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II Q&A: Todd Yeagley, pt. 1

Men's soccer coach Todd Yeagley (pictured above) said this year's national title was "emotional," and he credited IU's resolve and fan support as keys to success.

Todd Yeagley and the Indiana men's soccer team sent 2012 out in style last month, grabbing the program's eighth national championship after three successive 1-0 victories led them to glory at the College Cup in Hoover, Ala.

The title was Yeagley's third as a coach at Indiana, but first as the man in charge of the storied program for which he was once a standout player and Hermann Trophy recipient. Yeagley sat down two weeks ago with Inside Indiana to discuss that championship run, what went into it and what's next. Here is part one of that extensive interview.

With some time to reflect now, is there a different feeling to this championship than to those you've been a part of in the past?

This one was emotional. To say it’s different, they’re all unbelievable, but this one was — the context of being back here as a head coach, very reflective on my time at Wisconsin, not the immediate time, but just the general like, where we are now. And to see the unbelievable support that we’ve always had really resurface with this team on this run. And it wasn’t just the College Cup. I think the momentum that we gained from the first game through really got the IU support/alumni fanbase really excited. They could see how they were playing, and the passion.

They really were playing, if you want to say, Indiana toughness, which is what so many people are proud of, with a lot of good soccer too. It feels really good. You see it in print. You look at things. It kind of hits you at different times, because it’s been really busy. Great busy. But when you see it … I went down to the basement the other night, you’re looking at all the championships, and thinking, ‘This one is gonna be one of the ones we talk about.’

Nikita Kotlov talked after the match about joining a sort of fraternity of success at Indiana, and feeling, now, a part of an exclusive group of guys who've won a College Cup at Indiana. How important is that sort of tangible understanding from players of IU's legacy and their part in it?

I think that is important, and that’s one of the things that drives all of us is how do we — we use the word a lot — how do you leave your mark? The experience that all the athletes have had here has been an incredible one, it’s been a consistent one. So there’s a commonality that you share with all of the alumni, from the 70s, 80s, through.

But to be in that special group, where only a certain amount can have the ring, and share in that last moment of triumph, there’s nothing like it. Those players that had it, they know what it felt like, and they want the guys to have that. You set the goal, and only one team is going to be fully satisfied and happy at the end of the season, and I think our alumni, they want that so bad for our players and the program.

Luis Soffner (1) was part of a defensive effort that allowed no goals in the last three matches of the NCAA Tournament.

I know our players felt that, as this run went on. And they’re around throughout the year. They’re at home games, and speak to them, so it’s not like (alumni) are not around, and the messages are clear all the time. And then when you see them, just so energetic, when you see some of our young alumni, I look behind and some of our younger alumni are standing on the edge of the stadium just fist-pumping, they want it.

Parents of players who have already left, and they say they’re even more excited or nerve-wracked right now, as they were, or as much as, with their own kid. You can talk about it, you can read about it, you can see it on the walls, but until you experience it. That’s what has been so unique, is that we’ve been able to pass that down to the next group, so Nikita can share that with a younger guy. … It doesn’t shape your entire experience, but it gives you entrance into, as Nikita said, a fraternity of a special kind of best of the best. I wasn’t able to win one with coach Mais (Brian Maisonneuve) and Ernie (Yarborough), and yet my experience was incredible here. Yet, there is that one piece that I obviously would love to go back in time and get, but it doesn’t change your experience. It just gives you that final cherry-on-top feeling.

You talked -- as you have before -- about not being able to win one as a player at IU. Is there any extra satisfaction in being the head coach and winning a national title at your program now?

I thought in ’03, there was like, a little closure for me personally, winning it with my dad, being on the sideline for his last year. That was really neat. But nothing’s like as a player. The wins and losses, all that, it’s still different as a coach.

The playing is the best. Coaching is so much more rewarding in different ways. It’s more of like, a reflective feeling than it is just pure, raw emotion like, what we did. As a coach, you realize what all has to happen, and what made it happen, but as a player, it’s just such raw emotion, and the feeling of just, an incredible overcoming.

And then obviously, with Brian and Ernie — Ernie had won one as an assistant here, as a grad assistant — Brian hadn’t won one yet. I know he and I chatted after the game, that was cool. We got to do it together as two important guys on that ’94 team that were 90 minutes short of doing it. I know it weighed on him, and it, on a personal level, feels good. From my whole experience, this whole thing, it wasn’t about Brian, ’94, it wasn’t about my head coach versus assistant. It was like, everyone. That was what was going through my mind. Everyone was so happy, and that was cool.

It felt like, from the summer when Tom Morris suffered his injury, through to fall and into the NCAA Tournament, Luis Soffner and Caleb Konstanski never really wavered in their leadership and poise. Is that fair to say?

