced as the next coach at the University of Texas (on New Year’s Eve day, 1998). This profile had been in the works for some time, stretching back to some mid-November interviews. It also includes bits and pieces from other stories about Notre Dame women’s soccer over the years.

By all appearances, Randy Waldrum – who served 15 seasons (1999-2013) as the University of Notre Dame head women’s soccer coach, as part of an ongoing 32-year coaching career – is able to transcend time.

Maybe it’s the trademark long(er) hair.

Maybe it’s that seemingly ever-present tan, causing his former Notre Dame players to embark with scavenger hunt-like precision searching for evidence of a tanning bed, or even a tanning-club membership, during occasional official team meals at the Waldrum family household.

Maybe it’s his cheerful demeanor, or that darned Texas accent. He doesn’t yodel or croon, but he’s been known to belt out a random assortment of country music tunes, at home and on the road.

It all adds up to a youthful aura, one more appropriate for a 30-something than for someone who has been coaching for longer than some of those 30-somethings have been alive.

Whatever the secret, one thing is for certain: whatever he is doing, it clearly is working. Waldrum’s contagious personality has meshed well with his undisputed coaching acumen, providing a calming influence that his players, past and present, cite as a key factor to their own success.

We’ve all known happy-go-lucky coaches who were great to socialize with, but they often may have been lacking in the actual coaching efficiency/results areas. Those who know Waldrum on a personal level appreciate the well-balanced sides of his personality.

Stretching back to his first coaching job at his alma mater, MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, Waldrum has been a successful coach at nearly every level, while working with both men’s and women’s soccer teams. After inheriting a Notre Dame program that would become Division I women’s soccer’s second-winningest of the 1990s, the Texas import only ratcheted up the standards – directing the Irish to NCAA Championships in both 2004 and 2010 while ranking among the nation’s top handful of teams in virtually every other season.

Waldrum – who compiled an .819 winning percentage with the Irish and averaged nearly 20 wins per season (292-58-17) in his 15 seasons at Notre Dame – in recent years had drawn attention from the highest levels of soccer in America, hoping somehow to pry him away from the Golden Dome. The right set of circumstances ultimately led Waldrum to leave Notre Dame in early 2014 for the NWSL’s Houston Dash. The day the news was announced was described by Waldrum as a “very difficult day for me, as I’m leaving the absolute best university in the country.”

Waldrum’s career totals of eight NCAA semifinal appearances, five title games (also ’99, ’06 and ’08) and two championships all rank second in Division I women’s soccer coaching history. His combined win total (399-108-29) and win percentage (.771) – spanning 24 total seasons at Tulsa, Baylor and Notre Dame – both rank fifth in the DI women’s soccer record book. Waldrum’s Notre Dame players combined for 28 All-America honors and 20 Academic All-America recognitions during the past 15 seasons.

Only six other coaches in the 127-year history of Notre Dame athletics have guided their teams to multiple national championships. That list includes football legends Knute Rockne (three), Frank Leahy (four) and Ara Parseghian (two), along with fencing master Mike DeCicco (four). Current fencing coach Janusz Bednarski (three) and his predecessor Yves Auriol (two) round out the short list of Notre Dame coaches with multiple NCAA team titles on their career resumes.

Since first stumbling upon soccer as a 12-year-old in the late 1960s, Waldrum has traveled an intriguing journey through the sport:

So, Tell Me About This Game You Call Soccer …

It’s hard to believe that, through the first 11 years of his life, Randy Waldrum not only had no concept of what soccer was, but he also was primarily a youth baseball player. All this from an individual who many years later often would tell his sports information director that baseball “basically was organized rest.” Yes, based on what we know now, it’s hard to imagine a young Waldrum decked out in baseball gear.

It was the late 1960s in Irving, Texas, on the northwest outskirts of Dallas. Waldrum had been playing baseball at the local recreation center when he came across a Swedish man passing around a signup sheet for something called soccer. The man was Eric Nordstrom, who would “became known as the father of soccer in Irving,” as Waldrum tells it.

“It sounds silly now, but back then my friends and I didn’t really know what soccer was – but Eric Nordstrom had such a great passion for the sport. From the very first practice, I fell in love with the game.”

With no soccer on television and the evolution of the Internet decades away, Waldrum had no clue that not only was soccer a global phenomenon, but it also was quite popular throughout the surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth areas.

“I seriously thought my friends and I along with these other kids in Irving were the only people in the country playing soccer,” admits Waldrum, easily chuckling at that 45-year-old memory.

“Back then, you did not get out of your own city much and everything revolved around family and community. There was a big soccer club in Dallas, the Longhorns, but we had no idea it even existed. That was 20 miles away – but it might as well have been 200. We had no clue what we had been missing.”

Too small to play football and a self-described “hyper kid,” Waldrum loved that soccer afforded him the chance simply to “run around, instead of standing in the outfield waiting for a baseball to be hit in my direction.”

Irving was a town of roughly 200,000 residents, but Waldrum’s first few youth soccer teams came comprised of a hodgepodge of age groups. His first organized team was the Clippers, a rival of the Jets (sounds like something out of West Side Story). After a couple years, Waldrum started playing for the Mayas, a squad showcasing Irving’s top young players.

“We had city teams playing against city teams. The Longhorns were the only club that brought in players from different cities,” explains Waldrum. “There was an all-Hispanic team from South Oak Cliff called the Taco Kids, clearly a name that would not fly today. Grand Prairie had a similar team called Club America.”

It all was a far cry from the future emergence of the Dallas Texans club empire, which has won numerous national titles in seemingly every age group, for both boys and girls.

Simon Says …

Waldrum’s immersion within the soccer subculture was fostered by area coach Simon Sanchez, a former professional player in Mexico.

“Simon coached my club and high school team, essentially the same group of guys,” says Waldrum. “Simon was the first real professional soccer coach I had and he helped keep me and my buddies from getting in trouble. We often would hang out with him just talking about soccer and learning about his experiences within the sport.

“He was like a second father for me, on the athletic side. I was like a sponge, soaking up information.”

Sanchez took Waldrum under his wing and oversaw his development, not only with the club and high school teams but also in a less structured – but widely talented – environment.

“On weekends, we would play in a league not sanctioned by the state,” explains Waldrum. “It was all the Hispanics in the Dallas area, basically a sort of Mexican league. The level of soccer was amazing, with several ex-professionals from Mexico.”

Teams in that off-the-books league were named after famous Mexican clubs, such as Leon, Pachuca, Pumas or Alianza, which was the team where Waldrum landed.

“Simon used his connections to get me playing in that adult Mexican league. I was only 16, the only white kid on my team and I did not speak Spanish,” recalls Waldrum. “We played in parts of Dallas that you always were told to stay away from, but I never felt more embraced. The coaches and players really looked after me and we bonded through the love of soccer. There was no animosity or racial barriers. That was a great part of my introduction into big-time soccer.”

Sign of the Times

The middle child of E.K. and Jeannette Waldrum, Randy’s free time outside of soccer usually was spent working at the family business, Waldrum Sign Company. E.K. Waldrum and his three brothers had launched the business from humble beginnings, initially crafting neon glass out of a family garage. The business grew to include a day and night shift numbering nearly 70 employees in its Irving-based plant.

The Waldrum Sign Company became known state-wide as a reputable producer of commercial signage for restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Randy and his siblings, older brother Terry and younger sister Delena, joined their assorted cousins in serving as the company’s younger workforce.

“We initially helped with cleaning up the shop, but as we became older we learned how to do the electrical and sheet-metal stuff,” recalls Waldrum. “But I knew, long-term, that I wanted to become a soccer coach.”

Speaking of the family business, E.K. Waldrum and his brothers branched out into fast-food restaurant ownership. One of the sign company’s primary clients had been Dairy Queen, on a state-wide basis, and the Waldrum clan ended up buying and managing 11 different DQs in the surrounding area.

The Dairy Queen connection is particularly relevant to the Randy Waldrum narrative. You see, the budding soccer star was drawn to one of the family DQs in particular. It seems that his brother Terry had hired a counter worker, Dianna Worley, who caught Randy’s eye. The future Dianna Waldrum attended crosstown Irving High School, a rival of Waldrum’s MacArthur High.

We’re not sure if the couple’s first date was set up by a line such as, “Can I get a burger, fries, a dip cone – and your phone number?” But the high school sweethearts later were wed, in 1979, and Dianna has remained a loyal supporter of Randy’s career in soccer over the past 30-plus years.

Daring to Coach

Waldrum continued his soccer career playing for NAIA (now Division III) Midwestern State, 140 miles northwest of Dallas in Wichita Falls, Texas. A four-year all-district player with the Mustangs (1975-78), Waldrum became a third-round draft selection of the American Soccer League’s Los Angeles Skyhawks and also played in the ASL for the uniquely-named Indianapolis Daredevils, which held their games at the old Butler Bowl (now known as Butler Stadium) in Indianapolis, Ind.

Little did he know it at the time, but Waldrum would be returning to the state of Indiana nearly 20 years later, to begin his historic coaching run at Notre Dame.

