DeKALB – July 1 is one heck of a time to hire a new men’s soccer coach.
That’s exactly what happened at Northern Illinois on Wednesday when Eric Luzzi was promoted from associate head coach to the new head coach of the Huskies, replacing Steve Simmons, who left last week to become the head coach at Oregon State.
Since July 1 is the first day soccer coaches can make phone calls to high school seniors they’ll be recruiting, the hiring came at a prudent time for the future of NIU men’s soccer. And, without a coaching staff, the 33-year-old Luzzi has to make all of those calls himself before he finds assistant coaches.
True to form, Luzzi, who first came to NIU in 2006 as an assistant and then was promoted to associate head coach in March, was excited about the upcoming days and weeks.
“I’ve got about 40 phone calls to make,” Luzzi said. “It’s extremely busy. But it’s fantastic. It’s an energetic busy, not taxing.”
Luzzi said he met with members of the team after Simmons announced he was leaving and tried to share his vision of where he wanted the program to go before speaking with NIU athletic director Jeff Compher to express his interest in the open position.
Luzzi said the meeting lasted about 90 minutes and he was happy with how it went.
“I’ve been in contact with all of the players and the incoming freshmen and everybody still seems like they’re on board,” Luzzi said. “There’s been enough general uncertainty and that’s the last thing this program needs.”
Josh Karsten, a senior-to-be defender, said he appreciated the meeting and is looking forward to playing under someone who has familiarity with the program.
“I would have chosen Eric,” Karsten said. “He knows the program. He’s been here as long as I have and he knows three age groups. If they hired a new coach, it would have been different.”
Luzzi inherits a team that took Akron to double-overtime before losing in the Mid-American Conference title game but returns nine starters, raising expectations for a program that has won 56 matches in the past five years.
Even with the relative smoothness of the transition, Luzzi said there would be differences in how the program is run.
“I think, at the end of the day, the standards are going to be the same,” Luzzi said. “We’re still going to expect the same of our athletes on and off the field.
“But, I have a different personality from Steve. And I think it’s dangerous to try to be somebody you’re not.”