George Lidster decided in the spring that the upcoming season would be his last as the head coach of the men’s soccer team.
Lidster surveyed the changes in the athletic department, spearheaded by the arrival of new Director of Athletics Patrick Nero, and made the decision. But it wasn’t until months later, when the announcement heralding his retirement was finally released, that the head coach, now entering his 24th year with the program, fully felt the magnitude of his decision.
“The e-mails started pouring in from past players and friends and past staffs, and really it was then that it kicked in,” Lidster said. “I got an e-mail from one of the players on my very first team, he’s back in England, he’s got kids, he’s a headmaster at a school in England. It’s little things like that.”
Now that the dust has settled slightly and the initial flurry of well-wishers and voices from the past has calmed, Lidster’s found time to begin to process his decision. It won’t be easy to walk away from the sidelines, he knows, but he stays firm in his belief that this is his time.
Lidster only needs to visit the field to find proof that times are changing. It’s undeniable that the Department of Athletics is getting a face lift: its impact on the men’s soccer program is already visible, complete with new turf and bleachers adorning the team’s field.
“I just felt it was time for me,” Lidster said. “And it was time for a younger guy, maybe, to take the reins.”
The search for Lidster’s replacement began immediately, but those conducting it are challenged with replacing the program’s all-time leader in victories, with 191 heading into this season. He guided GW to three NCAA tournament appearances, ten Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament appearances and two A-10 tournament championships. It was under Lidster, a two-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, that the team truly found its legs and corresponding success, despite sometimes facing facilities and space challenges.
The Colonials were always creative in finding venues at which to train, Lidster pointed out, noting that the team’s claimed surfaces everywhere from the National Mall to other universities with open space. So it’s hardly surprising that the period of his career as a Colonial that Lidster looks back on the most fondly is the stretch from 2000 to 2005, where the arrival of better facilities corresponded with success on the field.
“That little period from maybe 2000 to 2005, where we got the new fields here at [the Mount Vernon Campus], we got locker rooms for the first time, we actually had our own field for the first time,” Lidster recounted. “And obviously we had success with two Atlantic 10 championships. That was an exciting period.”
Now, though, the man who guided the program through those changes and led it to those successes is departing. But just because the news has been announced doesn’t mean Lidster is changing his stride.
There is, after all, still one last season to complete. It’s a season Lidster anticipates will be both physically and mentally demanding, resulting in the veteran head coach emphasizing conditioning as he looks to the A-10 championship. That’s the end goal, of course, because a coach like Lidster is determined to exit on top.
It’s also a chance for GW to redeem itself after what Lidster calls a “devastating” 2010 season that saw multiple players sidelined by injury. Without adequate depth on the roster, the Colonials finished 3-15-0, 13th of 14 in the Atlantic 10. This year, the team is determined to rebuild, taking the field with what Lidster calls “a move to rebound.”
“They’re stronger, they’re fitter and they’ve got a great attitude, there’s great team chemistry, great team spirit. But until the season starts, we’ll never know. Our aim is to be ready for the A-10 tournament,” Lidster said. “That’s where the proof’s in the pudding.”
No matter the outcome of the season, however, once the final whistle sounds, Lidster will walk off the field with the Colonials for the last time. It’s sure to be a bittersweet day, marked by both celebration and an undercurrent of melancholy as a program and its devoted leader prepare to part ways.
In the back of his mind, Lidster knows he’ll never fully leave GW behind.
“I’ll always be a GW man. I feel like this is almost my alma mater, even though it’s not,” Lidster said. “I’ve been here so long, I feel like a Colonial, and GW will continue to be a big part of my life.”