Tony McCall is in his sixth season as head coach of the Regis University men’s soccer program. He led the Rangers to the NCAA Elite 8 and a 14-4-1 record in 2013. He was rewarded for his team’s success by earning his second straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and NCAA South Central Region Coach of the Year awards. Under McCall, the Rangers have earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament three-of-the-last four seasons including the program’s first ever appearance in 2010. McCall has led the Rangers to a 58-13-7 (.788) record since 2010.
Prior to Regis, McCall was Technical Director for the Colorado Storm Soccer Association and served on the Board of Directors for the NSCAA. He coached Division 1 Stetson University in Florida, as well as at several other institutions around the South East. Tony holds a UEFA “A” License in addition to the NSCAA Premier Diploma, USSF National Youth License, USSF Pro-B License and an Irish Football Association “A” License.
The RMAC seems to be a very tight conference with you splitting several games with teams last year. How happy have you been with your season preparations for the start of league play?
We feel that we’ve done a really good job of putting together a very good staff. Anthony Presnell is my number one assistant, my graduate assistant is an English lad called Tom Poole, then I have James Wagenschutz, a goalkeeping coach – Chris Bauer, and Brian Mullen comes out now and again to help us. With the staff we feel that the preparation has been very good. Unfortunately we’ve run into a really serious amount of season-ending injuries. Two ruptured ACL’s, a torn hamstring, and a dislocated shoulder that just happened this morning. All of the other injuries happened during the pre-season training period.
I would say that the RMAC is one of the top conferences in the country at the DII level. You look at the better teams in our conference and the better teams around the country and those teams could play against the majority of DI programs. The quality is very good and you have a lot of foreign players in this league. The coaches are very well organized and experienced.
Playing everyone home and away is different from some divisions where they only get one shot at everyone. Do you prefer it that way?
I think at the Division 2 level they are very conscious of cost, so within our conference we have 9 teams on the men’s side and each season you will play the majority of the teams home and away but there are a couple of the teams you’ll only play once. So we have fourteen league games then the ability to play four non-conference games. With how DII is structured, there are only a certain number of teams who go to the NCAA tournament so right now for us we’re forced to play non-conference in-region teams. We’re in the South Central Region so for us to help our strength of schedule and to help our rankings we have to play people who are in-region but out of conference.
When you’re recruiting, what kind of players do you look for?
Regis is a very strong institution academically, and that’s the main reason kids are going to college – to get an education. So we’re looking for the best players that we can possibly find, who are bright. For me, if I go to a showcase and see a player that I like, the first thing I have to ask is how are your grades? And what are your test scores? We typically will not recruit anyone below a 3.0 [GPA] and below a 23-24 ACT score.
How much of an issue for you has that been? Have you seen good players who don’t make the academic grade?
You do see some players who you can’t get, or players you might want to take a risk on. The problem is though that you want to set these students up for success. So if we are bringing them into an environment that is very rigorous academically. It’s going to be difficult for them if they haven’t got the academic background, to be able to deal with the workload. If I’m bringing a kid in who has a 2.5 GPA we’re setting them up for failure because when they are living at home at high school and they are still not getting great grades, it’s going to be far more difficult for them living away from home, without the parental structure in place to make sure they are going to class. As far as coming in with us, every freshman and transfer has 4 nights of study hall per week. They have to have a 3.0 GPA to get out of study hall. We also provide all of the resources and tutors and the academic support staff to help them in any of the classes that they’re in. Over the last five years that I’ve been here we’ve had 7 Academic All-Americans and we have a higher team GPA than the rest of the student body average. We’ve won the Brechler award the last two years, which is for the team with the highest GPA in the RMAC.
Do you choose players to fit positions or adjust your system to fit the players?
We do a certain amount of both. There are some positions which are fairly specialized, so we have to go after players that fit that mold. Then there are other positions that we feel we can turn certain players into certain positions. But for the most part we try to recruit the best student athletes that we can possibly recruit, and then we work out what kind of system we’re going to play around the talent that we have.
So you change your system from year to year?
Yes we do. I feel that good players can play different positions and we try to recruit the best.
More than half of your roster are from Colorado. Does that come from you targeting local players or is it the nature of the university as a whole?
I think a little bit of both. There are good players out there who are not playing at the highest level who can play at this level. Not all of our players are coming out of the DA academies. I think there are good players everywhere, you just have to identify and recruit them.
You have several international players, including Icelandic and Northern Irish. Is that coincidence or are you working with people over there?
I’m old, so I have a good network of people around the world I know who have helped us identify good student athletes over the years. We like the diversity – not just from the point of view of playing – but we like the diversity at the school: cultural differences, coming from different economic backgrounds. Not all of our foreign kids are white collar. Some are from hard-working blue collar environments but we feel that they’re good student athletes and good people. They bring a little bit more maturity and soccer intelligence that can help our American kids become better players.
How do you attract them to Regis?
It’s very easy. Regis is one of the top institutions in this region and in the country. Obviously students coming in, depending how bright they are, there are academic scholarships. We also provide a certain amount of athletic scholarship dollars that make it worthwhile for these kids to come to the US. We’ve been quite successful with the Icelandics and the Irish. We’ve had players from England, New Zealand, and Australia. Being here in Colorado doesn’t hurt either though. It’s one of the nicest places that you could probably live in the US.
