Oct. 22, 2008
By Mark Zeigler
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Seamus McFadden, the only men's soccer coach the University of San Diego has ever had, grew up in Ireland on a soccer field where cows kept the grass short. "Little Wembley" they called it.
It rains a lot in Ireland and Little Wembley was invariably muddy, so slippery that they sprinkled tiny pebbles on it in a desperate (and sadistic) attempt to provide traction."You'd slide tackle," McFadden says in his lilting brogue, "and you'd be pulling pebbles out of your backside. That'll toughen you up."
McFadden, 56, spent his summers in Donegal, Northern Ireland, in what he calls "turbulent times." He remembers when the Scots would be out, wearing their kilts, and he and his buddies would shout at them: "Donald, where are your trousers?"
"Then all of a sudden they'd be chasing us," McFadden says. "If they caught you, you'd get a good hiding."
McFadden never got caught. He was tough, and fast.
They say that all teams eventually take on the personality of their coach, and the University of San Diego men's soccer team oozes McFadden. The Toreros - despite starting three freshmen and a sophomore in midfield - are as hardened as a biting wind off the Irish Sea, and they have a knack for escaping peril.
So it should be no surprise that they started the season 10-5-3 and now are squarely in the frame of the NCAA Tournament picture. Their nonconference record won't get them an at-large bid, but the champion of the West Coast Conference receives an automatic berth; and at 4-1 the Toreros are alone in first place with four of the remaining seven games at home.
"Seamus is very competitive," Clive Charles, the late coach at the University of Portland, once said. "He's very fiery. He gets after it. And his teams never, ever give up."
It also should be no surprise that McFadden, in his 30th season, has won a lot. He currently has 298 NCAA Division I wins, all at USD. The 300th could come as soon as Sunday, when the Toreros (4-6-3) host Loyola Marymount at 2 p.m.
"That's a milestone," McFadden admits. "That's 30 years of grinding it out, that's what it is."
McFadden's family (he has six siblings) moved to San Diego in 1969. The original plan was to attend University High, then across the street from USD, but his parents couldn't afford the private tuition and Seamus, then 17, went to Kearny High instead.
Where he played football. American football.
He was a place kicker and all-section place-kicker after making eight of nine field-goal attempts with a long of 48 yards.
McFadden also played soccer at Kearny.
"It was basically me, a foreign student from Afghanistan, a guy from Holland and a lot of Mexican kids," he says. "We were decent."
McFadden briefly continued his football career at San Diego Mesa College before transferring to San Diego State, where he became an all-American defender under legendary coach George Logan. After returning to Mesa to coach soccer and going 30-4 over two seasons, he was offered the job to start the USD men's program in 1979.
It was a tough call. USD paid $2,000. He was making more at Mesa.
But McFadden took it, spent the first year taking out ads in the student newspaper to find players and began playing games for real in 1980. And promptly went 0-12, outscored 52-6. (The Toreros actually won two games on the field that year, meaning McFadden already would have 300 for his career, but had to forfeit them because of an ineligible player.)
By 1986, though, the USD men were 19-4-1 despite still having no full scholarships and a $100 recruiting budget.
"I spent my own money," McFadden says. "I put a lot of miles on my car, driving to see players. But you know, you do it for the love of the game. I love to coach."
The numbers since are staggering: 20 winning seasons, 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, eight wins over teams ranked in the Top 6, seven WCC Coach of the Year honors, one NCAA final (a 2-0 loss to Virginia in 1992). His 298 career victories put him in the top 15 among active coaches.
"One thing I've learned is that coaches get too much glory for winning and too much grief for losing," McFadden says. "We just go out and coach the team. After 30 years, you don't have an ego. You just don't. You just coach."
It doesn't make him any less of a competitor, though. His assistant coaches say he takes losses as hard as ever, whether or not he's still picking pebbles out of his backside.
"People used to tell me, 'Seamus, you're the nicest guy off the field, but on the field I hated playing against you,' " McFadden says. "I'm hard-nosed. I'm gritty. One of the kids said to me the other day, 'Coach, I bet you put in a few two-footed tackles in your day.'
"And I said, 'Yeah, I think I did. I took a few cards in my day.' "