It doesn't take a genius to understand why the University of Illinois at Chicago wanted John Trask to be its new head coach, but why would Trask want UIC? With his experience as a player and coach at Indiana University and assistant coaching gigs in MLS, he likely would have had his pick of any high profile college job that opened up in the near future. He might even have been considered for an MLS coaching job, but in the end, he opted for the UIC job and it was the right choice.
At first glance, UIC looks like a clear winner. It got a man with invaluable experience as a player and assistant under the winningest coach in college soccer history, Jerry Yeagley. Add to that his time as an assistant with the Miami Fusion, D.C. United and F.C. Dallas, and the Horizon Leaguers came out smelling like roses.
But was this a good move for Trask? Why would he opt for a small tier school rather than a proven winner?
Former Miami Fusion and D.C. United Head Coach Ray Hudson told him it was time to sink or swim. Trask said, "It was time for me to see if I could make it as a head coach instead of being an assistant."
Sure, IU, Duke, and Maryland are higher profile coaching positions, but Trask has the opportunity to do something more noteworthy than win with an established dynasty. He has the experience and the will to win with a school that isn't exactly accustomed to playing come mid-December.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self's first head coaching job was at Oral Roberts University; not exactly a basketball powerhouse, but he took them from obscurity to the post-season and now is considered one of the best coaches in college basketball. Trask can do the same thing with the Flames. "When I came up here for the first time, I was like, 'what am I doing, I've worked with guys like Preki and Eddie Johnson.' But after meeting with athletic director Jim Schmidt I realized that the program, given the right backing, could be nationally competitive."
In order for the school to be nationally competitive and regulars in the postseason, they need to recruit better. John Jaramillo, UIC's Sports Information Director, said, "the last few years Sasha Begovic wasn't getting the recruits we needed to succeed and a few of our best players left us. John can change that."
Coming back to Chicago (he was born three miles from UIC) is an ideal situation for Trask. He's from the area and has a great relationship with the talented Chicago Magic Club. He also has great connections in Indiana and St. Louis where he's done numerous clinics and camps as well as Washington D.C, Dallas, and Miami where he was an MLS assistant.
"I've networked well over the years," Trask said when asked about his ability to recruit. "My office is lined with jerseys from guys like Preki, Eddie Johnson and several other top MLS players. I helped a lot of guys at IU develop into professional players. My good friend Preki even offered to bring me to Yugoslavia to introduce me to some of their top players. These are things I can use when it comes time to sell a big time recruit on UIC."
Trask can attract the top players in the country to UIC. Why wouldn't an 18-year-old kid want to learn from a man with his credentials? "I did a camp in St. Louis with the Scott Gallagher Club and their coach told me, 'these guys are practicing harder than they ever do because of you.' I didn't understand why they would be going harder at practice because of a total stranger, but the coach said, 'these guys want to go places. You've been there and know what it takes to get there.'"
Recruiting isn't the only thing Trask needs to do to get UIC to The Dance. College soccer is only played between August and December, and that's only if you're good enough to be around for the College Cup. For most teams throughout the country the season is limited to only three months. Playing competitive soccer for only three months a year isn't going to make adidas Elite players out of anyone. "We need to get involved in a spring league so we get more of a ten or twelve month long season instead of just three or four."
Playing year round against the best players is the only way to improve as a player, and Trask will make sure his new players are doing just that. "We also need to pick up a more competitive non-conference schedule. It doesn't do us any good if we're playing a lot of games against weak opponents. We need to be playing the big boys in order to make it to the tournament year in and year out."
"Chicago also isn't a bad place to go to school," Trask told me. "If you're 18 years old and going to school, it's not such a bad thing to wake up each morning and look out your dorm window and see the Sears Tower. It's a cosmopolitan city and a great place to be. It's another reason the UIC job was so enticing."
This move isn't only a win for the University of Illinois Chicago, but for John Trask as well. Sure, the Flames don't exactly have the same winning tradition as an Indiana or Maryland, but they do have one thing that will prove to be a huge asset for them, a desire to go places. Trask is coming into a program that wants to turn things and become regulars at the NCAA Tournament. He himself is a proven winner and has the contacts and ability which should enable him to recruit with the best of them. The icing on the cake is that he can do it all a mere three miles from his old backyard.
Mike Stoll covers college soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com