With the ASL on the verge of folding, Waldrum still was itching to stay involved in the game. He returned home and chipped in at the sign company to make ends meet. A multi-year team captain who always was known for his leadership qualities, Waldrum had attained his college degree in education – so teaching, and coaching, seemed a logical next step.

As fate would have it, Sanchez had left the program at MacArthur High School in 1976 to direct the men’s varsity squad up the road at the University of North Texas (which later dropped men’s soccer in 1993). High school soccer in Texas was about to transition from a club sport to varsity status, and the administrators at MacArthur were looking for a young coaching prospect to invigorate their soccer program.

Waldrum had plenty of contacts at MacArthur and throughout the Irving community. He soon was entering the next phase of his life, as a teacher and soccer coach at his high school alma mater.

During his four seasons coaching at MacArthur (1982-85), Waldrum took on various part-time coaching duties with area college teams. He served as the men’s soccer coach at Austin College, an hour away in Sherman, Texas, during the 1982 season and later filled a similar role at a more nearby school, Texas Wesleyan, in 1988. Neither program had much funding to speak of, so Waldrum put up the nets, lined the fields, mowed the grass – you name it.

In between those stints, Waldrum’s double duty in 1984 included serving as a Division I assistant coach at Southern Methodist University, during Schellas Hyndman’s inaugural season. Hyndman, who recently coached FC Dallas in the MLS, had earned 1981 national coach-of-the-year honors after directing little-known Eastern Illinois to the NCAA semifinals. Hyndman had recruited one of Waldrum’s players at MacArthur, so there was a small connection there when the new SMU coach arrived in Dallas.

“Schellas didn’t know anyone else in the area and he was gracious enough to take me on as a part-time assistant,” says Waldrum. “It has gone on to be a lifelong friendship. We have been very supportive and impactful on each other’s careers.

“Schellas is a unique individual within U.S. soccer. He is of Portuguese and Chinese descent, came to the United States from Malaysia and is really into martial arts. He has unique ways of training his teams.”

Waldrum ultimately ended up integrating the influences of three different coaches into his early coaching structure and philosophies.

“I picked up a lot of organizational and administrative skills from my coach at Midwestern State, Howard Patterson, while Simon Sanchez had been more of an Xs and Os coach who really knew the game,” explains Waldrum.

“With Schellas, I saw how hard you could push players and developed deeper concepts on how to train. I am blessed to have learned the game from three really good influences.”

With the decade of the ’90s approaching, the club soccer scene in Dallas was growing rapidly. Waldrum became director of coaching for the Longhorns Soccer Club from 1987-89, coaching one of the club’s seven teams while overseeing the others. His team did more than hold its own, including one season with a 53-4-1 record and a third-place finish at the national tournament.

Around this time, Waldrum had been developing yet another coaching contact, with West Texas A&M men’s and women’s soccer coach Butch Lauffer. The two have remained longtime confidants, with Lauffer even serving as Waldrum’s assistant coach a few years back as the two directed Trinidad and Tobago’s women’s youth national team.

The 1970s and early ’80s proved to be the golden age for youth and collegiate men’s soccer in north Texas. Not only did the region’s soccer community produce Waldrum and Lauffer, but it also helped launch the careers of other current Division I head women’s soccer coaches such as Tom Stone (Texas Tech), G. Guerrieri (Texas A&M) and Aaron Gordon (Mississippi State).

“That group of coaches is a collection of individuals who always were trying to push the knowledge level forward and not stay status quo,” says Lauffer, now in his 23rd season as the West Texas A&M head men’s soccer coach.

“We had received tremendous coaching in club soccer but, more importantly, we all came up through the ranks. People like Randy and myself grinded it out at the club and high school levels.”

Adds Waldrum: “In those days, you had to wear a lot of hats, but all that combined experience made me feel competent in what I am doing today. It takes time to develop your craft. I would not trade the overall experience for anything. It was not the easiest route, but it’s the investment we all made. We did it because we loved the game.”

A Fortuitous Path To Division I

Like any coach looking to land a job in the college ranks, Waldrum routinely was monitoring prospective opportunities. One opening particularly caught his eye, as the University of Tulsa was looking to hire a coach to direct both its men’s team and its new women’s soccer program. Waldrum submitted his resume and other job application documents, but he did something else – a move that conceivably impacted the direction of his coaching career to this day.

“I took a chance and called the athletic department at Tulsa. As it turns out, they had an interim athletic director, Rick Dickson, and the secretary put me through to him, which is highly unlikely,” recalls Waldrum.

Waldrum had his chance in that brief phone call, speaking directly with the man who would be orchestrating Tulsa’s coaching search. The job seeker wanted to make sure that he was more than a name lost in the shuffle of applicants.

“I told Rick Dickson that I did not want to be simply one of 100 resumes sitting on his desk,” says Waldrum. “I asked him to give me one hour of his time and I would drive up on my own dime, to sit down and discuss the position.”

Dickson – who became Tulsa’s full-time athletic director and has gone on to serve in the same role at Washington State and now Tulane – agreed to Waldrum’s proposal. The one-hour meeting quickly turned into three, and the pair instantly hit it off. Randy returned a couple weeks later for the formal interview process, with Dianna accompanying him for the biggest moment to that point in their lives. The Waldrums went out to dinner with Dickson and his wife the night before the future Tulsa coach was set to meet with the full search committee.

“At the end of the night, Rick slipped me a piece of paper and told me that I was his choice,” says Waldrum. “He explained what was on the paper, saying, ‘These are the questions the committee is going to ask you tomorrow – be ready for them.’ Of course, they ended up hiring me and Rick Dickson became the full-time AD. He’s a big part of my story.”

Who knows? If Waldrum had not made that initial phone call – or if Dickson had not tipped him off with the questions – a different career path could have played out. Without his impressive stint at Tulsa, Waldrum may not have gone on to Baylor and then likely would not have landed at Notre Dame without the successful three-year run with the Bears highlighting his resume.

The energetic Waldrum – 33 at the time but to most observers seeming more like 23 – embarked on his first season at Tulsa in 1989 with a golden opportunity. He quickly molded the men’s team into a national power, earning the first NCAA Championship berth in program history, and the women followed suit as a top-20 program.

“In those early days, I was coaching the men’s and women’s teams fairly similarly,” says Waldrum. “I was learning on the fly in terms of coaching a women’s team. One thing I liked was that women generally were more receptive to coaching. They were soaking up the teaching and information.”

Directing both programs at Tulsa was a strain for Waldrum but clearly provided a valuable six-year stretch in his coaching development. He essentially was “getting twice the coaching experience of any of my peers during that time.”

Waldrum and his staff of three graduate assistants tried to juggle responsibilities for both Tulsa soccer programs, but each squad’s continual improvement posed a big-picture issue. “It became difficult for our staff to handle both teams and it was evident that the programs would need to be split or we would need more staffing,” recalls Waldrum.

The Waldrum family’s time in Tulsa coincided with the growing soccer bond between Randy and his son Ben, born in 1981 and eight years old when the family moved to Oklahoma. A few years earlier, Ben and Dianna had been careful not to push their only child into soccer, but Ben – who a couple decades later would serve on his father’s Notre Dame staff (from 2003-06) – signed up for the Rockets under-six team and took off from there, annually ranking as one of his team’s star players.

“Ben was grasping soccer when he was 18 months old,” says Dianna. “When he was two, he would be on the sidelines, intently watching Randy’s games. At halftime, he would go out on the field and dribble from one end to the other. He was instant halftime entertainment.”

A few years later, after Randy’s games, the young family typically would head somewhere to grab a bite to eat, with father and son quickly gravitating to soccer talk. “Those two always would set up the soccer field with sugar packets on the restaurant table,” says Dianna with a laugh.

The family home in Oklahoma featured a long hallway that noticeably was barren of wall-hangings. “I wasn’t allowed to put up pictures in that hallway,” explains Dianna. “It was Randy and Ben’s indoor soccer field and they played countless games in the seven years we lived there.”

Career Crossroads

As the calendar flipped to 1995, Waldrum had reached a crossroads. The college soccer landscape was increasingly tilting towards the women’s game, due to Title IX regulations and the explosive growth of girls youth soccer. Division I women’s programs were popping up throughout the nation, most notably within the nearby Big 12 and Southeastern conferences.

On the flip side, numerous Division I men’s soccer programs were shifting their affiliation (to D2, D3, NAIA, etc.) or–worst-case scenario – those programs were being discontinued altogether. Already in the decade of the 1990s, schools such as Houston Baptist (since reinstated), North Texas, Illinois State and Central Michigan had dropped their men’s soccer programs.

“I did a lot of soul-searching, knowing that if I left the men’s game I might never be able to get back into it,” says Waldrum. “It was impossible to deny the great opportunities that were emerging for coaches within women’s college programs.”

Waldrum spent many hours debating his conundrum with Lauffer, who had started the West Texas A&M men’s soccer program in 1991 but also had helped launch women’s programs at both TCU (in ’86) and West Texas A&M (’96).

