Just four weeks from the start of official practice, the Northwest College men’s soccer program is in search of its second head coach in as many seasons.
Citing an opportunity “too good to miss,” coach Stan Rodrigues resigned from NWC Tuesday to accept the head coaching position at Adams State University in Colorado, a four-year Division II program.
Under Rodrigues’ leadership last year, the Trappers defied expectations to advance to the postseason and Rodrigues was named Region IX North Coach of the Year.
Rodrigues said he initially turned down Adams State’s offer, content to stay at NWC. But the athletic director at Adams State was persistent, prompting the coach and his family to make a visit to campus in Alamosa.
“When the AD called me and said what the salary is and what the resources are, I said ‘No thanks. I’m pretty happy staying where I’m at — my team is very strong, and I want to see where this goes,’” he said. “But [after the campus visit] I realized there are a lot of possibilities here at NWC, but I couldn’t risk my career for a hope and a dream, [by passing on it] when it’s on the table. ... It’s very bittersweet, but when an opportunity comes like this, it’s hard to pass up.”
To become a Division II head coach, one usually is required to work their way up the chain, with multiple coaching stints at the junior college, NAIA and Division III levels before being considered for a DII position, Rodrigues said.
“The chain of events that led up to this decision happened very quick,” Rodrigues said. “Five years ago, when I really got serious about coaching college soccer, my wife asked me ‘What are your goals? Where do you see yourself?’ In my mind, I said I would like to be a Division II soccer coach somewhere in the future.”
Rodrigues’ departure leaves the fate of an impressive mix of international and national recruits, as well as a group of talented returners, up in the air for the upcoming season. Breaking the news to his recruits was difficult, but Rodrigues said he assured them NWC will honor their commitments. That said, a few may rethink their collegiate plans.
“Some of the recruits may not come, but that’s their prerogative,” he said. “I’m not going to sway them one way or the other. I told everybody that they will eventually play for a championship [at NWC]. ... If the kids stay, I think they will have a successful season, doesn’t matter who coaches them.”
Rodrigues said all but one of this year’s recruits have expressed a desire to follow through on their commitment to play for the Trappers, despite the change.
“I told them it’s so important that they come here and fulfill your commitments, regardless of who the coach is” he explained. “Everyone I’ve spoken to seems OK. Whatever happens outside of the field is one thing, but once the whistle blows, they’re good to go ... but they also know the first place I’m coming to [to recruit] is NWC. There’s an end game for these guys.”
Calling it a “turn-key” program, Rodrigues said his successor will take over a team that’s mostly assembled, which should make the transition smoother. The coach also said he has no plans to take any of the current players or recruits with him to Adams State.
“A lot of people like to come to turn-key programs; this is pretty turn-key,” he said. “You don’t have to recruit this year. You got enough guys, your budget is in decent shape. There’s a lot of upside.”
Men’s assistant coach Dave Gillatt and new women’s soccer coach Bobby Peters are both going to help with the transition, Rodrigues said.
“There’s a blanket of support here, where unlike where I’m going, there’s not a whole lot — I’m starting over,” he said. “But here, everything is going to be turn-key — the returning guys are going to be ready to go. ... I think personally whoever comes in here, barring any major injuries or disasters, I think they can win the conference.”
Telling his returning players the news was even harder. Rodrigues built a culture of “team as a family” in his time at NWC, and he’s hoping that culture continues to shape the team moving forward, even without his guidance.
“They’re emotional, as am I,” Rodrigues said. The coach said he’d previously told his squad that, “Be prepared, anything can happen, and if a good opportunity comes, I have to go.”
After informing the team of his decision, several of his players from last year reached out to Rodrigues in a show of solidarity.
“They were like, ‘Look coach, we were all blessed to have you and [your wife] Angela and your family for a year. ... We understand you wanting to move on to something bigger,’” the coach recalled. “I think where I’m going, my philosophies and my culture will be more suited for the four-year level.”
The move leaves in flux a program that was seemingly on the rise, with school administrators scrambling to find a late-offseason replacement.
“While we wish Coach Rodrigues well and will miss the energy and enthusiasm he brought to the program, now is not the best time to be looking for a new coach,” NWC President Stefani Hicswa said Tuesday. “We will get together over the next few days to evaluate all of our options moving forward. We’ll figure out the best approach.”
Hicswa said she’s already received a few calls about the sudden vacancy, which she finds encouraging.
“We’ll look at it next week, and move on from there,” she said. “There are always people out there who have been assistants, and have a desire to be a full-time coach. We’ve had good luck here [at NWC] with the people we have brought in as of late, and I expect that will continue. It’s a great opportunity.”