A fulfilling, if unconventional, coaching journey

New Haverford School soccer coach Bill Brady directs a practice at the school. (Lou Rabito / Staff)
New Haverford School soccer coach Bill Brady directs a practice at the school. (Lou Rabito / Staff)
Posted: September 24, 2011

A typical progression for a high-achieving head coach goes something like this: start at a high school, move to a Division II or III college, and then land a Division I job.

Bill Brady's soccer resumé has all those steps covered, just not in that order.

"I did the exact opposite," Brady said.

Yes he did, with some success all along the way. He started his head-coaching journey at Division I St. Bonaventure, went to Division III programs Greensboro (N.C.) and Haverford College, and moved over to Haverford School, where he has led the Fords to a fast start in his first season.

His hiring as coach at Haverford School lacked convention, too.

Brady went to the school to meet with athletic director John Nostrant.

Brady wasn't a candidate for the position.

He was a reference for two candidates.

Eventually offered the job, and wanting to do what's best for his family, particularly his young son, he took it.

"The long and short of it is," Brady said, "don't list me as a reference."

Brady, 38, had a built-in reference for his first coaching job. A political science major at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Brady was working for a lobbying firm in Washington when Jeff Cook, his coach for the first three of his four seasons at Wheaton, became head coach at the University of Cincinnati in 1996.

Cook asked Brady to be an assistant coach. The job was only part-time - Brady said he thinks the raise he was offered to stay at the firm exceeded the coaching pay - and he helped the Bearcats gain national prominence.

"Much of the credit is to Jeff, because he's one of the most intelligent guys I know and very, very organized, but in the three years that I was there with him, I think we went from 198 in the RPI out of 201 to 27th in the RPI," Brady said.

"It was really an amazing transformation, which is probably why they hired me at St. Bonaventure."

There, in his first season, the Bonnies qualified for the Atlantic Ten tournament for the first time. In his fourth year, they entered the national rankings for the first time, and they were ranked again in his sixth, and final, season.

"His coaching ability and his skills were outstanding," former St. Bonaventure athletic director Ron Zwierlein said. "But his biggest strength was working with young people and getting the most out of them."

Overall, the Bonnies were 40-69-2 under Brady. Financial constraints were affecting the level of success, he said. As an example, he said some A-10 programs had $10,000 to $30,000 more in their recruiting budgets than he did.

"We were never going to be a deep team because we weren't funded nearly to where most of the schools in the conference were," he said. "And what sort of pushed me toward moving on was when they added St. Louis and Charlotte, two fully funded, nationally recognized programs.

"That's two schools that you have to travel so much further to, as well, so that meant more strain on the budget. I loved St. Bonaventure. . . . It's a difficult place, though, in that they're financially strapped to be Division I."

Seeking a more level playing field, he opted for Division III and Greensboro. He called it "enticing" to be in a place where his team could win consistently. The Pride did win, earning three conference titles in his four years.

But Greensboro also was struggling financially - Brady said he feared at one point that it would close - and he started to look around. When the position at Haverford College opened, he applied and got the job.

Seven months after winning Centennial Conference coach of the year honors with the college, Brady sat with Nostrant, talking about two other coaches.

Reference checks usually are handled by phone or in writing, but Nostrant said he wanted to meet Brady. So Brady visited the school, which is down the street from Haverford College. He recalled spending about an hour discussing the applicants.

Nostrant said he had no ulterior motive for bringing in Brady. That, though, soon changed.

"Once I met him face to face, it was a no-brainer," Nostrant said. "He's a very impressive guy."

When Nostrant asked if he were interested in the position, Brady thought it was a joke but said it became an offer he couldn't refuse.

Haverford mentioned Brady's becoming director of leadership programs at the school. Being on staff would allow his first-grade son, Conrad, to attend the school at a discounted rate - not for free, but Brady called it "a good deal." He and his wife would not have been able to send their son to the prep school, he added, unless he were working there.

Thus, a deal was reached.

Since then, Brady has instilled a new energy on the new turf field at Haverford.

The Fords - "a phenomenal team," he said - are 7-0, have outscored opponents by 38-0, and are ranked 32d in the nation by ESPN. They likely will move up in the rankings after Saturday's 3-0 shutout of No. 15 Gilman (Md.).

"He brings different things to the table that we didn't have before," senior center back Nate Arronson said of Brady. "He motivated us right from the start. He expected us to work hard every day. His expectations were high for us."

The level of athletics isn't as high as it has been in Brady's past, even though he said each of his starters is good enough to go on to college soccer.

Brady, however, seems totally comfortable with the move.

"I think everybody, when they start getting into coaching collegiately, all they think about is Division I. Ah, I just want the best players, the highest level I could be at. And there is a lot to that - don't get me wrong," Brady said.

"But as you get older, your decisions are shaped just so differently. . . . When you get married and you have a child, there are so many other factors that come in, other than what you want selfishly."

Contact staff writer Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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