Baylor ultimately was able to lure Waldrum back to the Lone Star State and he actually spent a full academic year on-campus (1995-96) before the women’s soccer program fielded its inaugural team in the fall of ’96. The Bears found immediate and surprising success, compiling a 46-14-3 record over three seasons – capped by the 1998 campaign that included a No. 12 national ranking and winning the Big 12 Conference tournament.

“Building a program from scratch was an amazing but challenging experience,” says Waldrum. “People have trouble believing it now, but it was a hard decision to leave for Notre Dame. We were building something very special at Baylor.”

The Bears had a modest practice “facility,” if you consider the outfield of a little-league baseball stadium a facility. Waldrum declared Baylor’s competition field off-limits except for game days. He took tremendous pride in that field and often could be seen pulling up stray weeds during pregame warm-ups.

One of Waldrum’s star players at Baylor was goalkeeper Dawn Greathouse, who later served as an assistant on his Notre Dame staff from 2003-13.

“Randy was a proponent of the emerging zone defense concepts and we thrived in that system,” says Greathouse, who also recalls “doing the basics over and over, until we were blue in the face.

“Those Baylor teams loved playing for Randy. He was very honest and cared about them individually. We had a 10-year anniversary for the 1998 Big 12 championship team and Randy came with Dianna. The former players were so ecstatic to see him, many for the first time since 1998.”

Those three years at Baylor also reinforced Waldrum’s lifelong love for Dr. Pepper, essentially the state drink of Texas. Dr. Pepper was created in the town of Waco, only a few miles from the Baylor campus, by Brooklyn-born pharmacist Charles Alderton. Dr. Pepper has long been a big sponsor of Baylor athletics and there’s even a Dr. Pepper Museum that was built in Waco a couple years before Waldrum’s arrival.

It’s safe to say that this popular 1980s jingle still kicks around Waldrum’s consciousness: “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? Be a Pepper. Drink Dr. Pepper.”

One Door Closes … and Another Opens

When the women’s head coaching position opened at the University of Texas in late 1998, Waldrum sensed another big career move was on the horizon. Texas ultimately narrowed its top choices to the Notre Dame coach at the time, Chris Petrucelli, and an up-and-coming native son, Waldrum, then at nearby Baylor.

Looking back at the timing, it was an odd day to announce its coaching hire, but Texas did it anyway. It came on New Year’s Eve day, hours before everybody would be breaking out their 1999 calendars. Texas released the official word: Petrucelli would be the next coach of its young, but promising, women’s soccer program.

The Texas opportunity included top-line facilities, a fertile recruiting base and various benefits that go with being at one of the nation’s top all-around athletic departments. But Petrucelli’s decision to accept the Texas position stunned many – including Waldrum.

“Being a Texas boy, my dream job was to coach at Texas,” says Waldrum. “I didn’t think there was any way Chris was going to leave Notre Dame and naturally I was extremely disappointed when he accepted the Texas job. But a few days later, Notre Dame called me to interview.

“Funny how things change, but it panned out to be the best decision of my life.”

Dec. 31, 1998. That day was destined to be a pivotal one in the relatively young history of Notre Dame women’s soccer. Petrucelli had built the Irish into a national power, winning the 1995 NCAA title, bookended by runner-up finishes in ’94 and ’96 (plus a trip to the semifinals in ’97).

But whom would Notre Dame hire as only the third coach in the history of its women’s soccer program? And could the program’s standards of excellence be maintained? That was the realistic question, as it’s probably safe to say that few were anticipating that Petrucelli’s successor could take the program to even greater heights.

Recently-retired Notre Dame assistant athletics Director Tony Yelovich, who served as the women’s soccer program administrator for many years, headed up the search committee to find Petrucelli’s replacement. As the search progressed, Waldrum gradually rose to the top of the list of options.

“Randy’s credentials and references were top-notch and he presented himself very well,” recalls Yelovich. “We had four of our Olympic sports head coaches visit with Randy, and they all came away very impressed with his attitude and personality.

“Once Randy came on board, he did not miss a beat. His own expectations to excel matched those here at Notre Dame. Making his program one that provides a great experience for each student-athlete – that was his forte over the years.”

Any transition to a new coach naturally requires the “buy-in” phase and Waldrum steadily won over key veteran leaders such as Jen Grubb, Jenny Streiffer, LaKeysia Beene, Monica Gonzalez and Kelly Lindsey. The team’s biggest adjustments revolved around the change in formational system, but even as the 1999 season entered its late stages, Waldrum still was left wondering when he truly would feel that the Irish were his team.

That answer came on the morning of Nov. 7, 1999, in Piscataway, N.J. Notre Dame was hours away from beating future rival Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship title game. The team was gathering for the pre-game meal, a time that features a mixture of socialization along with steadily-growing game focus.

Grubb was the tough-as-nails leader of the defense, a team tri-captain but not necessarily one you would assume to be prone to regular sentimentality or effusiveness. But Waldrum remembers the moment like it was yesterday.

“Jen handed me a sealed envelope, with a note” recalls the former first-year Irish head coach, clearly still touched by the memory of this gesture.

“I still have it. It was a long letter, thanking me for the season and for the way that I handled the coaching transition. Jen had loved playing for Chris, but she said in the letter that it was important for me to understand that – as far as she and the rest of the team were concerned – ‘this is your team.’

“That’s one of those little keepsakes that you get, it hits you and it stays with you. At that point, I knew that it was my team.”

Waldrum was not so fired up that he went crashing through a brick wall like in the “Win One For the Gipper” speech, but he and his team went on to compile a strong 1999 postseason run. Much as his 2010 team would do 11 years later in the NCAA final versus Stanford, the ’99 Irish spoiled Santa Clara’s unbeaten season in a 1-0 NCAA semifinal rematch (Santa Clara had beaten the Irish 4-2 seven weeks earlier).

That win over the Broncos was all the more special based on the venue – in Santa Clara’s own backyard, at San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium – and due to the huge crowd, as an NCAA-record 14,000 fans jammed the stadium to see which teams would advance to the 1999 NCAA final.

A coach who later would reveal that he “did not come into Notre Dame fearing failure, I felt I was well prepared for the challenge,” Waldrum had done something unprecedented in the 18-year history of the NCAA Division I women’s soccer championship. He had become the first coach to lead his team to the national championship game in his first season with a team.

Although North Carolina won the 1999 title game, 2-0, Waldrum and his Notre Dame teams would keep coming back, again and again, to the College Cup’s final weekend, breaking through for their own championship celebrations in 2004 and ’10 while also playing in the 2006 and ’08 title games.

Life Under the Golden Dome

Despite having tremendous confidence in his own ability, Waldrum initially had arrived in northern Indiana with plenty of reservations.

“I had a perception that Notre Dame was full of rich, pampered kids,” admits the easy-going Texan, raised in a working-class family. “After I arrived on campus for my interview, I realized I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

“I was blown away by the quality and character of the kids that Notre Dame attracts. I was so impressed with the work ethic of the team, as well as the student body. They are extensively involved in community service, they have academics to maintain, and somewhere along the way they have to be college students as well.”

One of Waldrum’s first priorities was to craft a recruiting policy. He had “been handed the reins to a soccer powerhouse” but had to guide it into the new century, amidst an ever-changing landscape for collegiate women’s soccer.

“Chris Petrucelli had an effective system that included offering full scholarships to several top players that helped him compete for national titles,” explains Waldrum. “But when I came in, college women’s soccer was starting to explode and you could see roster depth becoming an issue.

“So I began to recruit with depth more of a factor while also looking to recruit players that best fit the system we were going to run. That often meant passing on a highly-rated prospect and instead going for a player with not as many accolades, but a player who was a great fit for our program.”

Former midfield standout Jen Buczkowski (2003-06) joined the Notre Dame program with plenty of national credentials and honors. But two of Buczkowski’s teammates from the Chicago-based Eclipse Select club – versatile backline leader Kim Lorenzen and 5-11 defensive midfielder Jill Krivacek – thrived in their system-specific roles with the Irish and were key members of the 2004 title team.

Such a group recruiting approach (often a three for one, if you will) benefitted the Irish several times during the Waldrum era. Other recent “recruiting groups” have included the three Canadians on the 2004 national-title team (Katie Thorlakson, Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman), along with the Dallas Texans duo of Kerri Hanks and Claire Gallerano from that same period, plus longtime Dallas Texans teammates Melissa Henderson, Jessica Schuveiller and Courtney Barg, who all played for the Irish from 2008-11.

“During the recruiting process, Randy did a great, great job identifying people who are going to work well together, and that can be a very difficult process to make the right matches,” notes Lorenzen. “The best success comes when the new players either fit in well right away or are athletic and versatile enough to fit in later.”

The 4-3-3 Formation Revolution

Notre Dame’s ascension to national champion under Petrucelli in the mid-1990s had required one huge, final step: competing with, and ultimately beating, the powerhouse North Carolina program. The rarely-beaten Tar Heels had won 12 of the first 13 NCAA titles (1982-94) contested in Division I women’s soccer.

