A Pleasant Surprise

New Orleans

The Big Easy

Fleeing Jacksonville, FL from Hurricane Irma we loaded up our bags and two dogs then headed west for eight hours along I-10 to New Orleans. Rather fitting bearing in mind that Hurricane Katrina had ravaged our destination around the same time twelve years earlier. The only preconception I had of The Big Easy was hearing about the drinking on Bourbon Street and the devesttion depicted in Spike Lee's HBO film 'When The Levees Broke'. New Orleans was a last minute decision, we'd done no research and the only plan was a reservation at The Indigo Hotel (2203 St Charles Ave). 

University of Portland

Merlo Field

I'm a graduate of The University of Portland and played soccer on the bluff for 4 years. So, my interest was piqued when I learned that Nick Carlin - Voigt was to become only the fifth Head Coach in the 38 year history of the Men's Soccer program. I've know the four prior coaches (O'Meara, Davis, Charles and Irwin) and responding to a blanket e-mail that Nick sent out to alumni, set up a meeting to have a 'chat'. We've made 14 NCAA playoff appearances but not since 2009. Bill Irwin who made way for Nick is one of the really 'good guys' in all of Soccer, but after 13 years at the helm and with a 2015 record of 3-12-3 overall and 1-6-0 in WCC play the time was right for change. Bill is and continues to be a friend of mine but at a school with a rich and proud history in Soccer, Scott Leyton (AD) made the right call. Those 38 years have seen many highs, especially during the difinitve Clive Charles era where we became a National power on both the Men's and Women's side. Clive (with Bill on his staff) really elevated the profile of the program and instilled a culture with strong values, eternal optimism and shaped not only great players but quality individuals. That 'Charles' legacy even so many years after his tragic passing rightly still surrounds the program, but I would argue perhaps does not permeate the program to the extent it had. Arriving at UP, I parked, walked over to the Athletic Offices and spotted Nick instantly, holding court in front of the dome. First thing you notice about Nick is he has a pressence. I'd read he was a Goalkeeper during his playing days and he certainly had the frame. The next thing that struck me about Nick was how soft spoken he was. You can see the wheels turning in his mind, someone looking to squeeze productivity out of every second of every day. I'm not someone who's easily impressed and have high expectations of people in the world of Soccer; a world which I have played, coached, run brands, dealt with players, managers, agents and headed professional organisations. Siiting in Nick's office with the pleasantries out the way we discussed the outlook and aspirations for UP Men's Socecr going forward. Don't believe it would be right to share the details of that private conversation but I left convinced that we have a real talent taking the reigns; but a guy who needs help, notably from the incredibly talented UP Soccer Alumni. I have no doubt that Nick along with a very accomplished assistant in Leonard Griffin will get results on the field and that includes a pipeline of the very best student athletes. A couple of full size training fields are imperitive, increasing the number of season ticket holders, increasing donations and the alumni base offering 'professional expertise' where applicable and called for in Nick's strategic plan to bring a WCC Champioship and Men's D1 National Championship to UP. Won't be an easy journey, but my takeaways having met Nick is that he sweats the details, inclusive, values community, respects what has gone before but not afraid to bring change - challenge the norm. Respectfully to all, 'the past is dust' and we must under Nick (and Leonard's) leadership starting with Spring practices and the 2016 schedule learn how to 'win again and close games out'. In a short time Nick has affected the incoming recruiting class for 2016 with some promising players but it may take until the 2017, even 2018 class until we 'catch up' and see the 'All American' calibre players committing to the bluff. I caught the first half of the spring parctice game versus Seattle U yesterday (leading 2-0) and saw enough to be encouraged. If anyone doubts that we cannot win the WCC in 2016 then just watch the EPL and Leicester City. As the legendary Michael Jordan said " Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships". Go Pilots!