Looks like Arizona State has hired a turn-around artist as its new women’s soccer coach.
Graham Winkworth spent the last four years at University of South Alabama, where he built that mid-major program into a national contender. Taking over a program that had posted two losing seasons in the last three years and one season in the last five that finished above .500, he guided the Jaguars to three straight regular- season conference titles, four conference tournament titles, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament every year.
And he didn’t waste any time getting started. He guided the program to 14 wins in his first season, the most since the 1997 season, and then set a new school record the next year with 19 wins.
That no doubt caught the attention of the ASU search committee. Every administration likes to see quick results from its new coaches.
The 38-year-old native of England was rewarded with a couple of conference Coach of the Year honors, in 2014 and 2015.
“Simply put, Graham has transformed the women’s soccer program at the University of South Alabama,” said his USA Athletics Director Joel Erdmann in announcing his coach’s departure for the desert. “What has been accomplished in his time here is simply astounding.”
Winkworth leaves the Alabama school with a 66-18-7 record, for an impressive .764 winning percentage, to become ASU’s fourth head soccer coach. He’s coming off a 15-6-1 record this season.
Not to diminish his accomplishments at South Alabama, but the Jaguars compete in the Sun Belt Conference. Arizona State plays in a power-5 conference that is loaded with nationally-ranked teams, most notably No. 1 Stanford and No. 6 USC. Then there’s No. 11 UCLA, No. 21 Utah, No. 29 Colorado, and No. 32 Cal. Those are also the top six teams in the Pac-12.
ASU? Last in the conference at 1-9-1.
Thus the need for someone who can build the kind of program the administration insists on, a program that is a part of the national conversation on a consistent basis.
Consistency wasn’t what Kevin Boyd was delivering in recent years. The loss of some top talent to graduation, combined with injuries that have plagued the program the last couple of seasons, took their toll. The Devils finished a disappointing 9-8-1 in 2015 and ended this season on a seven-game losing streak to finish 6-11-2 overall. He managed just four NCAA appearances in his 10 years in Tempe.
On Nov. 7, Boyd resigned from the program he had run since March of 2007 and a national search was begun to find his successor.
“I was impressed with Graham’s skill at building and elevating programs everywhere he has coached,” said ASU Athletics Director Ray Anderson in a statement released Tuesday about the hire. “He has a proven track record of results at every level of the sport and we are excited to bring someone with his degree of skill and expertise into the competitive Pac-12 Conference.”
Winkworth began his coaching career in England, but the 10 years before being hired at South Alabama were spent as head coach at University of North Alabama, where his teams posted a total 111 wins, the most for a coach in school history, and led the program to its first NCAA appearance.
At South Alabama, he was highly successful in attracting the right talent to the program, and then developing it. He coached four straight Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honorees, three Players of the Year, and the program’s first two All-Americans.
In explaining his reason for applying for the ASU job, Winkworth said in an article by Jeff Metcalfe in The Arizona Republic: “When the job came open, I knew very little about Arizona State. But I knew the Pac-12, being for me the strongest soccer conference in the country, was very appealing.”
He has a little more than nine months to prepare for his first Pac-12 encounter. Then we’ll see if the challenge is still ‘appealing.’