You know the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Well, that’s essentially what Petrucelli did – and by joining ’em, it eventually led to beating ’em. Imitation truly is the greatest form of flattery, especially in sports, and Petrucelli’s team ultimately beat North Carolina at its own game, replicating the 3-4-3 formation (listed back to front, defense-midfield-forwards) that has been the Tar Heels’ trademark for more than three decades.

The Notre Dame teams in the final few seasons of the Petrucelli era had personnel who were well-suited for the 3-4-3 – most notably flank midfielder Holly Manthei and defender Kate Sobrero (Markgraf), who went on to star with the U.S. National Team. Manthei’s tireless pace made her a terror from the edge, and it’s hard to imagine any player ever threatening her NCAA records of 44 assists in a season and 129 in a career. Sobrero’s defensive instincts, marking skills and closing speed helped minimize the lack of cover width when playing three across the back.

Manthei and Sobrero both ended their storied careers in 1997, and their departures – along with Petrucelli’s after the ’98 season – essentially made it easier for Notre Dame to move away from the 3-4-3. Waldrum had been a pioneer of the emerging 4-3-3 formation (as opposed to the more conventional, at the time, 4-4-2), after using the 4-3-3 with the fledgling Baylor program. A couple months after coming aboard at Notre Dame, Waldrum and the rest of the soccer world watched as the United States women fashioned their landmark 1999 World Cup performance while showcasing that relatively-new 4-3-3 look.

“When I came to Notre Dame, it was evident that the team had several quality central-based midfielders but not the type of talent with that motor to play as prototypical flank midfielders in a 3-4-3,” explains Waldrum. “We also did not have the athleticism to play three in the back. These factors, plus my experience from Baylor, made it a natural for shifting the program to the 4-3-3, but it was something we slowly implemented.”

With the benefit of a full spring season ahead of him, Waldrum eased in the formation change. Several players blossomed in their new roles. Streiffer made the transformation from flank midfielder to forward and capped her All-America career in 1999 with 19 goals and 15 assists. Fellow senior Kara Brown was moved from the midfield in the other direction and thrived as an outside back, making timely moves into the attacking third while racking up a team-leading 16 assists in ’99.

Notre Dame flourished in Waldrum’s 4-3-3 formation, with immediate results. The 1999 team reached the NCAA title game, while the 2000 squad fell one win short of matching that feat. The ensuing 13 years of the Waldrum era at Notre Dame also produced great success with a foundational 4-3-3 look.

“In the late 1990s, the two pioneers of the 4-3-3 formation were Randy Waldrum’s Notre Dame team and Jerry Smith’s group out at Santa Clara, sort of an east-coast, west-coast thing and those teams became great rivals,” says Stone, whose Texas Tech team typically plays in a 4-4-2.

“Notre Dame, in particular, has been able to excel in the 4-3-3 over the past 15 years by unbalancing the field and creating matchup problems for teams that play in the 3-4-3 or even 4-4-2. Randy’s early teams gave legitimacy to a 4-3-3 system that was catching on, and now it is one of the mainstays of women’s soccer.”

Waldrum with Brittany Bock

Over the years, Waldrum has recruited good fits for the Notre Dame formational system. Noteworthy additions have included elite midfielders such as Buczkowski, Brittany Bock, Barg, class of 2014 member Mandy Laddish and 2013 freshman sensation Morgan Andrews.

That recruiting strategy also has included adding numerous players with the versatility and savvy to play multiple positions. Vanessa Pruzinsky, who signed when Petrucelli still was the Irish coach, was a freshman during Waldrum’s initial season. A two-time national high school player of the year, Pruzinsky had been an offensive machine, amassing 79 career goals at Trumbull (Conn.) High School.

So Pruzinsky was a natural for joining the Notre Dame attack, right? Not exactly. The Irish roster was stacked with veteran forward talent, led by seniors Streiffer and Jenny Heft, who would end their careers as the program’s first- and third-leading career goal-scorers (with 80 and 70, respectively). Junior Meotis Erikson, who would rack up 59 career goals of her own, also was penciled in as a likely starter at forward.

“With the formation change, we still hoped to get our best 11 players in the starting lineup and that needed to include Vanessa,” recalls Waldrum. “She became a great fit at right back, a position that demands regular runs into the offensive third to offset the absence of traditional flank midfielders.”

Later in her college career, Pruzinsky became an equally impressive center back, as Waldrum adroitly converted another offensively-gifted newcomer into an outside back. Chapman, then an emerging force in the Canadian national-team program, became Notre Dame’s new right back in 2001, going on to star at a position that was totally new to her.

Waldrum’s highly-successful recruiting attracted several players noted for their tremendous versatility within all three primary field positions. Most notably, Lauren Fowlkes (a senior on the 2010 NCAA title team) and 2013 sophomore Cari Roccaro proved equally adept at playing forward, anywhere in the midfield, and at various back-line roles during their college careers.

Even Elise Weber, a rare transfer into the Notre Dame program, was accurately shifted from midfield, where she had played at Wisconsin, to left back. Weber went on to earn third-team all-BIG EAST honors for the 2007 NCAA semifinalist team and played with both the U.S. Under-23 National Team and the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).

Waldrum remains a strong proponent of the 4-3-3 revolution that he helped propagate. In fact, USA Soccer recently has embarked on a mandate to have all of its youth-level women’s national teams training and playing in the 4-3-3, seeking to create a more established national identity through a uniform playing style.

“Most college teams today play some sort of formation with four in the back, as it gives you more security and better coverage of the width,” says Waldrum. “You also have the added excitement of those backs pushing forward, often initiating the attack.”

Anne Makinen

Waldrum’s second Notre Dame team, in 2000, featured a tremendous midfield trio, led by attacking force and national player of the year Anne Makinen. In the 4-3-3, the midfield’s fluid shape ideally resembles an acute triangle. Teams can play with one attacking midfielder and two in the defensive/holding role, or vice-versa with one attacking and two defensive.

“The midfield sets the tone and our priority is to be organized defensively and minimize giveaways,” said former Notre Dame midfielder Mia Sarkesian, during that stellar 23-1-1 season in 1999. Sarkesian and Ashley Dryer, in the words of Makinen, “did all the dirty work” as the pair of holding midfielders that supported the Finland native in that award-filled season.

Waldrum contends that a formation with three central-based midfielders “gives you a beneficial matchup against any other system – numerically you always will be in good shape with three in the midfield.

“The midfield is the centralized heart and spine of the team and the 4-3-3 puts numbers in a central location, the most important piece of the field,” he adds. “This system has allowed out midfielders to perform at their highest level, maximizing their distribution, field vision, technical skills and tactical understanding.”

Lest the forwards be forgotten, there are some top programs that currently run a 4-4-2. Again, Waldrum sides with the 4-3-3 when it comes to positioning a team’s frontrunners.

“Three forwards creates a lot of problems for the opponent, including making it harder for them to play out of the back,” explains the former Notre Dame coach. “In the women’s game, it’s more difficult to move the ball from one side of the field to the other with one pass. You need two passes, so the three forwards give you better coverage across the field.”

The lynchpin position in any successful 4-3-3 often is the unheralded holding midfielder role, and the player widely considered as the world’s best at that position is Notre Dame alumnus Shannon Boxx. Although Boxx concluded her college career months before Waldrum came on board, the recent Notre Dame coach is a great admirer of the national-team standout.

“Shannon Boxx is the classic example of using your holding midfielder as a key player. Everything starts through her and she has the whole package, offensively and defensively,” says Waldrum, who shifted primarily to a system with two attacking midfielders and one defensive, following Makinen’s graduation.

“That holding midfielder is your quarterback, the fulcrum of starting everything. We’ve been very fortunate to have some great players in that role, starting with Mia (Sarkesian) and Ashley (Dryer), then Jen Buczkowski and Jill Krivacek, and more recently Courtney Barg, Mandy Laddish and even Cari Roccaro at times.”

Call Me Coach … or Not

When Greathouse first arrived at Notre Dame in 2003, she could not help but laugh when hearing the Irish players refer to Waldrum as “coach.”

“At Baylor, nobody called him ‘coach,’ it was just Randy,” explains Greathouse. “I had always thought that the word ‘coach’ was a more formal term that made it more difficult for people to get to know you. Randy explained to me that Notre Dame was a little more formal of a university. But, as time has gone on, some name variations have cropped up.”

Beene and Lindsey – two of the program’s leaders when Waldrum arrived in 1999 – at one point started calling their coach by the playful name of “Wally.” The veteran coach did little to persuade, or discourage, such a nickname, although most assume it often produced an inner chuckle.

The Wally nickname also was fairly prominent during the 2004 championship season, with ringleaders in the precocious sophomore class (such as Krivacek) being the primary culprits. The changing nomenclature seems to have followed no discernible pattern over the 15 years, even producing the newer nickname of Drumstick (building off the end of his name) from some of the tricksters on the 2013 squad.

“There is that initial period of separation where Randy is known by ‘coach,'” adds Greathouse. “He has a serious side and a more relaxed side, and he wants the game to be fun for the players. Some classes have been able to break through and call him something other than ‘coach.'”

