August 24, 2011

Turning it around: A coaching primer

More news about: Otterbein women's team


Otterbein Coach Brandon Koons

by Adam Prescott

For the last 20 years, Brandon Koons has made Otterbein University soccer his life. He spent four seasons with the Otterbein men’s program before graduating in 1994 and coming on board as a graduate assistant coach.

While getting his masters’ degree, Koons helped implement the men’s junior varsity program while also specializing in recruitment. His efforts were so strong that many of the talented players he recruited in 1998 later helped the program reach the 2002 national championship game as seniors.

But after finishing out his graduate degree in 1998, it was time for Koons to assume a new challenge…. his first full-time position as head coach of the Otterbein women’s soccer team. He would take over a program with an all-time record of 35-134-7, and face an uphill climb.

“I knew when I was a student that I wanted to work here,” said Koons, who now lives near Westerville with his wife Barbara and daughters Mackenzie (11) and Madison (6). “I remember walking around campus with my wife, and we used to talk about how cool it would be to work at Otterbein.”

His commitment, excitement, and dedication paid off as he led the team to a then-school record nine wins in his inaugural season at the helm. The immediate success did not stop there, as the improvement continued with ten wins in 2000, 11 in 2001, 15 in both 2002 and 2003, and culminating with the current school record of 20 wins in 2005, 2009 and again in 2010.

“He has a calming intensity that transfers to his team, and their play demonstrates the confidence the program now has,” said Otterbein Athletic Director Dick Reynolds. “His personality fits well and his athletes all appreciate the attention and honesty he gives.”

Koons led the program to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004, and back again in 2005 and 2006. The 2005 tournament run would be their best, falling in the Sweet 16 on penalty kicks.

After missing the NCAA’s in 2007, Koons saw endless possibilities with an emerging freshman class looking to redeem themselves after what many felt was an underachieving 2007 season.

The team answered the challenge, bouncing back to win three-straight Ohio Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles. After back to back exits in the NCAA Sweet 16, including a 2009 defeat in double overtime to national power and eventual champion Messiah, the team got over the hump and made the NCAA Final Four in 2010. The Cardinals would hold Hardin-Simmons, the nation’s highest scoring team, scoreless over 110 minutes before falling in penalty kicks. HSU would go on to win the national title the following day.

“I had no idea that we could do this when I started 13 years ago,” said Koons. “The biggest goal we had ever set was to win the conference, so to go above and beyond that has been really cool.”

Even more exciting is the fact that Koons ended the most recent journey with a group of seniors that he’d known since they were young kids, some all the way back to the age of nine.

“Everything came together for a great team with a great attitude, but then you add in a handful of kids who I’ve known for a long time, and it becomes so neat to see them grow into young adults and realize what they’re capable of,” he said.

Now, the dust from a memorable season has settled and eight record-setting seniors have departed. Gone are all four members from the nation’s top-ranked defense, including the National Goalkeeper of the Year and a three-time All-America defender, the team’s leading scorer from the past four seasons, and ¾ of the starting midfield.

But Koons remains, and now he’ll continue to do what he loves the most… devoting every possible moment into molding a group of players and coaches together to create the best team he can. He will help guide a core group of returnees to the next level of their careers, all while combining their skills with those of an extremely talented incoming class. And he wouldn’t want to perform his job anywhere else.

“I’ve always liked the feeling of the athletic department here and having all the coaches work together,” said Koons of the special place Otterbein holds in his heart. “I think it’s really cool when I look out and all of our ball boys are men’s basketball or baseball players, as well as all of the other coaches, professors, and administrators who come out to watch. Everyone works together and everyone really does care. It’s the family feel I’ve always wanted.”

There is little doubt that Koons will continue to perform wizardry in Westerville, a setting that has seen him build a coaching record of 177-45-21 (.797) and turn a once dismal program record into a mark that currently stands at 212-179-28.

“He is patient, detail oriented, and has always worked well within the athletic department here,” Reynolds said. “Brandon’s productivity has been very noticeable and as a result his reputation in the local soccer world, and now all of Division III, has become even more positive.”

The OAC’s all-time leader in victories, he has seen his team finish in the top-ten nationally each of the past three seasons, including a #3 ranking to end the 2010 campaign. The Cardinals boasted the nation’s top-ranked defense last season, allowing just four goals over 24 matches.

Regardless of any praise and accolades that Koons or his program receives, his feelings will always relate back to the relationships he has built with so many successful student-athletes.

“We recruit a certain type of kid, and a lot of times it’s a kid that I’ve known for a long time,” he said. “So it’s been wonderful to take a kid over four years, or sometimes longer, and see their success. That’s what makes me the most happy.”

His work with kids has gone far beyond the collegiate setting, as he has become a fixture among the Columbus soccer youth throughout the last 15 years by heading various club programs and running summer sessions for Unites Soccer Camps. However, he’ll be quick to remind you of his primary focus at Otterbein.

“This is my world cup, this is my professional team,” he said. “I’ve put so much into this and have enjoyed every bit of it.”

Adam Prescott is the Assistant SID at Otterbein University