Gregg Tavani, 30, is in his fifth season as the head boys soccer coach at Duluth High School and his eighth year of coaching overall. The Dunwoody High graduate is always busy with the sport, coaching two local youth club teams as well as running his popular Tavani Soccer Camp during the summer.
In this latest installment of "Getting to Know...," Tavani talks with staff writer Corey Clark on a variety of topics, ranging from his on-field demeanor to his playing days at Flagler College to the Olive Garden.
CC: So I understand you're pretty laid back during a match?
GT: (laughs) Umm, no. I'm definitely not laid-back. I'm pretty intense. I think soccer is the best sport in the world and I try to pay it back by giving it all my intensity and all my passion. And I love coaching. I put my all into it. When you work hard throughout the season, games are like the tests and you want to get positive results. You try to balance it with composure and intensity.
CC: And you were just miked up again for Gwinnett Prep Rally right? Do they get the real Gregg Tavani Experience?
GT: Well, I'm not on TV that much so it's not 100 percent natural. It's a little artificial, I guess. Plus, we beat Dacula 6-0, so I wasn't as loud as maybe I usually am. But I'm still pretty intense. The main thing is getting publicity for my players. I do whatever I can to put them into the spotlight.
CC: You're 7-1-2 and 4-0 in region, so it looks like Duluth is back?
GT: We're working hard. It's a tough region and we're taking it one game at a time. We've scraped by in a couple of games, but so far so good. We haven't played the big dogs yet and we're definitely still the underdogs. But we've started off pretty well.
CC: What's your favorite Italian dish?
GT: Oh, I grew up on Italian. I would say lasagna and pasta. My dad is from Italy and my grandmother is, and my mom has become very good at cooking it. She makes world-famous lasagna.
CC: So as a person who has experienced true Italian cuisine, what are your thoughts on the Olive Garden? Have you ever even eaten there before?
GT: My favorite is Maggiano's, but yeah I've eaten at the Olive Garden. When I played in college, I didn't have a big budget so we went to the Olive Garden quite a bit.
CC: And you liked it?
GT: Well, they basically put it in a microwave. There's a big-time difference between them and Maggiano's, but it's better than Shoney's on the road. But not much better. Good microwaves though.
CC: How did you and your wife meet?
GT: We were actually set up through family.
CC: So it was a blind date?
GT: Yeah, it was. I guess she liked me. We went bowling (with her sister and husband). And I guess the set up was if she liked me, I was invited to the after party. So I guess I was cool enough to be invited back.
CC: What were you like as a soccer player, I imagine you weren't too laid-back then either?
GT: Yeah, I was pretty intense. I wasn't like a future professional soccer player, I was just a solid college player. I was intense and I loved the game. I trained all the time, and I was always around the game. Like they say, the best players aren't always the best coaches, and I kind of knew in high school and college that I wanted to coach.
CC: You grew up in one of the biggest football-loving states in the country, where did this love for soccer come from?
GT: Definitely my dad. He played on the streets of Italy and New York. He got me and my brothers to start playing when we were 4. He instilled that passion and we just kept it going. I guess it's my mom with the Italian food and my dad with the soccer. Both of my parents instilled a passion for life.
CC: What about being a coach appealed to you? How did you know that's what you wanted to do so early?
GT: Soccer is more than a game for me ... and I love education and I love being around kids. I love being around a team, a group atmosphere, the camaraderie, and it's great to see a team improve and see them come together and accomplish their goals.
CC: How many World Cups have you been to?
GT: Three. I went to Mexico City in 1986, Washington D.C. in 1994 and France in 1998. In the 1986 World Cup, I saw maybe the best player ever in Diego Maradona. But the thing is, I didn't tell my teacher that I was leaving school early, I left like a week early, and I got a C in fourth grade because I wasn't there. But hey, I enjoyed the World Cup.
CC: How long do you see yourself coaching at the high school level?
GT: My goal is to coach forever. I'm the kind of guy, I never get bored. I always like working and working hard and doing fun stuff. So I'm going to coach forever, and I want to teach as long as I can. I want to coach high school, coach club, as long as I can. As long as they let me. I just love teaching and coaching.