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August 11, 2009

Gettin' Down to 'Briz'ness - Mike Brizendine talks about his new job as Tech's head men's soccer coach and previews the 2009 season

By: Matt Kovatch

Mike Brizendine

On June 2, Oliver Weiss abruptly and unexpectedly resigned from his post as the head men’s soccer coach at Virginia Tech. Nine days later, on June 11, longtime assistant Mike Brizendine was promoted to the vacant spot after spending five seasons as Weiss’ right-hand man.

Brizendine now has the task of turning around a team that finished last in the ACC in 2008, just one season removed from a run to the NCAA College Cup semifinals in 2007.

‘Briz,’ as he is known around the athletics department, sat down in mid-July for a Q&A to discuss his first month on the job, as well as the outlook of the first season in the new era of Virginia Tech men’s soccer.

IHS: First of all, congrats on the promotion. How has life been treating you as the new head man?

MB: It’s been very hectic, but also exciting. Just trying to get our staff together [finding newly-hired Patrick McSorley to join Brizendine and first-year assistant Kevin Doyle] has been a crucial element. Between that, recruiting and all of the office work, it’s been busy.

IHS: Oliver’s resignation kind of came out of nowhere. What was your initial reaction?

MB: I was shocked and kind of disappointed. I worked for him for five-and-a-half years, and over that time, I developed a respect for him and a friendship with him. It was sad to think that we wouldn’t be working together because we were trying to do some things to get moving in the direction toward another College Cup run.

IHS: Did you immediately think, “Hey, this could be my job now?” Or were you worried that someone else might get hired and come in and clean house?

MB: There’s always that concern. My hope was that after five years, they [Tech administrators] knew what they were getting from me. I was either what they were looking for or I wasn’t. I love Virginia Tech and I love Blacksburg and the thought of leaving made me anxious, so I’m obviously thrilled about the opportunity. It’s a wonderful chance for me.

IHS: What were your feelings right after you found out that you had gotten the job?

MB: It was exciting, but it was overwhelming, as well. I wanted to get started, I wanted to make an impression and I wanted to get my own ways out there. With Oliver leaving, I felt like we were falling behind a little bit, so I wanted to get in there, get us caught up and get us up to speed. We not only needed to get ready for this season, but we also needed to get moving on recruiting for the next two years. When Oliver left, that left us with 2010 recruits who were already committed to him, so we had to talk with those folks. We were also looking at kids for 2011 as well. Things kind of stood still until we saw what was going to happen [in terms of the hiring]. Once that decision was made, we had to act quickly, get on e-mail and get people to call us so we could chat about our direction. The recruiting aspect was very important.

IHS: How has the reaction of the guys on the team been?

MB: I think it’s been good. There has been a lot of communication between the guys and myself. Obviously, there was definite shock amongst the players, but we have competitive players and they want to succeed. They’re excited about the upcoming year and the task of trying to prove that they’re better than the 5-13 record we had last year. Especially with guys like Alexander Baden, James Gilson, Charlie Campbell and James Shupp – these guys are leaders who want to win. For a couple of them, it’s their last go-round and they want to make it as competitive and successful as possible.

IHS: You mentioned that you had to jump right into recruiting from day 1. What would you say your recruiting philosophy is now that this is your team? Does it differ from Oliver’s?

MB: I definitely picked up some great things when I was working with Oliver. The key with all of this – coaching and recruiting and everything else – is to take what I’ve learned over the years from different people, add in my own impressions on how it should be done, and that’s the way that we’ll do it. Basically, my formula will include some of the key pieces that I thought were excellent from other coaches whom I’ve worked with, and then I’ll add my own twist to it.

IHS: That being said, what are some specific strategies you’ll be applying going forward?

MB: We really want to get into the market with the top-tier American kids, which is something we haven’t attracted in the past. To do that, one risk – and it is very much a risk – is to start recruiting kids earlier. That’s one thing that we haven’t done. To do a thorough job, especially with the way that the NCAA [recruiting] rules are, it’s difficult. You can’t call the kids and you can’t e-mail some of them so you have to work through a club coach. Trying to do that thorough of a job so early on is a risk because things often don’t pan out, but we need to get into that market because our competitors are already there. We haven’t traditionally gone heavy into the under-17 U.S. national team either, and that’s another market that we plan on picking up. Kevin Doyle has great contacts in the Midwest and also with the national team, so we plan on really using those avenues to broaden the states from which we get kids, as well as raising the level of kids that we go after.

