Making the grade
The life of a coach in collegiate sports is a delicate balance of home life, work and mentoring year-round. But for USF soccer coach George Kiefer, it’s not work – it’s fun.
“I have a lot of good assistants,” Kiefer said. “It’s a lot of work too, but we have fun every day we’re here.”
The 34-year-old Bay Shore, N.Y., native came to South Florida in 2002 and has compiled a record of 50-35-11. In only five seasons as the Bulls’ coach, Kiefer has guided the team to three seasons with 10 or more wins, and in 2005 won a Big East Red Division title.
Kiefer’s success and hard work has carried over to his players as well. Last year, the Bulls had three players go on to play professionally, two with Major League Soccer and one in Denmark. Since Kiefer’s arrival, four USF players have made it to the next level, but that’s not his primary goal.
“To me it doesn’t matter either way if they go pro,” Kiefer said. “I like to have the mentality that even if we are sending them off as pros, we’re sending them off as pros with a cap and gown.”
Placing an emphasis on academics is always a challenge for a college coach in any sport, but in Kiefer’s case, it’s not as hard as it is for some of his colleagues.
“We have it a little easier than football, basketball or baseball,” Kiefer said. “If you look at it from a business standpoint, a college degree translates on average to maybe $50,000 a year over 30 years.
Oftentimes that’s more than soccer players make playing professionally, so it makes
more sense for them to stay and graduate.”
Kiefer is a former professional player himself, having played for the now-defunct Connecticut Wolves. But playing professionally was never Kiefer’s goal, as he knew he wanted to be a coach from the time he finished playing in college.
“I didn’t feel like I could make a long-term career out of playing,” Kiefer said. “I wasn’t as good as some of the guys I’m coaching. I felt like I could make a long-term thing out of coaching.”
Working under his mentor and former coach Ray Reid at Southern Connecticut State University as a graduate assistant coach, Kiefer earned a master’s degree in physical education at SCSU – the same school from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications. When Reid was offered the job at the University of Connecticut, he asked Kiefer to join him as an assistant.
Reid was unavailable for comment, but in Kiefer’s biography in the Men’s Soccer media guide, Reid called the coach “one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the country.”
“I believed in what he was doing and he
believed in me,” Kiefer said. “He taught me that running a soccer program is like running a business. It was a good education working for him and playing for him.”Kiefer plays a similar role for his own players and assistants.
“He’s had a lot of success before he came here,” assistant coach Ryan Anatol said. “He knows how to build a good program – how to get good recruits – and it’s good experience working with him and learning from him.”
For a coach building a program as successful as USF soccer has been, keeping up with what’s happening at home can be a challenge.
“I’m lucky to have a great wife who appreciates the game and supports what I do,” Kiefer said.
Recently the team unveiled its 2007 schedule, which includes playing his old mentor at UConn, along with a litter of Big East athletic powerhouses. Regardless, Kiefer maintains that he wants the team to take it one day at a time.
“I don’t want the guys to look too far ahead,” Kiefer said. “It’s a good schedule – that’s why good players come here – but we have to focus on what we’re doing now.”