Deep in conversation late one night in February, VCU men’s soccer’s newest men in charge, head coach Dave Giffard and assistant coach Brett Teach, could not help but laugh at their current role reversals.
Teach, who has been a head coach at copious colleges over his 23-year career, is now assistant coach to Giffard, an assistant coach for his 10-year coaching career who is only now getting his first bite at the head-coaching apple.
Giffard was hired on New Year’s Eve—just a month and a half after VCU fired long-standing head coach Tim O’Sullivan, who wasn’t retained after the team’s descent the past couple of years after being a virtual dynasty prior to the downturn. The 34-year-old Giffard was considered for the spot by VCU athletic director Norwood Teague after becoming nationally renowned as a recruiting wizard during his four year stint as an assistant with the Akron Zips— who finished second in the nation last season after falling to UVA in penalty kicks in the championship game.
“When VCU contacted me, I wasn’t looking for a heading coaching job. I was happy coaching at the time being with the number one team in the country,” Giffard said. “But if you’re a leader, eventually you want to take hold of your own program and run with it. So when VCU contacted me it was a very easy decision to make that step.”
Prior to coaching, Giffard finished off his playing days at MacMurrary College, where he thereafter got his first assistant coaching gig after graduating in 1998. The coaching carousel that is college athletics next landed him more assistant coaching roles at Westminster College, Alabama Birmingham University and Indiana before finally ending up at Akron.
In Giffard’s first season at the fellow mid-major university that’s situated in northeastern Ohio, the team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. Frustrated with their lack of success after high expectations, the team responded resoundingly the following season and hasn’t missed the tournament since. Though the squads are different in ways, Giffard said he sees many parallels between that team and VCU’s current predicament.
“I think the guys here are in a situation where they had a tough year. They’ve had a couple tough years and I don’t think anybody is happy with that or wants that to happen again,” Giffard said. “That’s what gets you out of bed every day and drives you to ensure you’re not going to have that next year.”
Now head honcho, Giffard is being confronted with the reality of going from a team that won an NCAA record 23-straight games last season to a team that won a mere five games overall.
Yet things haven’t always been so bad for VCU: They won the CAA Championship three years in a row starting in 2002 and culminating in 2004 when the team made advanced to the elite eight of the NCAA Tournament.
According to Giffard, getting back to those glory days is a process that involves many steps but most importantly recruiting. At Akron, Giffard helped bring in a top-five recruiting class all four years of his tenure—culminating in 2009 when the Zips brought in the top recruiting class in the nation.
Though slowed out of this year’s recruiting starting gates thanks to not getting hired until the turn of the new year, Giffard stated he has a large and skillful recruiting class lined up for next season. The class is reportedly due to be announced in the next couple of weeks, although there is no set timetable when the team has to release it
“For the most part, everybody knows who the top guys are (who are being recruited). The trick is, can you recruit the top guys? It’s not something everybody is able to do. I’ve been fortunate enough where I’ve been able to do that,” Giffard said.
“That’s what we’re going to try and bring here: bring top players to VCU, because that’s how you build a top program.”