Staff Photo: Will Hammock Steve DeCou, the head men's soccer coach at Georgia Gwinnett College, is gearing his team up for its debut season in August. He was previously the head coach at Belhaven College (Miss.).
Steve DeCou is the first head men's soccer coach at Georgia Gwinnett College, which begins play in August. He was previously a successful men's head coach at Belhaven College (Miss.).
DeCou, a Michigan native, has coached for 12 years at the college level, including a stint at Tennessee Temple, where he was a four-year starter from 1991-94. He and his wife, Amy, a Ringgold native who went to Berry College, have one daughter, Sadie.
In this latest installment of "Getting to Know ... ", DeCou talks with sports editor Will Hammock about soccer in Georgia, moving to the South and coaching international players.
WH: What are the benefits of being in Atlanta?
SD: More players. Plain and simple. What I've seen is this office, the university, high school stadiums and club fields in the five months I've been here. We've been recruiting like crazy, trying to meet as many people as possible. Either reestablishing connections I had or making new ones.
WH: You knew this was going to be a recruiting hotbed, right?
SD: Oh yeah. That's one of the reasons I took the job. It's so easy and so much fun recruiting around here. It's an easy sell. You can tell a recruit in Germany, 'Hey, I'm just outside of Atlanta.' And he says, 'OK, I'm coming, coach.' That's versus getting a kid to come to Mississippi, it's totally different.
WH: Tell me about your open tryouts. I heard that went well.
SD: The first three weeks I was here, every guy on the club team came to my office and sat in that chair. They tried to tell me how great they were. So in order to find out for myself and also free up some time so I wasn't having impromptu meetings, we decided to have a tryout. We posted it on campus. I talked to some of the junior college coaches so I could get those guys out. We knew we wanted to have some older guys, some junior college transfers, so we didn't have a team of all freshmen this year. We had those guys coming out and that's all we advertised it. Didn't put it in the paper or anything, just word of mouth. I purchased some numbers, like running numbers in races, so I could identify guys. I had 75 of them. That morning I hired Kevin (May), my assistant, and I said, 'Come on over and help us with tryouts.' We started at 1 p.m. and at about 12:45 he said, 'Coach, we're out of numbers.' I said, 'How many more do we need?' He said, 'About 40.' We had 120 guys show up. And there were some really good players. So out of that we took five guys. Then we brought 40 of those guys back to take a second look at them and had about another 30 show up. So we had about 150 guys show up for tryouts total. That gave us a nice base to begin with and then we went out all over looking at players. I've got about 23 to 25 spots filled.
WH: Was it all GGC students at tryouts?
SD: They were from everywhere. Guys who just heard about it. That just showed me what the interest level was around here.
WH: Did any of the GGC club kids or kids already at GGC make the team?
SD: Two of them. And then the roster is going to be probably 12 internationals and 13 Georgia guys. Well, one guy is a Florida guy but he played at (Georgia) Perimeter. We picked up three who won a national championship two years ago at Tyler Junior College in Texas. We've got a couple coming out of Perimeter, three out of Middle Georgia and two out of Georgia Military. We've got an All-American goalkeeper transferring in from Belhaven. He'll have one year left. They didn't have a computer science degree so he's coming here for academic reasons. He'll have two years left of school so we'll have him as a student assistant (the following year). We'll have two senior transfers, so we'll quickly get that scholarship money back and they'll help us get established. One thing that helped us is junior colleges limited the number of international players they could have. That put a lot of players on the market. We picked up a Brazilian boy from Perimeter with three years left. We've got things spaced out now so it's not going to be a monster freshman class and juniors and that's it. We tried to spread it out among the classes.
WH: Will it be neat to be the first athletic event on campus?
SD: Oh definitely. Any time you're the first. Every school I've been at that's been around 75 or 100 years or whatever, you look back at those old pictures. One day we're going to be in those old pictures as the first. We're buying extra gear, extra jerseys because archives is going to want a jersey from that first game. We're buying extra balls because that first one that goes in for a goal, they're going to want that. We're getting one for the president. Little things like that, you don't think about. But what an honor and a privilege to be the first, not just the first for our team, but the first for our whole athletic program.
WH: You're from Michigan, how do you like the South?
SD: I love it. I love the weather. I married a Georgia peach. She's from Ringgold. I love it. We moved back up north for seven years and I hated the weather. I'll put up with the summer and heat and humidity vs. the other. The day we brought my daughter home from the hospital in Chicago the wind chill was 30 below zero.
WH: You must have scored some big points with the wife moving back to Georgia.
SD: As soon as she gets back full-time. She's finishing out the year. My daughter's finishing up preschool and my wife works where I was, Belhaven, in financial aid. Her boss is battling cancer right now so she's been sticking around to help the transition process. So we're getting things sorted out to get her here. Then, I'll earn my brownie points. But now she's like, 'You're in Atlanta. I'm not.' When they get here, I'll be excited.
WH: Was your wife an athlete, too?
