Dec. 17, 2012
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- University of Cincinnati athletics puts an emphasis on being a family within both the athletic department and the individual sports teams. New women's soccer head coach Neil Stafford fits that mold.
"My vision is always going to be about a player-centered program," Stafford said. "Building that family environment would be a huge vision of mine and really laying down a great foundation to build on for future years."
Hired in November to replace Michelle Salmon, Stafford was born in Liverpool, England and raised in Boston. He grew up with soccer in his blood. His father played in the Liverpool organization and Stafford played in Boston as a kid.
"It was always something that was really close to my family and my childhood and my everyday life," he said. "When you're born in a place like Liverpool, England, it's what people talk about every day."
The atmosphere of soccer fanaticism didn't end when he moved across the ocean. His passion for soccer as a child led him to play at Assumption College in New Hampshire and later start his coaching career as an assistant for the men's team at Assumption. It was there the coach of the men's team told Stafford he would get more opportunities coaching in the women's game.
"Of course, me being the immature person I was at the moment, I vowed never to coach women," Stafford said.
He realizes now if he would have stuck with that attitude, he wouldn't have ended up with a "remarkable experience" during his first coaching job with the Boston Renegades of the United States League Women's Division.
"It really set me up for that path," Stafford said. "The Renegades, Assumption College, Central Michigan, and now here I am at UC and couldn't be happier."
Though, he hopes to be much happier in the coming years. The aspect that drew him to UC was not only an appealing university both academically and athletically, but also that he saw the job as a real challenge, with the team being last in the Big East this past year.
The Bearcats posted but one winning record in the last 10 years.
"To work and create something here was really something that was an intriguing project," he said.
Stafford has many favorite moments as a coach, but one of his most memorable comes at Assumption College the night he got his first ever NCAA win. The picture he keeps in his office of the field that night says it all.
"Snowing, halftime [the field] getting plowed, getting brushed off," he said. "It was just one of those magical nights."
A guy who loves movies, U2 concerts, golf, the Liverpool soccer team and spending time with friends and family back in England thinks of himself as very much a people person. He values relationships in every aspect of his life, and that includes coaching. He says building trust is the biggest thing in establishing a relationship between him and his players.
"To get the players to produce at the highest level that they can, they're going to have to really trust and believe in what we're trying to accomplish with building the program," Stafford says. "There's such a fine line sometimes because this is a business, but there has to be a very unique human element to it."
Stafford hasn't had a chance to explore the city yet because he has "hit the ground sprinting," with meeting the team and putting his coaching staff together. But he wants to get out in the community. He wants to establish a fan base for Bearcats women's soccer. But he doesn't want people to just be aware of the team; his goal is for people to be proud of the team.
"I want black and red all over the place and I want them to be just so proud of what we're going to build here at Cincinnati," he said.