Louie and Caleb did a really nice job of leading for one. Their own performance, which we needed them to be in those positions, was consistent. Caleb had certainly proven that that’s one of his strengths. Louie, his first two years, inconsistent, some really good moments and some not so good moments.

The last two years for Louie, and particularly this year, his consistency was phenomenal. Only a few this year that I’d say he’d want back, plays. And then both he and Caleb in the final four, the whole way, but in particular on the biggest stage that weekend, were A game, A-plus game.

As a player, you’re never gonna play a perfect game. It doesn’t happen in our sport. You’ll find something. If you’re striving for it, you’ll find something. But it was a really, really good weekend, and we wouldn’t have done it without them. And that was the strength that they took from Tom, and our whole team did. It was a big part of this team.

You always say, ‘If this didn’t happen or if this didn’t happen.’ Like one of the headlines said, the stars aligned. Part of that alignment was a lot of things, and I think the strength from Tom’s accident, from how they saw him respond, was one of the reasons why this group was able to be resilient and fight adversity and play within their control, with some ups and downs, but yet find it in the end.

They found it throughout the season, they used it in certain moments — the Oregon State comeback, the way they fought and turned that on to win that game — a lot of moments, it wasn’t just the final run. But not five games in a row, with that type of strength. And then Sunday, it’s a gutfest. It is an absolute slug-out. You’re tired. You’re tired. It’s our final. It’s the way the format works. You’re gonna go in with some tired legs. They were thinking, I know, when they were tired, definitely a lot of our players, in the back of their mind, was like, ‘Look what Tom’s done.’ Your mind’s strong. It can help you.

Was there a moment, or were there moments, when you got a feeling this year and this team had something special in them?

There were a couple things that kind of hit me. I’d say the one that, I didn’t say it right at the moment, but when I looked back, and even after the game, we chatted about it, but it was the reaction to the goal at Notre Dame. The way that team was playing that day, our team, and we get scored on against the run of play, and how we responded with not — it was such a matter-of-fact, like, ‘Now we’re gonna go score.’ I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be in 52 seconds, but there was not a hesitation at all about or a concern or an anxiety. It was like, ‘Get the ball, let’s play and go.’ That was powerful, and I think afterwards … the play in that game allowed them have part of that perspective, but that was powerful, that reaction.

Is the run to the title made more special by the three successive shutouts at the end, from the quarterfinal to the semifinal to the final?

Our team took a lot of pride in shutouts this year. This was the first year I think our team talked about shutouts this much, not led by us, but I mean, the players, throughout the regular season, when we had a shutout. But we also know as coaches, and then they know as players, a shutout doesn’t define your defending. There can be a fluke bounce, a fluke deflection, something, where you could defend flawlessly and have something happen, so it doesn’t define our defending.

What you saw was not: ‘We have to get a clean sheet. We have to get a shutout. But if we defend like this, doing these things against these opponents, based on how we wanted to execute, and did it with every player from front to back, all the time, then we’re tough to play against.’ I didn’t feel like we were getting scored on.

And as a player, you take that confidence. When the guy next to you is playing like that, defending, you just build with it. You just feel like you’re always going to make the play. Call it in the zone, what you have, that’s almost the feeling you get. And if it happens, like Notre Dame, there wasn’t going to be a big reaction, like, ‘What just happened? This can’t happen? We lost our shutout.’ That’s not winning the game, because then you let it define what you’re trying to do. You’re ultimately trying to win the game.

So we didn’t really talk about shutouts in the postseason, but we talked about team defending and how close games are, and they usually come to one-goal games, which — minus the Xavier, which was tighter than a 4-1 game, playwise — that’s how they all played out. That was good for the history too, when we reflect back, to future years and we talk about this run.

Losing those two seniors, where do you see your leadership really starting from next year? Is it in that midfield, with so many guys returning?

This year, Louie and Caleb and really, our seniors, did a great job. But there were some other leaders behind the scenes. It was a committee group. We haven’t had just one guy that’s been a dominant leader. And not to say you have to have that. It’s been, I think, by committee.

Next year, I think, will be similar, because of a lot of seniors that we’ll have, that have had, now, a great amount of experience, and now success. That’s gonna be powerful for them to lead, and just, with A.J. (Corrado) and Jacob (Bushue) and Harrison (Petts) and Nikita, all of them are a little bit different, but I think you’ll see captains out of that group.

But also, we’ve been doing a nice job of bringing some younger guys along the way. I think there’s a couple of young guys that have some good natural leadership abilities within this group. Patrick Doody, a sophomore, rising junior, has a lot of good attributes.

Certainly, Jacob Bushue has been, I think, a quieter but emerging leader on this team, in the way he played, or how he played in the stretch, being injured. How does that not lift the guy next to you? You see the guy running there, he’s got a torn meniscus. He’s putting out as much as you are.

We will publish Part II of our interview with IU men's soccer coach Todd Yeagley tomorrow on InsideIndiana.com.

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