Sydney, NS - If you were asked to name the great coaches of this generation, you might find yourself reflecting on images of Bill Belichick lifting his sixth Super Bowl or Jose Mourinho sprinting down the touchline to celebrate yet another tactical masterclass. But what if you were asked to name their assistant coaches? The more ardent fans among us might be able to identify one or two but, for the vast majority, these backroom staff remain unsung and underappreciated.
One coach trying to alter that narrative is Cape Breton University's own Deano Morley. Ever since his hiring in 2014, the head coach of the men's soccer team has made it his mission to shine a light on the coaching staff who surround and support him.
"I've been doing a lot of interviews recently and the question I am always asked is: how have we had the success that we've had? It's always around the success and what they want to ask me about is recruitment. It's easy to look at it that way, that the recruitment is the reason you are successful. The story I want to tell is that recruitment is simply a result of something much bigger, much more important, and that's the culture we've been able to build. I believe that culture is everything. The recruitment is an important part of it because we've been able to attract the right characters and the right people to our program but what I want to talk about, as a leader, is that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with."
The latest addition to Morley's surrounding talent is Brian Tierney, an academic success coach who brings with him an impressive array of qualifications including a Masters in Educational Leadership from Memorial University. Tierney, who has taught at Rankin School of the Narrows since 2006, also boasts an impressive coaching background with over 20 years of experience in a variety of sports. Describing his new role within the soccer program, Tierney explains that the overarching mission statement "is to provide support for our student-athletes."
"I am there to give guidance with anything. From course/program selection to helping organize and plan to keep up with academic demands during the season, throughout the entire academic calendar and beyond. Also, part of the role entails assisting mature students during the transition from University to the workforce. I have been added to the program to support and assist our players in any way I can. My role is that of another support for the players to utilize to ensure their ongoing success both athletically and academically."
Although this succinct description accurately details Tierney's day-to-day operations, it undoubtedly minimizes the impact this support has on the players within the men's soccer program. Head Coach Deano Morley describes the academic success coach position and indeed Tierney himself as someone who is able to "empower and inspire people, someone who fosters and builds genuine relationships."
"Brian is someone who has brought so much guidance, mentorship, and academic counseling to our student-athletes. We really want to see our student-athletes become 'complete champions.' In the classroom first and foremost, in the community, developing their career and finally in competition. Those are the four pillars that our coaching team here has been really focused on. This year, out of our playing staff, 15 potentially 16 are going to be named Academic All-Canadians. That's the highest in program history and in no way is that by accident. That, for me, is the pride of this program and what truly celebrates our championship culture."
Whilst the numbers of Academic All-Canadians stands as definitive proof of success within the classroom, Tierney is determined not to be judged solely by the statistics. One of the most fulfilling aspects of the role has been "getting to know the students/players and following their success." Guiding these student-athletes through school and beyond is a reward in and of itself according to Tierney who says "being provided the opportunity to work with university athletes as they navigate their way through school while balancing the high demands of being a varsity athlete is something that really interests me."
"I have learned that the CBU men's soccer program's members are incredibly driven to succeed both on the field and in the classroom. They truly are an incredible group of young men who support one and other and have bought into the culture and beliefs that have been laid out by the rest of the coaching staff. Having the opportunity to be a part of such a special program has been extremely exciting and rewarding."
What makes a group of individuals come together and perform successfully as a team is often an intangible combination of skill, cohesiveness, comradery, and drive. For a program as culturally diverse as CBU's there is often the added pressure of ensuring international players are settled and happy. The path to playing varsity soccer in another country may seem relatively straightforward to the layperson but, in truth, there are hardships along the way. Players from other areas of Canada may also face the same struggles as those coming from abroad. Homesickness, adapting to a higher level of soccer and a lack of nearby support are all aspects to be considered and monitored. Tierney believes it is important to remain cognizant of these difficulties, noting "most of the athletes have moved to Cape Breton and are far away from their homes. For many, this would be their first experience away from home."
"Having an additional support person on staff is very beneficial to these players when making this transition. They are faced with so many challenges and demands that having someone to provide guidance throughout this process is very valuable. There is also great potential when working with mature student-athletes. Guidance can be offered in areas of professional development, understanding the workforce, how to market oneself, and how to prepare for life after university. This is something we began during the winter months to help support the players, more specifically those moving on from the program."
So, what is next for the latest addition to CBU's backroom staff? A record number of Academic All-Canadians in the classroom and 2019/20 AUS Champions and U-Sports Bronze medallists on the field sounds like a successful year, but Tierney is determined to keep perpetuating CBU's culture of success and keep on pushing for more.
"I have been with the team since September 2019 and am happy with the way the players have welcomed me to the program. I am excited to continue working to support the returning players and am looking forward to working with those that will be joining in the fall. Again, I credit the players for their success. Hopefully, we can continue to support them and see this number increase again in the coming years along with another crack at a National Championship."