After being removed from the newspaper business for nearly two years, I’ve finally adjusted to being a fan again.
I answer to no publishers, editors or advertisers, so I can cheer for who I want to while ignoring what (and who) doesn’t interest me. It’s liberating.
But one thing I’ve noticed while transitioning from paid journalist to blogger-for-fun is I tend to root for people more than teams.
While covering Anderson University, for example, I got to know soccer coaches Samar Azem, Ciaran Traquair and John Murphy. I enjoyed my interactions with them – I like them as people and they’re terrific coaches – but you have to keep a certain amount of distance from those you write about in order to maintain objectivity.
That’s no longer an issue.
Azem and Traquair are the coaches of the women’s teams at Campbell University and The Citadel, respectively, while Murphy guides the men’s squad at Georgia Southern.
Those are three schools that were – for the most part – off of my radar during my journalism days. Now, though, I find myself following and cheering for them because I follow and cheer for their coaches.
Which brings me to Mike Noonan, the head men’s soccer coach at Clemson and a man who, last Tuesday, registered his 100th victory as head of the Tigers in a 2-0 win over Furman. Assistant Phil Jones has been there for all of them, so kudos to him as well.
I had the privilege of covering Noonan’s team for a few years, including Clemson’s Final Four run back in 2015 when the squad finished 17-3-4 and reached the national championship game. Like Azem, Traquair and Murphy, he’s someone I came to know – and like.
His coaching demeanor always struck me as “calm intensity,” although there are certain times when intensity is the alpha quality. It’s quite obvious that he expects the very best out of his players from whistle to whistle, and those same players know that’s what they’re getting from him.
As someone who is passionate about soccer, covering Clemson is a blast. Both the men’s and women’s programs are top shelf, and Riggs Field is a picturesque venue.
It might have originally been designed for American football but man, it’s perfect for association football.
So now – since I no longer write about the Tigers as part of a paid gig – I get to sit back and enjoy the show.
And so far in 2019, Noonan’s charges have put on a great one, racing out to an 8-1 record (2-1 in the ACC) and a No. 4 ranking in the United Soccer Coaches poll.
Last season – a rebuilding one – Clemson’s streak of five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances was snapped.
It looks like a new one is about to start.
The calendar hasn’t even flipped to October this year and already Noonan’s charges have eclipsed their victory total from 2018, with conquests of Notre Dame, Duke and South Carolina already in the books.
Following last night’s 3-2 overtime road loss to No. 7 Wake Forest, Noonan stands at 313-175-41 overall with a 100-62-28 mark earned in eight-plus seasons with the Tigers.
Noonan would be the first to tell you that his players get the wins – not him – and he’d be right.
But there are few in the business who do a better job of putting their footballers in a position to succeed, and I was genuinely happy to see him reach the 100-win milestone.
So add Clemson to Campbell, The Citadel and Georgia Southern as soccer programs I cheer for throughout the season because I’m a fan of the people who lead them.
There’s nothing at all wrong with “rooting for laundry,” but sometimes the person on the sideline wearing the school colors makes it really easy to do.