Maybe the College Cup should be renamed the Bobby Clark Cup this year.
That’s because the imprint of the longtime college soccer coach is all over this year’s event — the final four of men’s soccer.
First, there is Bobby’s son Jamie, who played and coached for his father, and has led No. 2 seed Washington (17-1-2) to the College Cup for the first time in program history.
Then there is Brian Wiese, who coaches No. 3 seed Georgetown (18-2-1), UW’s opponent in the national semifinals Friday night in Cary, North Carolina. Wiese played for Bobby Clark and was an assistant coach for him for 10 years.
And then there is Chad Riley, the coach of No. 4 seed Notre Dame (14-5-4), which plays Clemson (15-5-1) in the other semifinal Friday. Riley played for Bobby at Notre Dame, was an assistant coach under Bobby there (including two seasons when Jamie was an assistant with the Fighting Irish), then succeeded him as the head coach in 2018 when Bobby retired.
But who to root for?
“Don’t ask me that question,” said Bobby Clark, 76, who coached college soccer for 31 years and won the 2013 national title with Notre Dame. “I think maybe you know, but it’s such a difficult one. Brian coached with me five years at Stanford and five years at Notre Dame. I used to always refer to Brian as my third son, and we are very close. … Chad played for me at Notre Dame before coaching for me for six years. And Jamie, he’s been with me a long time, one way or the other. So it really is a tough one. … I know they will all acquit themselves well. And they are all really good friends.”
Jamie Clark said his father, a legendary goalkeeper for Aberdeen (Scotland) in his playing days, has “biological and adopted sons” in the College Cup.
“But I have heard this refrain a few times: Those teams (Georgetown and Notre Dame) have won (a College Cup), and we haven’t won one, so I think that will be his political out, that maybe we deserve a first,” Jamie said. “But it’s like a Shakespearean play. He will be torn any which way. There is no clear winner, there is no clear loser.”
Bobby almost had a bigger dilemma during Notre Dame’s 2013 title run. The Fighting Irish would have played Washington in the national semifinals had the Huskies beaten New Mexico in the Elite Eight.
“And it would have been on Jamie’s birthday,” Bobby said. “We would have found out who his mom really loved.”
In just about any other situation, Jamie would be rooting for Wiese — and vice versa. Wiese was an assistant coach at Stanford when Jamie played there, and the two have remained close.
“You are lucky when you get young coaches that you can relate to, and Brian was that guy,” Jamie Clark said. “He is quietly one of the funniest people I know. He was an improv guy, deadpan, and would have us rolling during banquets. He just connected with us at a different level when I was a player.”
Wiese could be the president of Jamie Clark’s fan club if the UW coach had one.
“No disrespect to the other 200 coaches out there, but Jamie is probably the best coach in college soccer in my eyes in a lot of ways because he is so adaptable and because of the culture he creates in his program,” Wiese said. “His teams are fun. I am a fan of his teams. If I was in Seattle I would get season tickets.”
Bobby Clark emphasized tight-knit teams and built long-lasting relationships, and he wanted his players to succeed in soccer and in school. That has trickled down to his protégés in this year’s College Cup.
“Bobby is why all of us coach,” Wiese said, referring to himself, Riley and Jamie Clark. “I don’t think I am out of bounds in saying that Chad Riley, Jamie Clark and I wouldn’t be in the profession if we didn’t play for him and get a chance to coach for him along the way.
“Find me a coach in any sport that would be a better example of how you coach, how you handle people, how you teach and how you go about preparation, and I would like to meet that person because I don’t see how anyone could do it better than Bobby.”
Said Riley: “His influence means so much and all in a positive way. First as a player, then as an assistant coach and then transitioning to a head coach. He has been with me every step of the way. … It’s the foundation of everything we try to do on the field, but maybe more important off the field. It’s how to build a team culture.”
Jamie Clark talked about how there are two sides of college soccer right now, and his view has been shaped by his dad.
“There is college soccer that develops guys, where guys come in and redshirt and work and get better and you treat them like a family and you have relationships for 30 years,” Clark said. “But half of it is just about pro development and moving guys on, and if they’re not good enough, they transfer out after three to six months. To me, this is not what this sport is about; it’s not what I am about.”
Jamie said it’s also not what his father is about.
“The amount of people who want to be in my dad’s life to this day is huge,” Jamie said. “And that is what I want to be. I want to be a role model and a friend, and for many years to come. That is my biggest takeaway. You treat players well, you treat them right and very quickly, the coolest part is that they are playing harder for you, they are more bought in, they are a closer-knit group and I think that’s what spells a lot of our success.”
Bobby is thrilled that Jamie has reached his first College Cup as head coach, having lost in the title game as a player at Stanford 1998 and as an assistant coach at New Mexico in 2005.
“Jamie has got a good team and I love watching them,” Bobby said. “I’m delighted (he made the College Cup). He is an awfully good coach. I knew what when he played for me at Stanford — I always said he was a coach on the field.”
Bobby is getting plenty of encouragement to attend the College Cup, but he remains undecided.
“We haven’t said yes or no; I just get too nervous,” he said earlier this week. “Sometimes I feel like I am better off watching it quietly at home.”
Either way, his presence will be felt.
“To be able to base your foundation as a coach off someone like Bobby Clark — it can’t be a coincidence the three of us are in the College Cup,” Wiese said. “The odds of that happening are too low without his influence being why we’re in the College Cup.”