November 2, 2012 10:44:34 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Neil McGuire has nothing but great things to say about his time at Mississippi State University.
Not only did McGuire spend four years at MSU as its women's soccer coach, but he also earned a master's degree (emphasis in sports administration) from the school. In that time, McGuire, who played soccer at Augusta State, learned a lot of things in his first job as a Division I head coach.
Since then, McGuire has learned even more. He spent a season as an assistant coach at the University of Texas and two seasons as head coach at Texas Tech University before moving on to the University of California at Berkeley, where he is in his sixth season.
Even though it has been nearly 10 years since McGuire worked at MSU, he has kept up with his good friend Neil Macdonald and the MSU women's soccer team. Macdonald worked as an assistant coach for McGuire at MSU and took over the program when McGuire left just before the start of training for the 2004 season. McGuire was discouraged to learn earlier this week that Macdonald had been relieved of his duties as MSU's coach and re-assigned within the school's athletic department.
McGuire then talked about how he helped lead MSU to its most successful season and offered his perspective of the women's college soccer landscape and the challenges MSU faces in hiring a coach who can help the program move up the ladder in the Southeastern Conference.
"Starkville is not an easy place to recruit to," McGuire said. "Without question, it is the hardest place I have ever had to recruit to. I do think in the SEC that if you look at the nature of the universities in the SEC and their location and their facilities that Mississippi State doesn't offer what the others do."
McGuire said that was situation when he arrived as head coach. He said he was fortunate to sign a few players who served as "connectors" and helped the program attract more players. As a result, MSU's 2001 team went 13-8 and won the SEC Western Division. The title was the first SEC championship by any MSU women's team.
"We had a lot of energy from within the program," McGuire said. "The players were really motivated and they wanted to play for each other. We had very good goalkeeping and a collective defense that was passionate not only about stopping goals, but also about stopping goal-scoring opportunities. We had forwards who were very dynamic and good goal scorers."
MSU went 6-12-1 in 2002 and 9-8-3 in 2003 before McGuire left. Macdonald took over in 2004 and guided MSU to the SEC tournament and a 9-9-3 finish. The 2004 season is the last time MSU has advanced to the SEC tournament.
Even though McGuire is in a Bowl Championship Conference (Pacific-12 Conference), he knows what it is not to have everything major soccer powers have. His team, which is 15-4 entering the final part of the regular season, doesn't have lights, while MSU's soccer facility does.
Still, he said his program and many others have advantages over MSU in that their programs have established traditions and that they are in better areas to attract recruits to compete at the national level. He said MSU hasn't shown consistency in the Southeast to keep the area's top players close to home. He said that lack of success and notoriety also is a factor that works against MSU when it tries to move outside of the region to recruit players.
"At first discussion, there are not too many athletes who will take Mississippi State as their first option outside of the region," McGuire said.
McGuire makes that assessment knowing full well MSU's strength as an academic institution. He also talks about the realities of the Division I women's soccer pecking order knowing that the budgets of schools like the University of Florida, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Georgia, just to name a few in the SEC, apparently are bigger than MSU's.
Yet McGuire remembers when he was at MSU and working for then-athletic director Larry Templeton. He said the school had plans drawn up that would have added to the amenities -- like a locker room on site -- to the MSU Soccer Field. In fact, he said those plans were shared with recruits, but never materialized. He said decisions about how to spend an athletic department's money go well above his pay grade, but he said the choice not to follow through with those plans impacted the program.
In 2012, McGuire said a "great number" of schools are ahead of where he thinks MSU is in terms of facilities and support of women's soccer.
"I know you have to work within a budget, but if you look at schools like Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, these guys are putting in millions of dollars to make a difference to make sure elite student-athletes look at schools and say, 'I want to be a part of that.' When you don't do that, you're going to suffer some of that. Athletes have so much choice that if you're going to all of the schools and you see all of the bells and whistle to a school that doesn't, that is going to be a defining battle, and it is going to be part of the decision no matter how good a coach is or how you can help them develop."
McGuire credits MSU for adding a fence around the MSU Soccer Field and for adding a permanent concession stand with bathrooms. He said there are going to be "degrees of commitment" from schools about how they support athletic programs that generate revenue and ones that don't, but that it is difficult to consider MSU on an equal footing compared to its SEC rivals when you consider all of the factors that go into building a championship program.
"I am very proud of fact that I was a part of the Mississippi State athletic department," McGuire said. "They believed in me, and I have to pay them tremendous respect for that. There are a lot of really good people who work within the Mississippi State athletic department. There has been a tremendous amount of resources put into women's soccer across the country, and a lot of programs are starting to move in that direction. I hope for the Mississippi State program to be successful. They may have to consider some of those elements."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.