Soccer has just been elevated to major-sport status at Grand Canyon University.
The announcement yesterday of the hire of a high-profile coach with decades of experience at the college level and another six years at the professional level comes at the same time the small Christian school in west Phoenix unveiled plans for a new 2,800-seat soccer stadium.
Schellas Hyndman was introduced to the media in a press conference yesterday at the GCU Student Union, surrounded by the type of attention normally reserved for football or basketball. But the school’s new athletic director Mike Vaught and college president Brian Mueller have decided that soccer will become a major component of the school’s athletic branding efforts.
GCU has no football program, so it has built a promotional effort around its basketball program to help build the school’s profile in the community, as well as across the country. It is counting on athletics as being the driving force behind pushing up its on-campus enrollment numbers.
To that end, former Phoenix Suns player and assistant coach Dan Majerle was brought in last season to give the program instant recognition and credibility, and former Suns owner and sport magnate Jerry Colangelo was hired as an assistant to the president to help guide the school through a four-year transition from Division II to D-I ball.
Then the school built a 5,000-seat arena to help lure recruits and demonstrate its commitment to building its basketball program and taking it to the next level.
Mueller compared Hyndman to Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has build the Blue Devils men’s program into one of the most elite in the nation during his 34 years as the head coach. Hyndman spent 31 years as a college coach and six years coaching FC Dallas, a Major League Soccer (MLS) team, during which time he was named Coach of the Year.
The college president called him “one of the best collegiate coaches in the history of men’s soccer.”
In order to make room for Hyndman, Vaught had to first fire former head coach Petar Draksin, who had been coaching soccer at the school for the past 28 years.
Draksin led the Antelopes to five Pacific West Conference titles in the last seven years, before the ‘Lopes began the transition period to D-I. They finished that final season of D-II play as the No. 10 team in the nation and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II Tournament.
But the ‘Lopes went 4-14-1 in their first season of D-I competition and won just five games last season. So in mid-December, Vaught pulled the trigger and told Draksin the school was going to “move in another direction.”
Now we know what direction that is going to be.
This becomes the first major coaching decision of the Vaught era. The 53-year-old Vaught, who came to the job in mid-October with a wealth of experience at the college level, also replaced someone with a long history with the school. Keith Baker had been the AD for the past 20 years, but had also played baseball there as a student and served as the sports information director and assistant AD along the way to becoming athletic director in 1994.
He, too, has become collateral damage along the way in the attempt to take the GCU athletic program to an elite level. But he does continue to work at the school in a different capacity.
So the new athletic director has hired a new soccer coach. And it looks like a pretty safe first move.
Hyndman never had a losing season in his 24 years as head coach at Southern Methodist University, took the program to 22 NCAA Tournament appearances and the College Cup game twice, won six conference tournament and nine regular-season championships, and was named Coach of the Year eight times.
Kevin Grimes, the men’s soccer coach at the University of California, pointed out that “Schellas is already one of the all-time great coaches in the history of college soccer. His hiring immediately puts Grand Canyon on the national soccer map.”
And that’s right where Mueller and Vaught want their newly-minted soccer program to be.
So move over, Majerle, there’s a new big-time coach on campus.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Darryl Webb)