It’s hard to believe when you hear Waldrum tell the stories now, but during his first few years in coaching at MacArthur High School, he was a loud presence, a classic “yeller and screamer” at both his team and the officials.

“I’m embarrassed at how I sometimes acted as a young coach,” says Waldrum. “Luckily I came to realize that such behavior only upsets your team. It makes them more nervous and impedes the teaching part of your job.”

Speaking of teaching, Waldrum also is a strong believer that a coach’s instruction duties must be done during the week, in practice sessions leading up to the actual games.

“Game day should be the players’ day,” he states, matter of factly. “As a coach, your job was to get the players properly prepared for the games. The team has to be ready – in soccer, there are no timeouts where you can try a quick fix.

“It all comes down to coaching maturity, which I was sorely lacking in those early years. You have to understand that you’ve done your job in preparing the team, and then step aside and let the players do their thing.”

Stone has the unique triple perspective of observing Waldrum’s career arc: first as one of his players at MacArthur High School, later as an observing broadcaster (and pro coach/scout), and most recently as a colleague in the collegiate coaching ranks. Those three perspectives have helped the current Texas Tech coach get a pinpoint read on the mentor he has known for nearly 35 years.

“As a coach, Randy always had your back and instilled great confidence in us as his players. We always were learning from him and he inspired us to play hard for him, always striving to be our very best,” says Stone.

“In continuing to observe Randy, his on-field demeanor always stands out. He gets intense and steps it up at the right times, but he also pulls back at the right times and allows his team to have ownership in every game. Having that composure and trust in your team is a massive quality for any coach.

“His temperament rallies the players to play with confidence and low levels of anxiety. On game days, his Notre Dame teams look as confident and comfortable as any I have seen.”

Waldrum with Michele Weissenhofer

Waldrum’s players from 10 years ago vividly remember his playful greeting when they would trudge out to the field for the dreaded fitness days: “It’s a great day to be alive, Irish” was the familiar refrain from their beaming, upbeat coach.

Southern California native Ashley Jones is one such player from that era. Jones had the option to play collegiately somewhere closer to home, but instead she headed more than 2,000 miles to play for Waldrum and the Irish.

“Randy’s professionalism, knowledge of the game, and competitiveness were unparalleled. Most importantly, I had the sense that Randy genuinely cared about me and how I would grow, not only as an athlete but also as a student and a person,” says Jones, a two-time Academic All-American while at Notre Dame.

“I knew that after four years of playing for Randy, I would be a winner in many aspects of life, and that feeling became reality. Randy is not one to take credit for the successes of his players on or off the field, but he deserves it.”

Tony Sutton, the current Notre Dame athletic trainer assigned to the women’s soccer program, has the unique perspective of having worked with the team during Petrucelli’s final two seasons (and Waldrum’s first) before returning to be the program’s athletic trainer again starting in 2012. The observant Sutton gained a keen appreciation for Waldrum, both in what he does and what he does not do.

“An athletic trainer sometimes has to be the bearer of bad news, but Randy lets you do your job and is not one of the coaches that would hold you accountable,” says Sutton. “He takes into account time for recovery from injury and always listens to your input. He’s much easier to approach than most coaches. As a professional, you want to work harder for him and for his team.

“Chris Petrucelli and Randy both focused on bringing high-caliber kids into the program. When we travel, there are certain behavioral standards for the group. It’s a great team to be associated with.”

Transformative Changes

To fully understand Notre Dame’s success during the 2004 NCAA championship season, one first has to understand the assorted frustrations that built up during the previous three seasons. After reaching the College Cup’s final weekend in Waldrum’s first two years (1999-2000), the Irish fizzled in postseason play during the 2001-03 campaigns, despite dominating regular-season runs. Bad luck and injury woes certainly were to blame, but there was no denying that these teams had come up short of the program’s postseason standards.

It was time for foundational changes, ones that would make a profound impact on the Notre Dame women’s soccer program over the ensuing 10 seasons.

“After 2003, everyone associated with the program had the motivation of shaking that empty feeling,” explains Ben Waldrum. “We became re-energized, and that really set the tone for 2004.”

In earlier seasons, the Notre Dame coaches regularly showed the team assorted video footage of upcoming opponents. “We had a talented group of players and we thought they could handle this specific, detailed opponent information that we were throwing at the them,” recalls Greathouse. “But it did not work out as planned.”

Rather than using the continual video sessions as a positive, the young Irish players instead often underperformed, especially during the 2003 postseason. Notre Dame lost in the 2003 BIG EAST semifinals and then suffered a defeat in the NCAA round of 32, at home no less.

“The players thought it was too much information about the opponent, rather than primarily worrying about our own team,” adds Greathouse. “We had a big freshman class, several of them starters, and they wanted to just focus on their own play.”

One year later, in 2004, the opponent video reels were tossed aside from team meetings. Scouting reports were dramatically shortened. The players were provided with a few small details on the opponent, focusing on key areas that would result in a win.

The de-emphasis, actually disappearance, of the opponent video viewing process was part of a larger overhaul to the team’s training operation. For starters, the term “preseason” no longer referred to early August but instead referenced the months of January through July. The couple weeks leading up to the 2004 season? This time became known as “rehearsal” and included that season’s eight-day training trip to Brazil, which ended up being a tremendous team-bonding experience.

Waldrum and his 2004 staff scaled back the tactical training and shifted more focus to individual conditioning, especially during the newly-elongated, seven-month preseason phase. For the first time, the Irish began working closely with a team nutritionist.

When tactics were the focus in 2004, the emphasis was placed on specific situations – such as playing from behind or set-play drills – in shorter stints. But the one big change that all the players can vividly recall is the ramped-up training regimen.

“We had no idea how much our bodies could endure,” recalls Krivacek. “Many mornings in January, February and March began at 6 a.m., biking across the frozen tundra for weight training or swimming. Many of our nights would end at 11 p.m., biking across the frozen tundra, after running.

“There were grueling workouts and some days of the week earned nicknames, such as Terrible Tuesdays or Weeping Wednesdays. But we stuck together and became such a close-knit group. There’s no question, that workout regimen helped prepare us for becoming champions.”

A National Title

Notre Dame’s 2004 national championship season was launched with the “rehearsal-season” trip to Brazil and stretched on over 117 days, carrying to the last possible final day, as the Irish (25-1-1) finished the season in a memorable NCAA Championship match versus UCLA. The game stood 1-1 after 110 minutes of regulation and overtime, with Notre Dame prevailing in the penalty-kick shootout (most penalty-kick games are recorded as ties, but this result officially was the team’s 25th win, since it came in the NCAA final).

The 2004 team could have been slowed by the pitfalls that snared the previous three Irish teams. Instead, the eventual national champs rose above several key injuries, most notably an early, season-ending broken leg suffered by senior forward Mary Boland. Waldrum and his staff wisely opted to shift veteran right back Chapman into Boland’s vacant attacking role. Chapman, recovering from her own injury (ACL knee surgery), went on to finish second on the team with 12 goals while earning all-BIG EAST honors. Her memorable field-length run, capped by a give-and-go goal (via a return pass from Thorlakson), provided the margin versus Santa Clara in the 1-0 NCAA semifinal.

Notre Dame’s enhanced focus on set-play training paid huge dividends in 2004, with nine goals alone coming off corner-kick sequences. One of those scores sealed the 3-1 win over Portland in the NCAA quarterfinal.

The Notre Dame coaches had faced a tough decision leading up to that Portland game: Should they man-mark the Pilots’ devastatingly-talented striker Christine Sinclair?

“We debated our strategy, but finally Randy decided that, for the confidence of the team, he was not going to change anything,” recalls Greathouse. “He felt that, if we let one player beat us, then we did not deserve to move on.

“That ended up being one of the best decisions we made that year and Melissa Tancredi, a fellow Canadian, took Sinclair out of the game.”

Nine days later, in the NCAA final, the staff was mulling over yet another tricky decision. With overtime looming, including the specter of a potential penalty-kick shootout, Waldrum and his assistants were tossing around the idea of inserting third-string goalkeeper Nikki Westfall for the penalty kicks. During season-long tracking of penalty-kick practice, Westfall had compiled a save percentage that was nearly double that of Bohn’s.

But late in the second half, Bohn saved a UCLA penalty kick that likely would have given the Bruins the win, and the title, in regulation. The coaches stuck with their Academic All-America ‘keeper in the shootout, and Bohn rewarded their faith in her by saving three of the six UCLA penalty kicks.

Equally as unconventional, the Notre Dame coaches left it up to their 10 penalty kickers to decide their order. “The players knew who had the greatest confidence for making their kicks, so they chose the order – and thankfully it all worked out,” recalls Ben Waldrum.

The 10 kickers included three non-starters and one of them took a turn in the six-round shootout, with little-used senior Sarah Halpenny, who had not played in the game, calmly converting her try in round two.

