Nov. 21, 2001
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Mitch Murray has been at the helm of the Santa Clara University men's soccer program for 11 years now, beginning his head coaching stint in 1991 after serving as an assistant under Steve Sampson for five seasons.
During his tenure at Santa Clara, he has become the all-time winningest coach in the history of Santa Clara men's soccer, winning five conference championships and directing his teams to three College Cup appearances including the National Championship games in 1991 and 1999. His teams have made eight NCAA Tournament appearances while recording 11-straight winning seasons. He has produced numerous professional players, five U.S. Senior National Team players, nine All-Americans, 74 All-WCC players, seven WCC defenders of the year, one WCC Player of the Year and one WCC freshman of the year.
Combine these accomplishments with a knack for being able to get his teams to play their best soccer at the end of the season and you can make a case for Mitch Murray to be called "Mr. November."
Much like Reggie Jackson coming through in the clutch in October, Murray has a way of getting his players to gel at the right time and finish the season strong. During his 11 years on the Mission Campus he has accumulated an impressive record in the final month of the season. He currently has a 34-13-2 record in the month of November, and a 2-2-1 record in the month of December, a month most teams only dream of playing in. Over the last five years alone he has guided his teams to a 19-5-2 mark during the final two months of the season, including a 16-3-2 mark in the month of November. This year his team is a perfect 3-0-0 in the month of November, a big reason why the Broncos claimed their eighth conference title in school history and helping Murray to his second career WCC Coach of the Year honor.
What is his secret? To try and find an answer you have to look no further than what his players have to say about the Santa Clara program.
"Like the last two years we started off slow this year this year, but finished big," said Scott McLain. "Last year we won our last six games in a row, and even though we didn't make the playoffs we were playing well. The coaches know that the most important time is the end of the season. In the beginning of the season we were unlucky on some chances we now seem to be finishing."
Senior Anthony Chimienti echoed McLain, adding, "Coach always talks about peaking at the right time, and it seems like when we get into the playoffs that anything can happen. Hopefully that can be the situation again this year."
Peaking at the right time and chemistry are certainly factors in the success of Murray's teams. That chemistry doesn't come every year but when it does it seems to bond Murray's players together forever. "My freshman and sophomore years the team was incredibly tight," said Justin Canel. "Then my junior year I felt that something just wasn't clicking for us. But this year I think we are back to the way things were my freshman and sophomore years. We go out together, we do stuff together. On and off the field we are best friends."
Becoming best of friends on and off the field takes time, but the Broncos have a program that tends to take time, especially for the freshman. "The first year or two is spent adjusting to the new system and you spend the time learning from the older guys," said Chimienti. "The last couple of years you are expected to pass along the things that you were taught the years leading up to that. So between the sophomore and junior years it is a huge transition where your turn from a follower to a leader, which has been the coolest thing about it."
"A lot of the guys from the past still come around," added McLain. " Guys like Eric Denton who now plays in the MLS, is actually living on our couch right now. It is nice because you get different perspectives on games. So many of the guys are trying to go pro, like one of our assistants now Shawn Percell. He still wants to play but we really respect him for helping us out on the field. I know the new players now who room with other new players are gaining different perspectives on things as they discuss their high school days. It's definitely a good thing."
This year's freshman class of 10 players has been no different according to Chimienti. "At first you could tell in the tryouts that they were a little timid, not knowing what to expect. But as the year has progressed they have matured a great deal."
All of the progression is planned. Murray has built a strong program based on retaining the freshman all the way through their senior year so they can pass along the Santa Clara way of doing things to the next generation of players.
"Just follow the seniors and upper-classmen is what I told the new guys this year," said Keith Burden. "Learn what Santa Clara soccer is all about because there are special aspects that are found only at Santa Clara that you really don't know about until you come in and learn about it. It is critical to just go out there, watch how the older guys do it and learn it as quick as possible."
The 2001 team, packed with a solid core of upper classmen and a talented bunch of under classmen, has definitely latched on to the Mitch Murray system. Despite the 11-8-0 overall record, the Broncos are one of the nation's hottest teams, winning seven of their last nine matches. With their late season tear and a possible string of upsets down the road in the NCAA Tournament, Murray just might add more to his legacy of being called Mr. November.