Pitt fans haven't known much in the way of success from the school's soccer program recently. That all could change - and soon.
Last month, long-time coach Joe Luxbacher retired. If you're unfamiliar with the program, that name might not mean a ton. But Luxbacher hasn't only served as the program's coach for the past 32 years, but was one of its best players of all time. Playing in the 1970s, he still holds records for career goals (37) and goals in a game (seven), and had a seven-year pro career. He arguably is Pitt soccer.
Luxbacher was a two-time Big East Coach of the Year and in 2000, had the Panthers all the way up to No. 7 in the nation. The program, however, has fallen on some hard times.
After that season that saw the Panthers go 13-5-0, the program has endured 15 consecutive losing years. That isn't a typo - Pitt soccer hasn't hard a winning year since the turn of the century. Woof.
It was hoped that the move to the ACC would help the program become more competitive, even if not immediately. That's still the hope, but so far, early returns have been pretty bad.
For the record, Luxbacher wasn't fired. Per his words in the press release, he cites wanting to pursue some other interests. At the same time, new athletic director Scott Barnes has made it abundantly clear that Pitt needs all of its programs to succeed. 15 straight losing years just isn't acceptable. Regardless of how Luxbacher leaves the program (and how much of a part of the program he has been for nearly four decades), the fact is that it was time for a change.
Enter new head coach Jay Vidovich.
Barnes hired Vidovich this week in what can only be described as a big-time splash. He reportedly was in town on November 20th to interview.
While Luxbacher may not have been forced out, Barnes made it clear that change was necessary, citing a need to 'change the culture and trajectory' of the program. Vidovich, in turn, referenced Barnes' enthusiasm (among other things) after his hiring.
"It is certainly an exciting time to be a Pitt Panther and I'm thrilled to be back in the ACC leading a men's soccer program with a rich history and such tremendous potential," said Vidovich. " I would like to thank Scott Barnes and the search committee for providing me and my family with this opportunity and for welcoming us so warmly to this great city. From my very first phone conversation, I could sense the energy and enthusiasm behind the new leadership and vision at Pitt and I am honored to be a part of this impressive team of people.
So who is he? Here's the rundown.
Vidovich is best known for his handiwork at Wake Forest. During his time there, he made the Demon Deacons into one of the most respected programs in the country and won the 2007 National Championship. He was a two-time national Coach of the Year and a five-time ACC Coach of the Year. In other words, he knows what he's doing. While it's probably a little biased, one player on that national championship team said at the time he left the school that he was the best men's soccer coach in the entire NCAA.
Even if he's not quite that good, it's clear that he's an excellent hire. Think someone like Rick Pitino, who left Kentucky for the NBA only to resurface at Louisville. Minus the fact that Pitt soccer isn't as good as Louisville basketball was at the time, that's what this sort of sounds like.
After the 2014 season, his 21st at Wake Forest, Vidovich went to the pros to lead the Portland Timbers 2 - a third-tier U.S. soccer professional team. There had been speculation he would leave for the pros one day and that was it. But after only one year, the two sides parted ways (it was reportedly mutual). Obviously, the situation was somewhat of a surprise. Here was a successful coach in college who left a big-time program to leave for the pros only to leave after a single season. To say that's sort of weird would be an understatement.
But whatever the reason for the mutual departure, it really worked out in Pitt's favor. That the Panthers were able to lure such an attractive coach to a program that has been at or near the bottom of the ACC is mind-boggling to me. But Pitt is also a promising landing spot because it's in a premier conference with good facilities.
Speaking of the ACC, while we don't know what Vidovich is making, my guess is that you can probably thank the conference and its money for this hire. The money Pitt has secured as a member of the ACC has been cited quite a few times as reason the athletics programs are in much better shape. Pitt is able to use more money to recruit, improve facilities, and ding, ding, ding, hire better coaches.
Vidovich doesn't only win, but is apparently known as an ace recruiter, too, at least according to this article for a soccer site that broke down his initial move to the pros. He is also apparently is a good developer of talent, according to one of his former players at Wake and now with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
"(Vidovich) is definitely an unbelievable soccer mind. His training sessions were always well thought out and planned, and every year his guys get better," Arena said. "It was a pleasure to play for him, and it's good to see him there. He can really help that program."
Even if you're not a big fan of the soccer program, you have to be excited about this hire. Vidovich is exactly the kind of coach Pitt needs to build more enthusiasm around the program, recruit better players, and ultimately win more games. Not to be too premature here, this sounds like the kind of hire that can be a real program-changer.
Barnes said he was serious about all programs being competitive and in his short time here, it's easy to see that he meant it. Game on, ACC. Game. Freaking. On.