Seamus McFadden: USD’s ageless soccer wonder – The San Diego Union-Tribune
The University of San Diego has had an intercollegiate men’s soccer program for 39 seasons. It has had one head coach.
Think about that for a moment.
For that, the university can thank the foresight of Tom Burke for hiring Seamus McFadden to start the program in 1979, and the longevity and work ethic and recruiting prowess and tactical acuity and teaching skill and raw competitiveness and nurturing demeanor of McFadden himself as he nears the conclusion of his 39th, and final, season as head coach.
And a backyard laundry line 4,782 miles away.
McFadden was born in Northern Ireland and grew up on the other side of the border outside Dublin. His father was born in Butte, Montana, the son of Irish immigrants who had come to work the mines, and wanted to retire in the States. His mother was opposed.
“He was always onto my mom about coming, and she was always saying, ‘No, I’m not going,’” McFadden says. “One day in May, the story goes, she went outside and the laundry was all frozen on the line, like a brick. Got her in a moment of softness.”
In 1969 the family moved to San Diego, where his Uncle Vinny was a priest. McFadden was 17.
A decade later, he was hired to build a USD program from scratch that became a necessity when the school elevated its basketball team to NCAA Division I status and needed a certain number of other sports. Thirty-nine years after that, he’s still there.
Sunday’s 5 p.m. game at Torero Stadium against UCLA has been declared “Seamus McFadden Night” to formally honor him. There are four other games left in the regular season plus, at 7-3-2 and with a six-game unbeaten streak, a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament. Then he and longtime assistant Brian Quinn will flip roles, Quinn becoming head coach and McFadden his assistant until stepping away from the program completely in three years.
“You get to the point where there’s kind of calm that comes over you,” says McFadden, 65. “Sometimes you think that you’re fooling yourself, but I honestly, unequivocally feel that it’s Brian’s opportunity. Brian’s been an incredible assistant for me. It’s his time. It’s his opportunity to shine now. It’s his gig now.
“I’ll just be here to facilitate, to help him.”
McFadden ranks eighth among active Div. I coaches in career victories with 384. He’s been West Coast Conference coach of the year nine times and reached the NCAA Tournament 14 times. He’s coached nine all-Americans and 21 WCC players of the year. He reached the NCAA final in 1992 and the Elite Eight in 2002. He knocked off No. 1-ranked teams four times, most recently in UCLA’s last visit to Torero Stadium – a 1-0 decision in 2014 before a crowd of 4,432, the largest to watch a college soccer game in San Diego.
Sunday’s game against UCLA originally was scheduled to be played in Los Angeles, but Bruins coach Jorge Salcedo agreed to move it to Torero Stadium as a goodwill gesture to McFadden in his final season.
It’s the kind of respect he commands across the game. Lev Kirshner, in his 17th season at San Diego State, remembers meeting him for the first time 25 years ago as a junior college women’s coach in Northern California. He went to watch USD play at Santa Clara and introduced himself to McFadden afterward.
“He was such a class act,” Kirshner says. “Here I am this junior college coach, and he wasn’t condescending at all. He had the time of day for me.”
Kirshner and McFadden haven’t fallen far from the same coaching tree. Kirshner learned as an assistant under Chuck Clegg, who was an assistant for legendary SDSU coach George Logan, considered the “father of San Diego soccer.” McFadden played for Logan at SDSU and on Saturday night will be named to the school’s All-50 team to commemorate the program’s 50th anniversary.
But it was a different kind of football that McFadden played when he first arrived in San Diego, living on Skipper Street in Serra Mesa above what was then a new, state-of-the-art stadium in Mission Valley. He showed up at Kearny High in September 1969, and someone on campus mentioned that famed Komets football coach Birt Slater needed a kicker.
What did he know about football?
“Not a thing,” McFadden says. “Didn’t know the rules, nothing. But I figured it was like kicking a rugby ball, and I had done that in Ireland. I remember when I came out, the first time they looked at me they all started laughing because I was this scrawny, little thing. I was 6-2, 150.
“They weren’t laughing when I started putting the ball between the posts.”
McFadden would miss only one field-goal attempt and one extra point all season and says he was named first-team, all-CIF. The second-team selection: La Jolla High’s Rolf Benirschke, who would make 146 field goals over a decade with the Chargers.
“I was good,” says McFadden, who kicked for Mesa College for a year after high school. “But I wasn’t really passionate about it. I was more passionate about playing soccer.”
And, ultimately, coaching it. A knee injury prematurely ended his playing career and he agreed to coach the Clairemont High boys team in 1976 for $6 per hour. The following two seasons, the Chieftains won CIF titles – still the only CIF soccer titles in school history.
He took a few of his Clairemont players with him to Mesa College, and the Olympians were ranked No. 1 in the state.
“I hit the brick wall,” McFadden says.
With no scholarships and no team, he recruited players by placing ads in the student newspaper. The first year was a transitional season with no official games, so he arranged a scrimmage against Mesa. The junior college team won.
Their first official season: 0-12.
“We were dreadfully bad,” McFadden says. “They were nice guys but they were just not good soccer players. And when you’re playing Div. I and you have no Div. I athletes, they tended to get really beat up. We played UNLV, they were No. 2 in the nation, and we had a bit of a bug that went through the team. We were 6-0 or 7-0 down, and I had kids that were dropping like flies. I ended up with seven on the field.
“And they were still butchering me. It ended up 11-0.”