How do you divide up your scholarships? By position or by player quality?
If institutions decide that they want to fully fund their programs on the men’s side you can go to 9 scholarships, on the women’s side it’s 9.9. We’re not a fully funded program so for us it helps whenever student athletes are bright because then we can give them more academic scholarship dollars.
Is that common, not to be a fully funded institution?
I would say that there are very few fully funded programs in our conference. I think that ourselves and [Colorado School of] Mines are the odd couple from an academic point of view. We probably are a bit of a mismatch for that. No disrespect to the other schools but I don’t think the academics are as rigorous at the other schools as they are at Regis and at Mines.
How do players get noticed by you? Does writing letters and calling really help?
I think it’s important for student athletes to contact us directly. Letters as in emails are important. With technology and the way that they can embed videos and use YouTube is very important. If a kid sends us information and they include a video it gives us an instantaneous idea about where they are at and that lets us make a quick decision on whether that is someone we would like to consider. If there is no video or something visual it is going to be very difficult unless we see them at a showcase or tournament.
What is the value of tournaments for getting spotted? Which ones do you go to and like?
We’re more into showcases, where it’s not really a tournament that you’re playing to win. We want to get as much exposure in a short period of time as you can. Obviously you have the Academy showcases around. We do go to some of the local ones too, but for the most part if we’re putting a lot of money into the kid I am going to travel internationally to go watch them myself. I’ve been to Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, England, so I’ll take trips to watch them. For the local deals we go to the Westminster Showcase, which has been quite fruitful for us because it is at a good time of the year. The three academy groups around here will bring teams in from around the region and we will utilize that when they do. Also the various Presidents’ Day and Thanksgiving events.
How important is playing NPL, ECNL, WCDA or any of the other programs currently out there for youth players?
It’s important that the more serious players get to play in club. The ECNL is on the girls’ side so I can’t really talk about that, but the NPL, WCDA, and Academy have been useful for us, to find players. There is a perception that we only look at those though, but we find good players everywhere.
How about ID and summer camps? Do you actively recruit from them?
I think over the past 5-10 years they have become more valuable. We have had a number of players that have come to our ID camps that we have signed, often from the local area. We have a current player from Fort Collins and one from Broomfield, another from Grand View who is a freshman right now who all came from ID camps.
What’s the attrition rate? How many drop out before the end?
It’s probably about 20-25% attrition rate for one reason or another. Whether it’s because of academics, or cost, or just opportunity to play. I think that whenever players come in and they are not instantaneous stars, they don’t always have the resilience to work hard. It’s a different generation that we’re dealing with. Some of them don’t have the tools because they’ve never been subjected to failure or adversity. They are from a generation of entitlement and I feel like our parents cocoon their children and don’t expose them to failure, which is a disservice. It’s good to fail. Sometimes you learn more from failure than success.
How important is it to you to build a relationship with your players off the field? What do you say or do?
This is my 6th year now with Regis. I’ve been in or around the college game for 25-27 years and I think it is more important now to work on the relationship side of it. I think the smart thing that I’ve done is to surround myself with good people who do certain things much better than I do. My staff are young and enthusiastic and they’re very good on the field. It gives me an opportunity to look at the macro side of it where previously when I was having to coach every session you are right in the middle of it. Now I can look at the bigger picture from the periphery and be able to see individual players and how they are doing. Are they carrying themselves ok? Do they look like they are down? What issues are they having in their lives? I think this generation are more about the relationship than about the coaching. For me, it’s been like teaching an old dog new tricks but I think I’ve done a relatively good job of developing good relationships with my players off the field, where in the past I didn’t have that luxury. I was the hammer and the pillow and it’s very difficult to be both. So I think the most important thing is to get a good staff around you who can help you with the things you are not good at, or the things you don’t want to deal with, and I think we have that balance here.
How can coaches best prepare their players for college with you?
Club coaches are in a bit of a bind. I think whenever you are dealing with players and families who are paying to play you’re at their mercy to a certain degree so your ability as a coach to be a disciplinarian and to be demanding is a little bit limited. I think if you can throw away the golden handcuffs and really be honest with a kid, and be honest in a way that you’re not promoting your players to every college that’s out there. Because not only does that hurt the kid, but it hurts the coach and the club because the coaching world is a very small world and whenever a coach sends you a below average player and tells you they are a good player… I’m going to be very cautious about going back to that coach or club in the future. Coaches need to be aware of their reputations and not oversell players. Be honest with the family and tell them where they should be playing. I think your player is a very good player and should be looking at middle of the road DI programs or top DII programs. I think there needs to be an honesty there and there is a reluctance to do that because families get upset. They club hop – there’s no loyalty and it puts coaches in a difficult position.
How can coaches get into working at college level?
Obviously you need a college degree. I think the younger generation now are very well educated. In the past you had a lot of foreign coaches who were here in the US who did not have college degrees so they didn’t even try to get into it. I think volunteering helps, getting into ID camps in the summer, getting on those staffs.
How would you compare working in youth club soccer to college level? Would you go back to coaching youth club level?
I do not miss youth club soccer at all. I think every coach through experience finds their niche and I believe that I am exactly where I should be.
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