GCU replaces hall-of-fame soccer coach with ‘rookie’ Griffin

A new era is about to begin for the Grand Canyon University men’s soccer program.  But this time, the school is taking an entirely different approach to building for the future.

In January of 2015, after the GCU program fired Petar Draksin, who had been coaching soccer at the small Christian school in west Phoenix for 28 years, it brought in a hall of fame coach with decades of experience at the college level and another six years in the professional game to take over the program.

GCU had decided that soccer would become a major component of the school’s athletic branding efforts, to the extent of even building a 2,800-seat state-of-the-art soccer stadium.  So Schellas Hyndman was hired and tasked with taking the program to an elite level to bring the school much-needed national recognition that would help with the marketing effort that began years earlier with the hire of high-profile coaches for its baseball and basketball programs.

One of his coaching peers who knows Hyndman well, Cal’s Kevin Grimes, called him “one of the all-time great coaches in the history of college soccer.”  And Hyndman had the credentials to back up that claim.

In his 24 years as head coach at Southern Methodist University, he never had a losing season.  He took that 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.  Prior to that, he spent seven seasons at Eastern Illinois where his teams made three appearances in the College Cup.

During his time at GCU, he moved the program closer to being a national contender, taking the Antelopes to the NCAA Tournament two of his last three seasons.  His 2021 team went through the regular season undefeated, but lost its final two games, the first in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament final and then in the opening match of the NCAA Tournament.

But the 2018 season was the only other year he posted a winning record.  That team finished 12-8-1, won the conference tournament championship, and knocked off five top-25 teams along the way.

The 69-year-old veteran of 37 years coaching announced his retirement in January, before the start of the season.

This time, GCU has taken a different approach to hiring, giving the job to a 38-year-old with just two years of head-coaching experience under his belt.

Leonard Griffin (above photo) has spent the last decade as an assistant with several Division I programs before being hired as head coach by University of San Francisco, where he spent two seasons before taking over the GCU job.  Last year’s USF squad finished 5-4-2.

During his college playing career at UCLA, he was an All-American defender and part of the Bruins’ 2002 national championship team.  He went on to spend six years in the professional game, playing for three different MLS teams.

Griffin began his coaching career in 2008 as an assistant at CS San Bernardino.

In accepting the GCU coaching job earlier this month, Griffin made an interesting statement.  “I’m still learning and growing,” he admitted.

Probably not the most comforting words to a GCU fan base that just lost a hall of fame coach.