Yesterday, the University of Minnesota announced that Gopher Soccer Head Coach Stefanie Golan had resigned her position to become only the second ever head coach at Mizzou, in Golan’s home state. Golan leaves as the longest tenured head coach in program history and, even with some rough spots like the 2019 season, an objectively great resume that includes multiple Big Ten Championships and NCAA Tournament wins. Players and coaches we spoke to in the program were understandably surprised and even shocked. But with training camp for the fall season essentially only two months away, there’s not much time to sit and process. The Athletics Department needs to start addressing some key questions quickly.
How good is the job
First, if you want to know how good your candidate pool is, you need to know what you’re offering them: how good of a job is this? The obvious and most simple answer is that there are only a few dozen Power Five DI head coaching jobs in the country and this program is at the very least average among that bunch. Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium is immaculate (and only missing a beer garden). Practice and training facilities seem to be at least on par with other Big Ten programs. So on the surface, you should probably be talking about a pool of candidates that includes almost literally all but the couple dozen head coaches at clearly superior programs.
Below the surface, it’s not necessarily as clear. Though the program is generally well resourced and treats its players well in terms of athletic, academic, and personal support, compensation for the staff was at times a challenge. Coaches across the industry talk to one another. So if peers are getting deals better than you, it’s not going to be much of a secret. Just during our era of covering the Gophers, there were times when coaches at less successful Big Ten programs were outstripping Golan in terms of raw dollars in contract extensions, and that, then, trickles down to the rest of the staff, as well. In a profession where you can be fired (or even have the entire program eliminated) at the drop of a hat, the level of guaranteed financial compensation is one of the only things a coach can lean on.
That said, even with some possible ceiling in terms of long term earnings, this job is the kind of opportunity nearly every coach hopes to find.
How good is the team
At this precise moment in time, given where we are in the calendar, this new coach will also have to come in and coach what is basically a set roster. So how good is the clay this coach will have to mold? The team went roughly 500 this spring. From that, you’re losing a stud centerback in Athena Kuehn and a do-it-all star midfielder in Katie Duong as well as a handful of solid rotation players in the attack.
If we pretend the Gophers were to play their traditional 4-3-3 and had to play a game tomorrow, you could either shift Alana Dressely to centerback next to Delany Stekr and keep Katie Koker and Patricia Ward at outside back in a sort of “make our outside backs cover a lot of territory for the whole back line” lineup. Or, maybe Ward shifts back up top to winger if Keziah Inniss comes in after a strong summer and claims an outside back spot. Or, keep Dressely at home at outside back because Paige Elliott busts her butt this summer and comes back in similar form to what she showed at centerback as a freshman. That back line -- in really any of those iterations mentioned above -- plus Megan Plaschko back in goal (locked in, in part, because Maddie Nielsen and Ana Aguado are both heading elsewhere) would be at least a solid defensive unit. It would have a fairly high floor and a decently high ceiling, depending largely on how the second (non-Stekr) centerback performs.
[UPDATE: within minutes of this story posting, Katie Koker officially announced on Instagram that she will no longer be playing soccer. She was an Equal Time favorite and just a blast to watch. But her leaving obviously either makes it a natural fit for Dressely and Ward to stick at outside or for one of them to shift and Kez/others to claim that remaining spot]
In midfield, Sophia Boman (above) has 90 minutes a game written in ink as your box to box number 8. Lauren Donovan was reportedly showing really well in training as an early enrollee this spring and could jump in as a holding mid. In a pinch you could start Megan Gray in the more attacking central mid role next to them. She and Sadie Harper saw some minutes there this spring but both probably do better up top on the wing. It’s possible a freshman or two really jumps out and claims major minutes as the third midfielder, as well (word is incoming freshman Elizabeth Overberg is a *beast*). If the team shifts to more of a diamond midfield with more traditional outside mids you could see Boman shift up to an attacking role (she showed more and more confidence working toward goal as the season went on) and then the outside mid spots would be tailor made for the Harper and Gray types, with lots of others backfilling those run-for-miles assignments.
If it’s three attackers up top again, you hope Maddie Baker can come back ready to rock in the center as a towering, creative presence. Izzy Brown, the transfer from UNC who had to sit out the spring season after suiting up for Tar Heels in the fall, should make an immediate impact in the center and likely starts. Kenna Buisman, freshman Khyah Harper, Abi Frandsen, Kenz Langdok, Meg Gray, Sadie Harper all serve as rotation quality options at the *very* least on the wings. Honestly, whichever of them shows the most potential in the midfield in training may want to just dive head first into that transition because it’s a bit crowded up top and slightly thinner in the middle.
