EDWARDSVILLE — After being officially announced as the head coach of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville men's soccer program last month, Scott Donnelly talked this week about how he plans to continue the Cougars' legacy and tradition both on and off the field.
Q: What does it mean to be just the fourth head coach in program history?
A: It means a great deal to me. When a program with the history of ours has had only four head coaches, it indicates continuity, success, and belief. Bob Guelker, Ed Huneke, and Kevin Kalish are three exceptional head coaches, each of whom have had significant success here. There is responsibility in that, there is expectation in that, and I welcome it. My own standards are quite high, and it's my job to represent SIUE and this program as well as possible.
Q: You served as associate head coach at SIUE the past two seasons. How has your previous experience at SIUE assisted in the transition to becoming head coach?
A: The time I've already spent inside our program has been important in this transition. The positive aspects include the fact that our players know how we want to play, they know the standards I have for them, and they know me both as a person and as a coach. I was fortunate enough to have a significant role in our team in my previous position, and in some ways that makes the transition seamless. The focus now is to refine and elevate what we've done in the past, and particularly to improve our consistency and maturity as a team.
Q: From a tactical standpoint, what is your preferred style of play?
A: There will be no significant change from the style we've played in recent years. I think there's an expectation historically from inside our program to play a certain style, to pass the ball, and to try to play attractively. The players who are here want that, future recruits want that, and I want that. It must be effective, it must be a winning style, and it must be in pursuit of results as well - it is not an end unto itself. There's work to be done, but the players are excited for it.
Q: Given your collegiate coaching experience, what do you think are the keys to success at this level?
A: The competitive culture of a program is highly important. There's a great deal of parity in Division I soccer, and the "better" team frequently doesn't win. So the strength of the mentality in a team becomes something of elevated importance. The leadership of the group, the level that the student-athletes hold each other to, and the intention of how things are done on a daily basis are elements that yield that mentality. The right players and people have to be present to have success, but their mentality is equally as important.
Q: What do you expect from your student-athletes, both on and off the field?
A: We expect a lot. SIUE, our department, and our administration have very clear goals for the student-athletes, and the resulting expectations are significant. They are expected to be good citizens, to achieve academically, and to succeed athletically. Dr. Hewitt and our administration have seen to it that the student-athletes are properly supported, and in return, they are asked to give their very best.
Q: Where do you see this program heading in the future, both in the short term and long term?
A: Long term, I have significant aspirations for the program that I think our university, our community, and the greater St. Louis area can support. I've been fortunate enough to have worked in a few different situations and contexts, and I can't say enough about how supportive the SIUE community is of men's soccer. This sport matters here, it is embraced, and we value that. However, those long terms goals amount to nothing if we don't focus on the continued growth of the program in the short term.
We have been on an upward trajectory for a number of years, and I plan to continue that path. We've been nationally ranked in NCAA Division I each of the last two seasons. We have nationally ranked recruiting classes, and elite student-athletes are coming to play here from the top level of soccer in our country. We play very strong schedules against other nationally competitive programs and have success. We've got good fan support that we hope continues to improve attendance at Korte Stadium. If our student-athletes and staff can focus on being very intentional about how we approach each aspect of our program, we can take the next step competitively. That is up to us to achieve, and everyone inside our program is committed to it.