There is a tale in late 20th century Diamondback sports lore —- perhaps apocryphal, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s totally believable —- involving the first meeting between an incoming men’s soccer beat writer (not me) and coach Sasho Cirovski.
Cirovski, a man who holds great expectations for everyone around him, needed very little time to get to what was on his mind as yet another new reporter was sent out to cover his growing program.
“Listen,” Cirovski supposedly said. “I am a member of the faculty at this school, and you’re going to learn something from me this season.”
Or maybe it was “I’m going to teach you something this season.” The phrasing of the final few words escapes me at the moment. But either way, it fits; Cirovski’s mind is always in motion, and his capacity for building a dominant program and selling it to the public is matched by a thorough understanding of all that is around him.
The story pops into my head from time to time, and it makes me laugh every time I think about it. And when Cirovski’s team collected its second national title in four years Sunday, I considered again the number of lessons he must have imparted this season to everyone around him.
I finally caught up with him with a call just as he was arriving back in D.C. yesterday afternoon, and the crux of our conversation led to this dead-tree edition story. Even exhausted, Cirovski is a fantastic interview subject and a man of great insight and memory, which proved true again yesterday.
(A quick aside: My favorite Cirovski interview story is one I heard when I was still in school. A reporter from an out-of-town newspaper played telephone tag with Cirovski for a couple days, each leaving the other about three messages. Finally, Cirovski realized time was probably getting tight deadline-wise, so he left a 10-minute message answering nearly any question someone possibly could have about his team. Even it was an embellished tale, which it may or may not be, it’s still completely plausible).
Anyway, my mind flipped backward after Sunday’s game to a discussion Cirovski and I had a few years back. Maybe it was in 2004, maybe in 2005 just before the Terps won their first outright title. Cirovski pointed out the likes of Jerry Yeagley and Bruce Arena needed a decade to win their first championship, then won a whole bunch of them after knocking out the first one.
I brought it up yesterday, and Cirovski’s instant reply was, “I remember that conversation.”
As do I, obviously, because the insinuated suggestion behind it all —- that the championships won’t stop at one when they arrive —- is coming true.
Cirovski’s doing it in a time when players are routinely turning pro after a year or two, a prospect Arena didn’t have to contend with at Virginia (he was off to MLS when it started) and Yeagley only dealt with in the final stages of his storied career at Indiana.
As a result, the deck is stacked against dynastic tendencies, much like it is in basketball. Maryland lost Robbie Rogers and Chris Seitz from its ‘05 title team early; both would have been seniors this year. Adding Rogers in particular to this year’s Terps would have made them scary, rather than “just” championship-worthy.
But Cirovski possesses the organizational wits to keep Maryland among the elite. His evolution as a coach is fascinating to watch, from an emotional sideline tyrant with an almost inflexible philosophy in his younger days to channeling his considerable energy and becoming the most vociferous supporter of the college game.
And now he’s won with a defense-first team, which I wouldn’t have fathomed ever happening five or six years ago. Not with his principles of an attacking style of play and an aversion to the foulfests he despised when he had his first truly loaded teams at Maryland in 1998 and (more to the point) 1999.
A friend who follows the program even IM’d me Sunday wondering how Cirovski reacted to having a team win so many 1-0 games.
It was a logical question, and one to which Cirovski offered a fitting reply.
“Even in the final, I wanted to play more attractive, beautiful soccer,” Cirovski said. “I was frustrated after the first TV timeout.”
The realization soon came it wouldn’t get much prettier. This turned out to be the only one of Cirovski’s six final four teams to average less than two goals a game (Maryland averaged a still-sturdy 1.92 goals).
It was also his first team to win both an ACC and NCAA title, his first team to win 23 games, his first team to win 16 straight games, his first team to post 15 shutouts.
There was a lot to learn from Cirovski this season. Most importantly, he demonstrated the 2005 title would not be his or the program’s last.
And something tells me he’ll teach anyone who’s paying attention over the next few years the run of championship isn’t over quite yet, either. After all, Cirovski imparts lessons, and will keep doing so as long as he’s at Maryland.
—- Patrick Stevens