Obviously all of this is a bit of an off the cuff projection and there are probably random players like Eva Bruer who are going to come in and just absolutely shine. But overall, the team is probably slightly less stout defensively, but still around average for the conference. They’ll have less ability to control the midfield as you lose Duong, but Boman and others keep you at least in the game there. You might have pretty strong improvement up top with what you assume is at least solid starter play -- if not way better -- from Brown [Short side bar: WE SEE THE TRAINING CONTENT ON INSTA, IZZY! WE SEE IT AND WE CAN’T WAIT FOR FALL], whatever you can get from Baker off the bench, and some new energy from Khyah Harper to go with quality returners like Buisman, Gray, Sadie Harper, etc.
Considering this spring’s squad lost a few games on silly mistakes, missed wide open chances, and a general lack of finishing, you’d have to expect them to capture some of that low hanging fruit-improvement. Or, if you want to boil it all the way down to just two numbers, it’s these: the 2021 Spring Gophers gave up .83 goals per game and scored .58 goals a game. If we had to guess right now, not even knowing who the coach is: expect both of those numbers to hover just above 1 per game, the Gophers to finish above 500 *AND* be super fun to watch due to more back and forth play.
Considering a certain amount of coaching openings occur when a coach needs to be let go for poor performance, that roster -- whether our projections are accurate or not -- is a pretty damn good starting point.
Who are the “incumbents” to beat out
As much as this will, and should, absolutely be a national search that brings candidates with no ties to the U or maybe even the Big Ten, some level of connection to Minnesota or the program itself is likely going to influence the candidate pool. Erin Chastain (then Erin Hussey) played for the Gophers and now coaches Depaul. She will get mentioned and, I assume, consider applying. Stephanie Foster has been on staff at Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, the Red Stars and was the Head Coach at Northwestern and follows Equal Time on twitter so she gets honorary Minnesotan status because we’re easy like that. Imagine how much we’d sing a candidate’s praises if they became a monthly supporter on Patreon. Just kidding. Probably. It’s never happened before so it’s hard to say.
[LONG SIDEBAR RANT: I guess at this point I should also quickly say that I am 100 percent of the belief that the coach should be a woman because even though “hire the best coach for the job” is the correct strategy, I usually hear it used (essentially as an excuse) after a man has been hired to coach a women’s team and I think it’s objectively true that being a woman -- in and of itself -- is actually a very valuable piece of leading a team of women -- or any kind of team -- and you would not believe the crappy stuff men in the women’s game say to me about women and women soccer players when we are speaking or messaging one on one because they assume we -- men -- all must think the same shitty stuff about women that they do and so in conclusion until we have anywhere near gender parity in the coaching ranks on the women’s side I will not move from this position in any possible way and ok thank you bye]
Of the most common names mentioned to me over the past 24 hours are Molly Rouse (departed as an assistant coach at the U to become head coach at Dixie State), Becky Maines (on staff now as assistant coach), and Krystle Seidel (former assistant and associate head coach for the U, now at Macalester).
In that order, we’ve heard that Rouse is comfortable sticking it out at Dixie and growing the program there. If you follow her on social media you can see her living it up in the southern Utah dessert like an adventurer like every week. It looks amazing. But keep her name bookmarked, long term, she was *beloved* by players and respected like crazy by fellow coaches. She is going places.
Maines is for sure going for the job. She was a long time friend of Golan’s who came on staff after Seidel left to become the head coach at Macalester a few years back. Maines has a really solid resume with stops at programs like Ole Miss and Auburn, and is currently raising maybe the most adorable baby of all time in her non-soccer time.
Seidel should also be a candidate and -- I apologize in advance for this hyperbole -- might honestly be the most universally praised/liked/well-regarded person (not just coach) I have ever encountered in my life. I don’t exactly know how to describe it other than to say I have talked to dozens of players, parents, coaches, etc about nearly every aspect of the Gopher Soccer program for a half decade and there is no person that people speak about the way they speak about Krystle. To put it another way, when you talk to someone about any individual thing that went right during this general era in Gopher soccer (what made the press work well in X season, how did Katie Duong choose Minnesota over Stanford, whatever) Krystle is -- by an honestly laughable margin -- the most common person or thing that comes up.
All of that being said, this job should get a wide and deep applicant pool. Remember, in the US, head coaches at Power Five programs are the highest paid coaches in the game -- making far more than head coaches in the NWSL. On compensation alone, it would be foolish for quality candidates not to apply. With a solid roster in place returning from a nice bounce back season, the position is even more appealing.
EXTRA TIME: And because every applicant will obviously be carefully reading this piece before finalizing their application and hitting send on the email to Mark Coyle, I’ll add some free early advice: current Assistant Coach Maya Hayes is a little too early in her coaching career to make a leap to head coach of the program of this size but she’s kind of the perfect fit for a new coach to keep on staff after the transition. Ditto for Director of Operations Sarah Johnson (SJ). No one knows the program as well as SJ and she could really make the ramp up process a long smoother for a new coach.
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