Notre Dame’s 2004 championship team forever will be known as much for its fun-loving camaraderie as for its on-field dominance. Tancredi, the senior forward-turned-center back, filled a lead role in the team’s focus on fun and unity, as did the spirited nine-member sophomore class.

The 5-foot-11 Krivacek possibly put it best, stating that “the 2004 team was dynamic and the personalities even more dynamic.” That team dynamic fittingly mirrored the duality of their head coach’s personality, a driven competitor who never has lost sight of the fact that soccer is an inherently enjoyable sport to play.

“Our 2004 team was so competitive but also had so much fun, on and off the field,” concluded Greathouse. “If you lose that perspective, you get away from a great part of soccer and team sports. The closeness of that team and its ability to enjoy the whole process were huge factors in the success.”

See You at 5:00 a.m.

Fowlkes and Julie Scheidler had been four-year starters at Notre Dame and their college careers suddenly were one loss from ending. It was Halloween night, Oct. 31, 2010, more trick than treat for an Irish women’s soccer team that had been responsible for letting various program streaks and standards slip away.

Most notably, the 2-0 Halloween home loss to rival Connecticut in the BIG EAST quarterfinals ended Notre Dame’s 77-game unbeaten streak against conference opponents. It had been the longest such streak in Division I women’s soccer history, stretching back to 2005. The loss also halted a 99-game home unbeaten streak versus conference foes and marked the first time the Notre Dame women’s soccer team ever had lost in the BIG EAST quarterfinals (11-0-0 previously, with a 45-1 scoring edge).

You get the idea. The Irish were in uncharted waters, which under most circumstances is a good thing. Not so, in this instance.

In his postgame meeting with the media, Waldrum readily conceded that his team “didn’t have the mental strength and focus to compete today,” but he also immediately took the blame upon himself, adding: “That’s on me as much as anyone. I didn’t do a very good job of preparing us to play.

“Today’s game was not representative of what Notre Dame women’s soccer is all about. Between now and the start of the NCAA tournament, we’ll be working hard to return to the level of success that we expect from this program.”

His team discovered moments later that such a return to normalcy would be beginning sooner rather than later. In fact, the path to redemption would be starting much sooner than anyone could have imagined.

“We had not been playing well for a couple weeks before the UConn loss. Something clearly was wrong,” recalls Greathouse. “As coaches, we quickly were realizing that we did not have a moment to lose and needed to start fixing things right away.”

As the team was completing its post-game cooling down period, Waldrum huddled with his staff to let them know there would be a team meeting the next day. The assistants of course agreed. After all, why wouldn’t they meet on Monday after such a miserable Sunday game?

“That’s when Randy clarified that he wanted to meet at five o’clock that next morning,” adds Greathouse. “At first I laughed and then I said, ‘Wait, what now? Are you sure you want to have a five a.m. meeting?’

“But Randy did not waver. He said, ‘Yep, let’s do it at five a.m.’ And the rest, as they say, is history.”

The bleary-eyed team and their urgency-driven coaches rolled into their stadium meeting room on a pitch-black Monday morning, hours before 99 percent of the athletics department staff would be awake. It was a classic session in constructive criticism, aided by indisputable video evidence.

“We had a rude awakening after that UConn loss,” says Schuveiller, who served alongside Fowlkes as the 2010 team co-captains. “No question that the five a.m. meeting woke us up.”

The meeting and corresponding film session had plenty of teaching moments, but it also featured one clear message, call it an ultimatum if you will. The veteran coach made his message very clear to his promising team of 25 players.

“By going out early in the BIG EAST tournament, we had 12 days before our next game and we laid out our plan for the team,” explains Greathouse.

“Randy said that the negative moments and the streaks we had lost were in the past. He told the players: ‘You each are either going to follow this plan or you are not, but if you are all-in you have to commit to this going forward. You have the ability as individuals and as a team, but it’s up to you to make it happen.'”

After laying the foundation of change during that early-morning meeting, the Irish coaches gave their team some time off before diving into the full game plan for NCAA tournament success. One key component was keeping the team’s routine as normal as possible, including a full intra-squad scrimmage during the weekend to simulate game conditions.

The 12-day break ultimately benefitted the team, both physically and mentally. As for the actual practice sessions? Well, you know how this story ends, so of course the team pieced together its best series of training drills from the entire season.

“We had taken for granted that we would be winning and it was a rude awakening when we lost to UConn, realizing that the entire season could be over real quickly,” says Waldrum.

“It says a lot about your character how you respond to a setback like that – things can go south in a flash. The players changed their mindset and were so focused, so relaxed. I’ve never seen a team train as hard and as effectively as they did for those two weeks. It was phenomenal, so incredibly fun to watch it unfold into the following few weeks.”

The Irish, seeded fourth in the North Carolina quadrant, steamrolled their way on to Cary, N.C., for the College Cup’s final weekend, reaching the NCAA semifinals for the fifth straight season and 12th time in 17 years. The first three wins were by margins of at least three goals – at home versus New Mexico (3-0) and USC (4-0), then the huge 4-1 triumph at North Carolina – followed by a 2-0 quarterfinal at Oklahoma State (the quadrant’s number-three seed), ending the Cowgirls’ historic season.

Notre Dame had completed the rare feat of twice winning on an opponent’s field (both seeded opponents, no less) en route to reaching the final weekend, in addition to facing a pair of tough opening opponents in New Mexico and USC. Waldrum had taken seven of his previous Notre Dame teams to the NCAA semifinals, but none had been so efficient and consistent as the 2010 edition was in earning the right to be one of the final four teams standing.

“All four games leading up to reaching Cary were tremendously complete efforts from our team, with great energy and sharpness,” said the Irish head coach.

If You Cant Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em (Part II)

Roughly 15 years after Petrucelli had successful matched up his Notre Dame teams versus North Carolina by utilizing a similar 3-4-3 formation, the Irish again found themselves mimicking the Tar Heels. This time, however, the acts of imitation took place during practice time and involved only the squad’s reserves.

“During the week before the game at North Carolina, we pretty much just scrimmaged all week, eleven versus eleven,” recalls Greathouse. “North Carolina, of course, has a very unique system to play against, so we looked closely at ways to exploit certain things while also defining things that they would try to exploit against us.”

Back in the 2004 title season, the Notre Dame coaches had made a dramatic departure in their way of training their team, by scrapping the regular review of opponent video. That general shift of turning the focus inward pervaded throughout the 2005-10 campaigns. Intense study of the opponent simply was not part of the drill.

Of course, all that was thrown out the window in the days leading up to Nov. 20, 2010, when Notre Dame became the first team since 1985 to defeat North Carolina by more than one goal (4-1) and the first ever to score four goals versus the Tar Heels at their home facility, Fetzer Field.

Collegiate football teams for decades have utilized scout teams. Those scout teams, typically comprised of numerous walk-ons, are charged with imitating the upcoming opponent in the daily practice routine. During the Notre Dame women’s soccer intra-squad scrimmages in mid-November of 2010, a similar tactic was employed.

The 11 reserves – less-heralded players such as Ellen Jantsch, Erica Iantorno, Rebecca Twining, Brynn Gerstle and Ellen Bartindale – scrimmaged against the starters on those days while replicating North Carolina’s 3-4-3 formation, complete with that system’s intricacies and tendencies. This group of second-teamers, disguised as the Carolina starting 11, more than held its own against its marquee teammates.

“There were a couple times when the second team tied or even beat the first team. They did a great job pressing our starters and replicating the North Carolina system,” says Greathouse.

Shortly after Notre Dame had pushed its lead to 3-1 at North Carolina, Waldrum sent Jantsch into the game, in recognition for the stellar role she had played on the de-facto scout team. The junior midfielder fittingly went on to score the game’s final goal.

“After the game, our starters sought out the second-teamers to praise them for the important roles they had played in preparing the first team for that game,” adds Greathouse.

“Our starters knew there was no way we would have won if not for the girls that they scrimmaged against earlier that week. The first-team players were challenged in those scrimmages and it made them completely prepared, mentally and physically.”

The Notre Dame coaches had crafted a perfect game plan for the showdown at North Carolina, and their players executed the plan with tremendous precision. Waldrum vividly recalls a poignant moment midway though the second half. With his team holding a 3-1 cushion, the Irish coach briefly called the squad’s defensive organizer, Schuveiller, over to the sideline during a stoppage of play.

“I was reinforcing several things to Jess, things that, of course, she knew from the tremendous preparation during the week,” says Waldrum with a laugh.

“Jess just kind of gave me a look and gently put her hands towards me, kind of that stop-sign sort of signal that said, ‘We got this, coach.’ And they did. The moment they stepped on the field, they believed they could win.”

Personnel Priorities

Fowlkes’ tremendous versatility proved to be a vital part of Notre Dame’s 2010 postseason. Way back in the days leading up to her freshman season in 2007, the Missouri native had made an impressive debut during an exhibition versus North Carolina. The future All-American and Academic All-American double honoree was buzzing all over the field, playing equally well at forward, midfield and on the back line. Longtime Tar Heel coach Anson Dorrance – who had regretted losing Fowlkes to Waldrum and the Irish during the recruiting stage – was effusive in his praise of the do-everything newcomer.