IHS: An outsider might wonder how a team can go from the College Cup one year to going winless in the ACC the next, but you guys had a much different roster last season. What was that situation like?

Charlie Campbell was instrumental in Tech's 2007 College Cup run, and he returns to the lineup this year after missing most of the 2008 season with injuries.

MB: It was difficult. It was kind of a ‘perfect storm’ type of setting. First of all, we lost arguably the best player in all of college soccer in Patrick Nyarko. Secondly, we had Alex Baden, who was one of our next best players, go down in the last spring game with an ACL injury. Then we lost Charlie Campbell, who had a myriad of injuries. Also, some of our international players didn’t work out. If everybody played and it was how we pictured it, last year would’ve been a very different scene. We had brought in a bunch of freshmen – fringe guys who needed a year or two to develop – to take some time to learn and get accustomed to things, but they had to step in right away and that became challenging to get them ready to contribute so early. The good news for us this year is that those guys became a little more seasoned. They know what it takes now.

IHS: Because of all that inexperience, you guys were forced to experiment a lot with different combinations to find something that worked. What did you learn from that, and will you have to do it again this year with another large rookie class?

MB: Last year, we were pretty much trying anything to get some momentum going. This year, I don’t think we’ll mix and match as much because I think we have enough of the older guys. My hope is that we even end up redshirting a number of our freshmen this year so they can get a year to develop. When we went to the College Cup, we had guys like Ben Nason and Scott Spangler, both of whom were fifth-year players who had taken redshirt years. We had older guys and that’s how you succeed. We want to get back into doing that. We might take our lumps, but I think it will be very beneficial in the long term. I think we have a couple freshmen in this class who could potentially start or play significant minutes, but others may need to sit for a year and learn.

IHS: You already mentioned Alex Baden and Charlie Campbell – how glad are you to have them returning from injury?

MB: Oh, it’s significant. Charlie was our man during the run to the College Cup – he was outstanding. And Baden – even if he’s at 50 percent – helps us a bunch. Those two are key elements just because of their leadership. Alex’s leadership alone makes us a better team. We would’ve won two or three more games last year just with him back there organizing things. I’m very excited to have them back.

IHS: The time in net last year was split almost evenly between three goalkeepers. How do you see that position shaking out?

MB: It’s going to be a battle between Brendan Dunn and Stefan Caulfield (Thomas St. Germain is not returning.). One of them needs to solidify the spot. I’ll lean on [goalkeeping coach] Kevin Doyle, and whatever direction he wants to go, that’s the direction we’ll go. Just having some consistency back there will help tremendously. We’re confident that one of them will step up and take care of the job for us, but we need to find a starter in there – somebody whom we’re going to stick with.

IHS: James Gilson was primarily a defender early in his career, but he stepped up last year and led the team in nearly every category. What do you expect out of his senior campaign?

James Gilson celebrates with the team after he scored a goal last season. In 2009, the Hokies will look to him again to be a team leader.

MB: He can do anything. He’s a special player and I honestly think he’s a professional prospect.

Last year was just a case of him doing what the team needed, but he can defend, he can go forward, he can play the middle and he can play out wide. There’s really nothing that he can’t do.

IHS: Who do you see helping him out on the offensive end?

MB: Our defense should be pretty stable, but we’re going to have to call on some young guys – [sophomores] Luiz Yamashita, Emmanuel Akogyeram and Clarke Bentley – to help on the attack. We’re going to have to score by committee, and my hope is that we’ll have a bunch of different guys with four, five or six goals.

I want us to be a high-pressure team that gets after people. I want us to be defending by attacking.

IHS: Finally, what are your realistic goals and expectations for the upcoming season?

MB: In this first year, I want us to make strides toward getting back to the top. We need to win some ACC games. I believe that we have the talent to be competitive in every game. We may come up with the short end of the stick in some of those games, but we’ll win some of them, too. My goal is to make sure that we’re competitive and that we’re maxing out our potential to try to get some results. I want us to be back in the NCAA Tournament. Our ultimate goal is to make the College Cup – but we first need to expect to make the NCAA Tournament.