SD: No, she's musical. That's the best thing. Her dad is not athletic. He's a mechanic, that's his hobby. She never grew up in this environment. The old adage, behind a great coach is a great wife, completely supportive -- that's her. The problem we had at Belhaven is that she didn't get to go to as many games. When my daughter got older and prior to us having Sadie, my wife used to travel on road trips with us when she could. Sadie would as well. We were going to play a top-10 team this past year and the boys on the bus are watching "Finding Nemo." I look back and they're all into it. She's grown into that college environment. Because she didn't have that dad who always watched sports on TV, she's like that. I've got buddies of mine whose wives hate sports and don't want anything to do with their husbands' careers. She's totally into it. And she's got her MBA, so she becomes the tutor for our guys taking business classes. She loves it. She's excited to get here and be a part of it. You'll see my daughter running around in a cheerleading uniform. She'll be a fixture on the field.
WH: What do you do outside of soccer? Any hobbies? What do you have time for?
SD: Soccer. I play. I play in a co-ed league at Silverbacks Park. It's my job and my hobby. To keep myself sane, every morning at about 7 I go and get my workout in. I try to read. Because I'm staying with a cousin in Gainesville right now, I usually leave at 5 a.m. and get home at 10 p.m. The hobby now is basically things I can do to unwind and things here in the office. Because the family's not here, I've been able to put in ungodly hours. But you need to. They don't tell you that when you're interviewing, all the things this is going to entail. It's not like you're coming into a school with everything already in place. ... The last guy I know who started a program was about 30 years ago. More soccer programs get cut these days than started.WH: What club teams do you follow? Do you have a favorite?
SD: Manchester United.
WH: And the Chicago Fire, right? I see your banner by your desk.
SD: Yeah, that too. I actually worked for them. When I was in Chicago, I coached their PDL team. That was a gift for me when I left. That was a great experience. We had six guys who are playing MLS now.
WH: Have you seen Man U play in person? What was that like?
SD: It was outstanding. I saw them over here. The first time was when they came to the U.S. in 2002 on one of their summer tours. It was when Ronaldhino first came to Barcelona and they opened Lincoln Financial Field in Philly with 70,000 people in there. To tell you how much of a fan my wife knows I am, that was my birthday present. We watched the game, then had to drive back all night and the next day we started preseason. Quality. I wouldn't have changed a thing.
WH: What's international recruiting like? Is that a big part of it?
SD: We're going to go where we can find the best players. Kevin, my assistant, is headed to Nigeria next month. But ideally, we're not going to have to go as much because the talent level here is so good that the players we want are here in our backyard. But there are still certain positions, still something you're looking for when we're competing (in recruiting) against Clemson, Georgia Southern, North Carolina, the players that we really want get snapped up there because there's still that mentality that Division I is the best level. We can sometimes find that diamond in the rough internationally. I've got a kid who played for me at Belhaven, he played for us for two years and just signed with UC-Santa Barbara. From what I've heard in the spring, he's tearing it up. If he's here in the States, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound striker who scored 17 goals last year, the big schools are all over him. But nobody knew about him. We can use that to supplement our team with a special player if we can get them to come here. We don't want our whole team to be like that. At Belhaven, 10 of our 11 starters were international. That's great for on the field performance, but when you're talking long-term, their parents won't be there in the stands watching them play. They did a great job of getting their friends out. But they're going to go back to their home countries. And what are the chances that they're going to come back for your alumni outings and how well are they going to support the program? If we get guys from Gwinnett County, there's a good chance they'll be giving back and stay involved with the program. It's got its pros and cons. That's why we're going to try to keep it 50-50 or 60-40 here. I think we'll be able to do that much better here than any other place I've been.
WH: What are the challenges of mixing international kids with American players?
SD: Any time you bring anybody together, personalities are different. You've got to be very deliberate with your team-building. Going back to previous experiences, my first-ever job I had All-American kids, but half the team was from Ohio and half the team was from Indiana or Michigan. The Ohio kids all turned into a clique, so we had issues with that. When I got to Belhaven, they had seven Irish guys. They all hung out together and that caused problems. An old coaching friend told me you never get more than three or four from a group, whether that be a local high school, a local club. They have to buy into the group instead of 'we did it this way.' You have to be deliberate with your team-building that way. If we get cliques, it's going to be detrimental to our performance.
WH: What do you see the long-range potential for this program?
SD: It's very simple. We will win championships. I wouldn't have left the job I was at if I didn't think we could. We've got the base. We've got the location. We've got the university. You've seen the plans. Selling that to a player, they're going to be like, 'Sign me up, coach.' The academic opportunities they're going to have here. The opportunities Gwinnett County and Atlanta have to offer. Kevin and I, with our backgrounds, we're going to help guys be very successful. We're going to bring in a better player to begin with, help coach them up to where they need to be and we're going to win. We're going to win. This team we're putting together right now, on paper, this is a pretty good team. We're going to be athletic, guys who can play. We would have done very well in the Southern States Conference, which is one of the best NAIA conferences in the country, soccer-wise. We're looking to do two things -- win championships and graduate players.