Fast forward to the twilight of her college career, when Fowlkes was meeting briefly with her Notre Dame coaches. The topic: Shifting their versatile senior into a frontline role, in hopes of boosting the team’s offense, and with 13 goals scored by the Irish over the first four NCAA games, that shift appeared to do the trick.

“Lauren’s natural position is center back, where she and Jess had been a terrific pair,” explains Waldrum. “But we needed Lauren up top, because she is so strong holding the ball. It’s like a post-up player in basketball, and it allowed us to break out at the proper times while not turning over the ball too quickly.”

Any time one player moves, another has to take her place. The new center back during the NCAA tournament run was Schuveiller’s fellow junior, Molly Campbell, an experienced veteran who had started nearly every game in 2009 and ’10, but mostly as an outside back and midfielder.

“Moving Lauren would not have worked without Molly Campbell having done such a great job in Lauren’s old center back role,” notes Waldrum. “If Molly had not gotten it done, we probably would have needed to move Lauren back, and I don’t know if we could have run the table like we did.”

Fowlkes praised Waldrum for “always knowing the right way and right time to use different players to the benefit of the team,” adding that “all of the practices during that tournament run were intense and focused.”

Waldrum continued to push the right buttons in the final two games of the season, essentially using three talented midfielders in the holding midfielder role for significant chunks of time spanning the 1-0 victories over Ohio State and Stanford (in the NCAA semifinal and final, respectively). Few teams have the luxury of playing one holding midfielder with the combination of skills exhibited by a player such as Fowlkes, or Barg, or even Laddish – but Waldrum had all three at his disposal and used them accordingly, in large part due to Barg’s season-long nagging injury woes.

Waldrum’s periodic use of Fowlkes and Laddish at holding midfielder in the semifinal versus Ohio State allowed Barg to pace herself. The talented junior logged only 68 minutes against the Buckeyes, but she went on to play essentially the entire game in the title showdown with Stanford.

“Nothing really ruffles Courtney and she had such a calming effect on our team,” recalls Waldrum. “Players who are calm and composed are invaluable. She was the only player we had who could ‘play in a telephone booth’ and things were pretty tightly contested in that battle with Stanford.”

One final personnel-related factor played a key role in the 2010 championship season. Seven years earlier, the Irish coaches had learned valuable lessons dealing with freshman starters and key reserves. The realization was simple – in fact, simple was one of the key words, the good ol’ K-I-S-S (“keep it simple, stupid”).

In 2010, those same principles still applied, and with continuing success.

Notre Dame’s 2010 midfield featured a pair of freshman starters, not always a formula for success. But the duo of Laddish and Elizabeth Tucker performed like veterans – including late in the NCAA segment. Tucker scored both goals in the 2-0 quarterfinal at Oklahoma State, while Laddish found the net to help beat Ohio State in the 1-0 semifinal.

“In 2010, we continued to coach our young players very little,” explains Waldrum. “We had learned years earlier, painfully at times, that overloading freshmen can lead to them thinking too much and not performing as well. We still would share little nuances and nuggets of information while teaching them more about our system as their careers continued on.”

It should be clarified, though, that Waldrum does not subscribe to the theory of easing in talented freshmen when it comes to actual playing time and big-game experience.

“It would be a drastic mistake on my part to bring freshmen along slowly and then suddenly give them starts on the biggest stage late in the year,” added the 15-year Irish head coach.

“When we played our tough non-conference opponents earlier in the season, our top freshmen would be playing. And then they would be fully prepared for the pressure situations that come when the NCAAs roll around.”

NCAA Championship No. 2

After his team’s 2010 NCAA semifinal win over Ohio State, Waldrum settled in at WakeMed Soccer Park to watch Stanford dispatch Boston College in the other semifinal. His immediate projection for the title-game matchup centered more on what his own team would be doing rather than problems Stanford would pose.

“After watching Stanford versus Boston College, I realized we would not have to change anything and that we were the better team,” recalls Waldrum, who felt that strong sense of confidence despite getting ready to send his team against an undefeated Cardinal team fronted by eventual Hermann Trophy recipient Christen Press.

“Our team’s mindset at that time was that it was the best team in the country, and they were playing that way.”

Once Notre Dame had advanced, media members began asking Irish players for their thoughts about Stanford. Reporters lobbed those questions after the semifinal and again 24 hours later, during the off-day media session. But the answers remained the same: the Notre Dame players still had yet to see a single video clip or read any sort of scouting report about the vaunted Stanford team.

Waldrum and 2010 captains Lauren Fowlkes and Jessica Schuveiller

“We did not even have our scouting report for Stanford until we were in the locker room right before the game,” explained Scheidler, who came to Notre Dame with boatloads of family connections to the school but no promises of playing time, yet left having started her entire career as the team’s right back.

“It’s all about us and we approach each game the same way, even this national championship game. Keys to the game ended up being how we stepped up on Press and not giving her the space she wanted. We also tried to get forward when we could, because it made their forwards chase us.”

And what was Notre Dame’s complex offensive strategy for that 2010 NCAA title game? You can’t get any simpler than one word: Attack.

“Out mindset during this whole NCAA tournament was attack, attack, attack,” said Henderson, during the postgame press conference.

“In our locker room, you are gonna see the word ‘attack’ written 50 times on the board and our coaches printed out tons of fliers that said the same. We took that to heart every game during this run. If you can make one turn to get by that first defender, then you have one more to beat. Then it’s just a matter of slotting a pass and it’s gonna be wide open.”

Much as it had done in transitioning from the 2003 postseason failures to the 2004 championship, Notre Dame impressively had channeled 2009 late-season urgency into another textbook title run. And there was one important common denominator during those two championship seasons.

“What you saw our team do during the 2010 season was not by happenstance and it did not occur in a vacuum,” concludes Greathouse. “That month-long success was set up by how Randy handled the situation. “You can’t have players buy in unless they have a great leader in their coach, someone who they totally trust to take them in the right direction. We had some great individual game plans and the players completely bought in and executed those plans. Randy re-set the culture of the team in a matter of days.”

Coaching The Elite of The Elite

Over the course of his Notre Dame career, Waldrum oversaw the development of four players who received a major national collegiate player-of-the-year award: Makinen (2000), Thorlakson (’05), Hanks (’06 and ’08) and Henderson (’10). Makinen and Hanks both were presented with the prestigious Missouri Athletic Club/Hermann Trophy, while Thorlakson was Soccer America‘s pick for top 2005 player and Henderson the 2010 Honda Award honoree.

Coaching colleagues, such as Stone, have marveled at Waldrum’s ability to take a personalized approach when dealing with each individual on his teams. “When I was broadcasting Notre Dame or scouting them for the pro league, I was struck by the in-depth insight Randy provided about each of his players,” says Waldrum’s former player at MacArthur High.

“Randy has an amazing sense of not only knowing how certain players interact with their teammates, but also how to motivate each player individually, with a clear gauge of personal confidence level,” adds Stone. “As a younger coach, this was a wonderful lesson for me.”

That old sports cliche of “pushing the right buttons” has never proven more accurate than when describing Waldrum’s interaction with his top players, the elite of the elite.

“It’s always important to coach the personality of the player,” explains the 32-year coaching veteran. “Some players need a kick in the rear, while others may need an arm around the shoulder or a hug. You have to do things differently, based on the individual and the situation.”

Waldrum’s introduction of the 4-3-3 in 1999, with Sarkesian and Dryer playing in support of Makinen, allowed the Finnish national to thrive in freelance fashion. His interaction with another international player, Thorlakson, proved to be much more complicated.

“Randy and Katie butted heads her first couple years, that was evident to anyone who was around the program,” says Greathouse, in reference to the fiery Canadian. “By Katie’s junior season, she and Randy had become much closer, and it’s no coincidence that we won the national title that season.”

Those who were on the field that day on Dec. 5, 2004, at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., will never forget the postgame scene following Notre Dame’s thrilling penalty-kicks triumph over UCLA. One indelible image is Thorlakson sobbing while attempting to conduct the postgame television interview, and Waldrum smiling by her side.

The passage of time always can sharpen one’s perspective, and that certainly looks to be the case when accessing this short yet poignant comment from Thorlakson. The 5-3 fireplug always wore her heart on her sleeve but never was known for an abundance of sentimentality.

“It’s been almost 10 years since the 2004 championship and lot has happened since then,” said Thorlakson.

“One thing that will always stick out to me is when, two years ago, I received a postcard from Randy expressing his appreciation for my time at Notre Dame. It was a time in my life that made me remember that my Notre Dame family is always there for me, and that it never forgets.”

Hanks spent her first season, in 2005, playing side by side with Thorlakson, forming a classic dynamic duo. They remain one of only two sets of teammates in Division I women’s soccer history ever to reach 70 points in the same season (each with 71; Hanks on 28 goals and 15 assists, Thorlakson via 18 goals and 35 assists).

Waldrum with Kerri Hanks

Three years later, Hanks closed her college career starring alongside another top frontrunner, fellow Texas native Henderson.

