For men’s head soccer coach Craig Jones, patience is as much a virtue to live by as it is a strategy on the pitch.
And as players have learned from their new leader, patience has the potential to pay off in a big way.
After 14 years with the Colonials, as a player and then 10 seasons as an assistant coach, Jones is no longer waiting in the wings.
When George Lidster retired at the end of last season, it only took athletic director Patrick Nero four days to promote the alumnus to the head coach position. The team for which Jones once played is his to manage.
“I’ve said a bunch of times that this is like a dream job to me,” Jones said. “If you want to be successful, you set yourself career goals – you set yourself a path. This was something I wanted to do, and I had set my mind to do it. I was just lucky enough that I got to do it at GW instead of having to go all around the country to do it.”
A native of Wales and the son of a semi-pro soccer player, Jones was just 4 years old when he started kicking around the soccer ball. And despite a quick fling with rugby, Jones always preferred “the round ball to the oval ball.”
But a career in sports is not always a sure path. Confronted with the likelihood of an unsteady professional life following his four years as a Colonial, Jones considered coaching at the collegiate level as an alternative.
“There wasn’t really that much of a safety net in terms of what was available – one week you could have got paid, and the next week you didn’t,” Jones said. “So I started to focus a little more then on the coaching side of stuff.”
After helping the A-10’s 13th-ranked Colonials take a share of the 2011 regular season title and travel to the championship game, Jones was promptly hired to take the place of a seasoned veteran coach in Lidster, who was also the program’s all-time winningest coach.
With last season’s successes still fresh for players and fans alike, Jones acknowledges the certainty of high expectations for the team this year, too. There’s a renewed focus on the team in his first year at the helm of the program, but it’s a level of examination the Colonials’ coach welcomes.
“There’s certainly pressure. Last year we kind of overachieved in many people’s eyes. People want that every year, once they have a taste of it,” Jones said. “But if you don’t feel the pressure to win, \you’re probably in the wrong profession.”
He is aware of his players’ desire to return to the title game – and they are open to the new coach’s strategies to get them there.
“I think he expects a lot out of us. I know he wants to win the A-10, and so do we,” co-captain Seth Rudolph said. “He’s doing his best to guide us along the right path to make that happen.”
Jones is focused on the short-term changes and tweaks he plans on imprinting on the program’s culture. He is pushing for more accountability on and off the field – hoping his players will embrace rounded academic and extracurricular lifestyles – and emphasizing the importance of player-to-player support.
On the field, he’s preaching a more possession-oriented style of play, a style that requires increased patience and fewer impulsive attacks. That method may lead to more slow-paced offensive maneuvers, but Jones said he would take methodical play over hasty play any day.
“We are a little bit more possession-focused. Sometimes that doesn’t produce instant results,” Jones said. “When we do go forward, we want to go with numbers. The best way to do that is play through the lines and make sure we have numbers supporting the attack.”
Strategies, play books and team bonding aside, Jones also boasts a skill that will likely prove useful for the team, a tool central to giving his Colonials the lethal edge they need. His players said he understands the art of a good pep talk.
“Coach has some great pregame speeches,” he said. “He can really get you motivated and going.”