Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
You want to talk impact? Just ask new coach Schellas Hyndman about his plans for the Grand Canyon University men’s soccer program and let him unleash the boundless enthusiasm of a martial arts expert who greets you with a hearty handshake and a clap on the back and describes his energy as “contagious.”
“There are so many great things here,” he began, warming to the subject the way a summer day in Phoenix tends to test a thermometer’s upper limits. “I loved where I lived (Dallas). It was more of a personal challenge to me to give up that comfort zone and come here. “But I was truly excited to be working with Mike Vaught (GCU’s vice president of athletics) again, and the first time I met President (and CEO Brian) Mueller, it was like, ‘Wow, where has this guy been my whole life?’” You can’t help but think of the scene in “Scent of a Woman” where Al Pacino bellows to the assembly, “I’m just getting warmed up!” Let the man talk — he has more to say.
“I think the impact we can make is the same thing we learned when we were children and our parents told us, ‘Always be cautious of your first impression. It’s everlasting,’” Hyndman said. “I want to have a really good impact here — I use the word ‘impression’ — that we’re committed to this program.
“I think we also have a wonderful opportunity to have an impact in the community. This is huge. I see a lot of similarities between Southern Methodist University when I started in 1984 and GCU.”
So where is the GCU program? It’s the only NCAA Division I men’s soccer program in Arizona, in an area that loves the world’s most popular sport. It’s the focal point of what promises to be a beautiful new stadium, scheduled to open next year. And it aims to be a nationally recognized destination for the top collegiate players, led by a man who is sixth among D-I coaches with 466 victories.
Soccer is about to be a much bigger deal at GCU. Friday night games this season will feature a student “March to the Match,” and the Havocs student section, the Thundering Heard Pep Band and the cheer and dance teams all will be part of the festivities at home games. Soccer will be to the fall sports season what basketball is to winter’s. Vaught had witnessed Hyndman’s magic touch firsthand when he was SMU’s deputy director of athletics, and when Vaught approached Hyndman about the job, he was considering three other coaching offers and also was the keynote speaker at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention.
“We have the best coach in college soccer,” Vaught said of Hyndman, who took SMU to 22 NCAA tournaments in 24 seasons and also coached FC Dallas of Major League Soccer for six years and was named MLS Coach of the Year in 2010, when FC Dallas went all the way to the league final before losing. “With his connections we had a top recruiting class even though he had only two weeks to recruit. That’s only going to improve. And with our new state-of-the-art soccer stadium he’s going to have an opportunity to win a national championship here.”
Other GCU coaches have tapped into Hyndman’s wealth of knowledge. “He’s a great guy, and it’s nice to have someone like that who is very forward-thinking,” women’s soccer coach Stevie Gill said. Gill, like Hyndman, is looking forward to a season in which both GCU teams have high hopes.
The GCU women, whose schedule includes a visit to defending national champion Florida State, won seven of their last eight matches last season to tie for third in the Western Athletic Conference and figure to be a WAC title contender this year.
“It really boosted our confidence,” said goalkeeper Blakely Fraasch, WAC Freshman of the Year last season. “It showed we have a lot of potential and can compete in the WAC.”
The forecast for the GCU men is equally bright, and it started with the arrival of Hyndman. “His desire to coach the players and create relationships with them was instantly noticed,” goalkeeper Luca Licciardi said.
Hyndman noticed in spring practices that “we have some pretty daggone good players right here — they just need a little bit of refining.” And the players certainly noticed Hyndman’s input.
“He’s really relaxed but so sharp,” Licciardi said. “He’s a thinker. You can tell what’s going on in his mind because he’ll analyze and then pick the right time and explain it. When Schellas is talking, everyone’s listening. Every word that he says gives us a chance to learn something.”
Hyndman’s goal is to make the program a staple on campus — he and longtime assistant Brent Erwin even taught a “Soccer 101” seminar for students and faculty — and a player on a national scale.
“One day this could be like what Omaha is to NCAA baseball,” he said, referring to the site of the College World Series. “We’re aiming for Division I soccer playing its championships at GCU because of the field, the facility and, remember, the weather.”
Don’t forget the presence of Schellas Hyndman. He’s just getting warmed up.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.