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Building a Program of Excellence

Note: This is the 33rd profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.

By Christian Taske ’07

When Michael “Mac” McBride took the job as head coach of Notre Dame College’s men’s soccer team in 2000, there wasn’t much of anything that would hint at a bright future for Falcon soccer. The team-in-the-making had to share a small field with neighboring Regina High School. There were no uniforms, no practice gear, no scholarships, and no budget. There weren’t even proper-sized goals. For the first nine months, McBride worked without getting paid and slept under his desk because he couldn’t afford the fuel costs to commute from Canton, Ohio.

Fast forward to 2012: McBride’s team is in its inaugural season in NCAA Division II, ranked No. 14 in the country, and considered a contender for the national championship. The team’s winning percentage is the highest of any athletic program at Notre Dame. The Falcons have competed at four national championship tournaments in the NAIA and came close to winning it all when they finished national runner-up in 2010.

Over the past 11 years, McBride has coached dozens of NAIA all-Americans and scholar-athletes. Seven of his players proceeded to play professionally and many have competed in the Premier Development League for elite college players. In the process, McBride gathered numerous conference titles and “Coach of the Year” awards.

But despite these successes on the pitch, McBride points to events off the field when asked about highlights during his time at NDC.

“All of that was blown out of the water when my first student graduated,” McBride says. “His name was Nathaniel Bunphitak and he was the first male on campus. When his name was called and he walked across the stage to collect his degree, it floored me. I’ve never achieved anything like it since.”

Even though he is a competitive coach on the soccer field, McBride lives the Falcon Athletic Department’s philosophy, which emphasizes a comprehensive program of learning and development in a personal setting. He views athletics as an integral part of a unified academic and student life experience to educate students for personal, professional and global experience.

“The happiest and most satisfactory day in any year I’ve been here has been graduation day,” McBride says. “Nothing comes close to it.”

McBride knows a thing or two about how to successfully balance athletics and academics. Born in Birmingham, England, he came to the U.S. in 1995 to earn his bachelor and master degrees in education from Walsh University. A scholarship athlete for the Cavaliers, he earned all-AMC and all-region honors, was an NAIA all-American nominee and all-American scholar athlete.

In 1999 and 2000, McBride earned his national diploma and advanced national diploma from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), passing both with distinction. He worked as assistant soccer coach at Walsh from 1997 to 2000 before taking up the challenge at NDC.

Michael McBride
“Mac” McBride has been in charge of the men’s soccer program since its inception in 2001.

But McBride’s path could have easily led him somewhere else. He had been offered the head coach position at an NCAA Division III school and the assistant coach position at a Division I school when a colleague told him about the vacant job at Notre Dame. It was the first time McBride had heard about the College despite having trained just five miles down the road.

“I came up a week before the interview, took a wrong turn, couldn’t find the place,” McBride remembers.

But when he did finally find the campus and after listening to former Director of Athletics Susan Hlavacek, McBride decided to turn down offers from established NCAA institutions to scramble together NDC’s inaugural team.

“I was afforded the opportunity of working with a blank canvas,” McBride says. “I just needed to acquire the tools necessary to paint a picture Notre Dame College would be proud to hang in its storied gallery. It sounds really cliché, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one not to be declined.”

McBride’s former coaches and colleagues had plenty of advice for the first-time head coach. Two ideas stuck with him: One, never go above budget; and two, create a manageable schedule, because to attract talent you need to win a few games.

McBride’s team didn’t have the luxury of the latter. Playing in the largest NAIA conference, the Falcons’ inaugural season almost entirely consisted of conference games. It was thanks to McBride’s recruiting skills that his team was up to the challenge. The Falcons went 8-10 in their first year, missing the playoffs by just one win.

By the time the second season came around, McBride had recruited a diverse team with players from the U.S., South America and Europe. With the AMC splitting into two divisions, the Falcons rose to become the top team in the North, winning the division championship.

“Our first team was comprised of players who were capable students, good citizens, all with the inherent capacity to compete,” McBride says. “What they achieved in that first season was quite remarkable and every bit as important as anything that came after.”

McBride had been told repeatedly that it would take at least five years to build a soccer program. He initially dismissed these comments thinking he could do it more quickly. But it didn’t take him long to realize he couldn’t.

“I never mentioned the word ‘winning’ during these first years. Rather, I sought solace in ambiguity by encouraging the boys to ‘compete,’ which can really mean anything,” McBride says. “For four years I told them ‘I can’t give you a program but I can give you a team.’”

That changed in 2005. Coming off their second AMC North Division Championship the previous year, the Falcons defended that title, qualified for the NAIA Regional Tournament and finished their season ranked No. 18 in the country, allowing them to compete at the national championships in Daytona Beach, Fla.

McBride’s team was the first from Notre Dame College to compete at the national level and it exceeded everyone’s expectations by finishing in the Elite Eight. What’s more important to McBride, the team was also selected as the recipient of the Nels Dahlquist Memorial Team Sportsmanship Award – an honor given by the tournament committee and referees based on sportsmanship and integrity.

For this achievement, McBride was recognized as the 2005 NSCAA/Adidas Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year and nominated for the NAIA National Coach of the Year Award. He was also recognized by the College with the President’s Appreciation Award.

“Under Coach McBride’s leadership, Notre Dame College men’s soccer has earned the reputation of being a team that consistently models solid character and sportsmanship both on the field and in their community,” NAIA Men’s Soccer Sport Manager Scott McClure said in 2009.

With the evolution from a team to a respected program, much has changed for Notre Dame Men’s Soccer. Today the program attracts talent from around the country and all over the world.

“From the outset, I avowed to my players that my goal is for them to be proud of where they played, proud of Notre Dame College,” McBride says. “I believe we now have an alum base that is fiercely proud of their institution and equally proud of their program.”

Instead, the soccer program has become a destination for scholarship athletes looking for an excellent education and the chance to compete for a national championship.

That national championship is one of McBride’s goals, but even without this title in the trophy case the Falcons have already turned heads, especially in Northeast Ohio’s soccer community.

Former Yugoslavian international Joe Raduka, who played for Red Star Belgrade, credits McBride for these accomplishments.

“I have been around many professional soccer coaches in my 39 years in this sport, but none of them have the character of this man,” Raduka, founder of the Cleveland United Soccer Club, said in 2009. “Mac’s teams have been on a steady rise of national recognition for the highly talented level they play.”

Raduka once recommended McBride for the head coach position of the Cleveland City Star’s, a former professional team. But the Englishman declined to interview for the position illustrating his passion for the program he built.

“Coach McBride has had many opportunities to take offers at top NCAA Division I schools with much bigger budgets, larger support staff, recruiting advantages, and a much easier lifestyle,” Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer and former Olympian Mike Sweeney said in 2009. “Very much to his credit, Mac has chosen each and every time to remain committed to his student athletes.”

McBride’s decision to come to and stay with Notre Dame College despite the challenges has literally been life changing for him. At NDC he met his wife, Dr. Becky Barger McBride, Notre Dame’s director of campus activities. They got married in the College’s Christ the King Chapel and plan to have their one-month-old daughter, Roisin Kalin, baptized there.

In the meantime, McBride is coaching his team through a tough NCAA schedule while pursuing a Master of Education degree at NDC. He knows: It’s all about balancing athletics with academics.

Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame College.