“Those two were a great duo in their own right,” says Waldrum. “Kerri more often used her soccer intelligence to break teams down, while Mel was faster and more powerful.

“With Hanks, I just left her alone. She didn’t need to be told she was good. She needed to be pushed. That’s just something that we do as coaches.

“Mel, on the other hand, you had to keep her positive with her approach. I would pull her aside and tell her that her teammates wanted her to be more selfish, in terms of scoring goals. That was the more effective approach for her.”

Not surprisingly, both Hanks and Henderson remain appreciative for such personalized interaction from their former college head coach. Henderson was comfortable joining the Notre Dame program because Waldrum’s “morals and beliefs matched up to mine and my family’s, and I was able to grow as a player while benefitting from his great knowledge of the game.”

Hanks – never a shrinking violet when it came to speaking her mind – often would wonder out loud what her college coaches “did all day, other than going to lunch and running practice.” Her view changed shortly after graduation, when Hanks spent a couple seasons as an assistant coach at TCU.

“People don’t really realize what all goes on behind the scene as a college coach. The amount of time someone like Randy spends watching film alone is astounding,” notes Hanks. “He also keeps going to coaching clinics to improve his game. Why would a coach of his caliber even feel he had to do that?

“Randy wants to make every player on the team know her role, even if it means he has to say it five different ways for five different girls, so that each one truly understand what he is trying to convey,” continues Hanks.

“I came to Notre Dame to play soccer for Randy Waldrum, it was that simple. He recruits kids he knows will make an impact for what is best for the team. Randy did a great job of putting me into the right system and team environment, with the right players around me. He is a coach who makes so many important decisions that most people never really know or see.”

A Student of the Game, and A Game of Students

Some coaches are know-it-alls. You’ve seen them plenty of times, at all levels. Simply by the nature of their position – as both an authority figure and as a teacher – it’s easy to see why some coaches should feel that their learning days are well behind them.

Randy Waldrum? He’s clearly from another camp.

“A lot of coaches think that their learning process comes to an end once they land that head coaching position,” says Waldrum. “When learning is such a big expectation that we have for our players, it’s imperative that we as coaches keep learning ourselves.”

Waldrum’s unending thirst for soccer knowledge has taken him all over the globe while filling a variety of roles with the National Soccer Coaches Association of American and U.S. Soccer. He recently completed a two-year term as head coach of the United States Under-23 Women’s National Team, an important (but often overlooked) age group that helps bridge the developmental gap from collegiate soccer to the full national team.

That U-23 team coached by Waldrum included the entire starting midfield for UCLA’s 2013 NCAA title team – Sarah Killion, Jenna Richmond and Sam Mewis – along with the Bruins’ star central defender, Abby Dahlkemper. Remember those names – it’s likely you will see at least one of them emerging with the U.S. National Team in the near future.

Europe is the mecca for high-end soccer education, with various licensing programs sponsored by the Union of European Football Associations. Ten years ago, Waldrum took it upon himself to pursue and ultimately obtain a prestigious UEFA “A” advanced coaching license. The two-year process included two nine-day coaching education courses in Scotland during the summers of 2003 and ’04.

Waldrum’s pursuit of the UEFA license was self-driven and he journeyed to Scotland on his own. The valuable experience included gaining deeper insights into the game from the likes of David Moyes, currently manager of Waldrum’s favorite club Manchester United (and formerly in the same role with Everton), along with the current (Ally McCoist) and former (Walter Smith) managers of the Rangers club team in Scotland.

When you hear that these UEFA license processes are a two-year deal, that’s exactly the case. Waldrum was squeezing in study time and logging diary entries even in the midst of his own seasons with Notre Dame Greathouse recalls one road trip when she went down to the hotel lobby around midnight, only to see Waldrum hunkered down with one of those oversized three-ring binders.

“I had no idea what he was doing, but he told me that the UEFA license required him to keep track of every team practice, how it went, etcetera.” recalls Greathouse. “He was cranking on his homework, just like one of the kids on the team.”

Waldrum’s long association with the NSCAA includes a recent six-year term on the executive board (2004-10; NSCAA president from 2009-10) of the world’s largest coaching association, with some 30,000 members. The NSCAA’s widespread operation includes: an annual convention that draws somewhere in the range of 10,000 participants; coordinating hundreds of coaching courses throughout the country (Waldrum is part of the national staff of instructors); and a marketing arm that helps raise funds for smaller soccer coaching groups.

During his six years on the NSCAA executive board, Waldrum was anything but a bystander. As president, he helped complete a process that transformed the NSCAA from a $5-million-a-year non-profit into a financially stable organization with $1 million in reserve. That transition included bringing on a new CEO for the NSCAA, Joe Cummings, a highly-regarded figure within the ever-changing soccer business world.

At the end of the day, Waldrum’s time with the NSCAA has gone well beyond simply learning more about the game of soccer. Along the way, he gained insight and personal growth in areas such as business, finance, leadership, committee dynamics and tough decision-making.

“I did not know what I was getting into when I signed on with the NSCAA, but it is one of the most beneficial experiences of my life,” says Waldrum. “It was stressful at times, but we helped transform the NSCAA into a more professional business entity that can better serve our membership.”

Waldrum’s NSCAA connections have afforded him the opportunity to observe the Brazilian club Atletico Paranaense while also attending a pro coaching course presented by the German Football Federation. And talk about name dropping: Harry Keough, Bob Gansler, Jerry Yeagley, Jeff Tipping, Caleb Porter, Cliff McCrath, Pia Sundhage, Tony DiCicco – those are just some of the great soccer minds that Waldrum has interfaced with in recent years, all in the name of improving his own learning process.

“It never ceases to amaze me, but every time Randy returned from these courses he was like a kid coming back from the candy store,” adds Greathouse. “As a player, I always tried to ask questions and learn from him. That only expanded as a member of his staff.”

Waldrum has Lauffer to thank for sparking his interest in the European coaching masters. Lauffer used to sponsor international coaching clinics at West Texas A&M and would bring in notable guest participants such as former Scottish National Team coach Bobby Brown, along with Tommy Muller (then the Rangers’ first-team coach) and Archie Knox, an assistant manager for Rangers and Dundee United. Years later, Knox helped sponsor Waldrum’s pursuit of his UEFA license.

“Randy loved those international hosting courses,” recalls Lauffer. “We could pick the minds of these wonderful European soccer figures. We had no iPads back then, so it was moving sugar packets around on the lunch table to simulate formations and tactics.”

Throughout his 15 years at Notre Dame, Waldrum demanded academic accountability from his players and they responded in impressive fashion. The team’s combined grade-point average each semester usually was well above 3.0, including a 3.42 team GPA for the 2004 spring semester, a few months before the Irish won the NCAA title.

Multiple Academic All-Americans from the Notre Dame women’s soccer team have become the norm for most seasons, with Tucker entering her senior year owning a 4.0 cumulative GPA as an accounting major. Pruzinsky, a freshman on Waldrum’s first Irish team in 1999, graduated with her own 4.0 cumulative GPA, after surviving the rigorous chemical engineering curriculum.

Pruzinsky became only the third Notre Dame student – we’re talking the entire student body, not exclusively student-athletes – ever to graduate with a 4.0 as a chemical engineering major, becoming the first to do so in nearly 30 years (the other two were male undergraduates).

Four players from the Waldrum era – Streiffer, Gonzalez (you may have seen her patrolling the sidelines recently working for ESPN), Bock and Fowlkes – fashioned the rare combination of All-America and Academic All-America honors during their respective Notre Dame careers.

“So many players who have come through our program are impressive, well-rounded individuals and they have gone on to do tremendous things in their lives,” concludes Waldrum.

“Each year, it’s more like being a parent and seeing your own kids grow up. The big picture becomes even more important if our players have a great experience here as student-athletes and if they receive a great education.

“A simple goal we have is that the players leave here as better people than when they came in.”

Chapters Still To Be Written

There are only small clues that hint at Waldrum’s actual age. At the end of the 2013 season, there was a little bit of gray in his feeble attempt at a playoff beard. A pair of reading glasses often rest nearby and are hoisted atop Waldrum’s nose, as needed.

Other than that, it’s hard to detect many other differences between the Randy Waldrum of today and the version from 15 years ago this past New Years Eve. Of course, there are a couple national championship rings kicking around, plus plenty of trophies, photo collages and the like.

Waldrum’s soccer buddies such as Lauffer and Stone naturally still kid him about his hair, but they’ve had to come up with new comparisons. Back in the ’80s, they called him Don Johnson or kidded him with “Joanie Loves Chachi” references.

Whatever the decade Randy Waldrum is coaching in, there’s sure to be plenty of quality soccer and a fun environment surrounding it. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pete LaFleur served as an assistant sports information director at Notre Dame from 1996-2007, including eight seasons (2000-07) as the women’s soccer program’s media contact. Since 2008, he has served as the founder/editor of CollegeSoccer360.com. LaFleur is writing a series of in-depth profile features on Notre Dame coaches and student-athletes throughout 2013-14: