New coach, stadium kick GCU soccer into overdrive
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Mike Vaught, Grand Canyon University’s vice president of athletics, called an old friend last month and asked whether he’d be interested in becoming the University’s new men’s soccer coach or, if not, whether he could recommend someone.
Vaught had only one candidate on his list — the man he was calling, Schellas Hyndman.
“We’re good enough friends that I knew he’d listen,” Vaught said.
The pair had worked together at Southern Methodist University, where Vaught was deputy director of athletics and Hyndman became one of the most successful coaches in college soccer across 24 seasons in which his teams made the NCAA Tournament in all but two. On Dec. 1, Hyndman completed his contract after six years as head coach of FC Dallas of Major League Soccer and readily admits, “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
On Tuesday, Hyndman was introduced as GCU’s coach during a packed press conference in the Student Union that included the announcement that the University will open a new campus stadium in the fall and make soccer the centerpiece of its fall sports offerings.
Hyndman, who ranks sixth among Division I coaches with 466 career victories, has a name and a presence that gives GCU instant credibility in the soccer community. Not only is GCU the only D-I program in Arizona, it now has a coach who is so renowned around the country that President/CEO Brian Mueller said just getting Hyndman to visit the campus and interview for the job “was an honor for us.”
Two freshmen on the GCU team this season, Alexander Ramirez and Niki Jackson, noticed that aura when they and their teammates met with Hyndman on Tuesday. “This is really good for us,” Jackson said.
Not only is the 65-year-old Hyndman a coach through and through — “When the day comes that I’m done coaching, I’m done with soccer,” he said — he also is a man with a fascinating background and a history of overcoming adversity.
He spent his first eight years in China and quickly learned that being a blond, blue-eyed child of Portuguese and Russian descent wasn’t going to make him a frontrunner in any popularity contests there. So he learned martial arts, and today he’s a 10th-degree black belt and looks more fit than people half his age. “He’s my bodyguard,” Vaught joked.
When Hyndman’s family fled the spread of Communist rule in China and eventually wound up in an impoverished section of Springfield, Ohio, he couldn’t speak English. That barrier “really affected my personality — I was very shy and bashful,” he said. Now he’s anything but, and his command of English is excellent although, he said, “If you ask my wife, I’m still learning.”
Hyndman credits athletics with saving him from becoming a nasty kid on the mean streets and has used his bully pulpit in coaching to influence players in positive ways. But don’t think he might be out of touch just because he’s been away from the college scene for six years. Ramirez and Jackson said they knew all about him because of his MLS ties, and Hyndman said being a coach in the pros has helped him become recognized “probably better than ever — they see me every week.”
While Hyndman enjoyed being part of MLS, he’s looking forward to getting back in the college game.
“The pros, they play for the team but they also play for themselves, for their next contract,” he said. “The collegiate player plays for the university. And the thing I love about the college players is that they keep you young.”
Hyndman aims to build on that enthusiasm with the help of the new stadium, to be installed just east of Antelope Gym on what is now an artificial-turf field for intramurals. It will be natural grass and will have 2,800 shaded seats in addition to 10-foot berms on three sides, bringing the capacity to 6,000. The stadium also will be used for lacrosse, rugby, concerts and other events. Intramurals will be relocated to two fields in The Grove, the new configuration of four six-story residence halls being built on the northwest corner of campus.
Making soccer a tailgate-worthy destination is a natural for GCU, which doesn’t have a football team and is primed to warm up for basketball season by embracing a fall sport in a similar manner. The local community is a key part of the equation, considering that soccer is the most popular sport in west Phoenix in addition to being the fastest growing sport in Arizona and the most popular sport in the world. Mueller envisions having the University get involved in youth programs while it seeks to grow its national profile. “It’s a community-building sport,” he said.
Hyndman’s arrival is Vaught’s third major hire in a little more than two months on the job, following a deputy director of athletics (Jamie Boggs) and an assistant athletics director (Renee Gonzalez). Now comes Hyndman, whom Mueller called “the Mike Krzyzewski of soccer,” a reference to the winningest basketball coach in history.
“We shoot for superstars,” Vaught said.
As they walked across campus Tuesday, Vaught said Hyndman noticed the same things about GCU that Vaught did upon his arrival in October. “It’s a got a special tag,” Vaught said. “Sometimes when it’s special you can’t put a finger on it, but you can feel it.”
Said Hyndman, “This is going to be a really cool place to be.”
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected].
What they’re saying about Schellas Hyndman
“The hiring of Schellas Hyndman at Grand Canyon is an incredible day for both the University and the Hyndman family. 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.” — Kevin Grimes, men’s soccer coach, University of California
“Grand Canyon University has scored its first goal of the new year in hiring Schellas Hyndman. He is a proven winner with irrefutable integrity. Schellas will not only bring a new level of success to the men’s soccer program but will also prove to be a valuable mentor to its student-athletes.” — Nelson Rodriguez, U.S. Soccer managing director
“One of the hardest working men I know. He will bring an amazing amount of experience and passion to your program. These players will come in as boys and leave men.” — Jeff Cassar, head coach, Real Salt Lake
“Congratulations to Mike Vaught and President Mueller on hiring Schellas Hyndman to lead the GCU soccer program. Schellas is a proven winner at every level and immediately elevates soccer not only at GCU, but in Phoenix and the entire state of Arizona. He knows what it takes to build a Top 10 national program and win championships, and I looking forward to rooting for him as he does this at GCU.” — Bob Beaudine, Eastman and Beaudine executive search firm
“Shellas is an outstanding soccer coach. His past accomplishments and the student-athletes he has coached are his legacy. It is exciting to see him start another chapter in his coaching career, which I am sure will be successful.” — Sigi Schmid, head coach, Seattle Sounders
“I’d like to congratulate Schellas Hyndman on his appointment as head soccer coach at Grand Canyon University. Schellas is one of the greatest coaches in the history of intercollegiate soccer, and he is a proven winner and leader at every level of the sport in our country. I wish Schellas the very best in his new endeavor.” — Bruce Arena, general manager/head coach, Los Angeles Galaxy
“Schellas is one of the top coaches in the United States. Beyond that, the community of students that is Grand Canyon University will engage with an individual of the highest standards who understands the importance of the overall college experience better than anyone I know. Well done, Grand Canyon University!” — Joe Cummings, chief executive officer, National Soccer Coaches Association of America
“I have considered myself blessed to call Schellas a coach, a colleague and a friend over the last 30 years, and I know he will do an outstanding job putting the GCU soccer program on the map. He is a tremendous teacher and tactician with a long and successful track record at all levels of the sport. Beyond his success on the pitch, he is a man of great character who cares deeply about his players, fellow coaches and everyone associated with his team.” — Clark Hunt, chairman and CEO, Kansas City Chiefs and FC Dallas