Pitt’s new coach still adjusting

By Greg Trietley

Malorie Rutledge always wanted to coach. But maybe not this soon.

Rutledge, who the Pitt… Malorie Rutledge always wanted to coach. But maybe not this soon.

Rutledge, who the Pitt women’s soccer program hired in August as an assistant coach, had to retire as a player last year after she underwent the fourth knee surgery of her career.

Rutledge said it’s difficult not playing competitively, but she still feeds her passion for the sport in practice when she can.

“I just have a passion for playing, and it is tough, but Coach [Sue-Moy Chin] lets me jump in a little bit whenever I can,” she said. “Four knee surgeries later I just had to tie up the boots and call it quits.”

The expansion team Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer selected Rutledge 13th overall in the second round of the WPS College Draft in January 2010, but her multiple knee injuries eventually took their toll. The Independence waived her two months after drafting her, and she retired.

Despite the premature end to her playing days, she is embracing the opportunity to coach soccer at a Division I school.

“I’ve known I wanted to be a coach since I actually went into college,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I majored for it.”

Rutledge studied sociology at Louisiana State University, where she set women’s soccer school records for career assists (46), points (102), game-winning goals (12) and starts (88). Her senior class won a record 50 games from 2006 to 2009, including three SEC Western Division championships.

After her retirement as a player, she jumped into coaching, volunteering as an assistant at LSU last year before moving to Pittsburgh for a full-time position — her first — with the Panthers this season.

“When I got done playing, I knew it was time to start my coaching career,” she said.

The shift was more than a mental one.

Rutledge — who hails from Sharpsburg, Ga. — had never been to Pittsburgh. She said the greatest obstacle in her young coaching career hasn’t been on the field, it’s been assimilating to her new home.

“The biggest thing is moving up here. I had three or four days to move up to Pittsburgh. I’ve never been here. It’s a great area, but I’m getting adjusted,” she said. “We’ve been in preseason, so I really haven’t gone outside of the campus too much, but I finally have a place to live and I’m good to go.”

Rutledge’s journey from Georgia to Louisiana to Pennsylvania occurred after a visit with Chin and her staff earlier this year.

“I saw online that [Pitt] was hiring,” Rutledge said. “I came up here, and they were the nicest people. It’s a great facility and it’s a D-I school. I just love to be here.”

She showed interest in Pitt just as Chin and her staff were looking for someone with her background.

“Obviously her playing background is very extensive and impressive, so it’s just a matter that her playing career got cut short with some injuries. She always knew that she wanted to coach,” Chin said. “The timing just worked out … with us having the position open and her being available.”

Considering what she brings to the table, it’s no surprise that she has earned the respect of players, too.

“Her coming in here with the accolades that she had, she won our respect,” senior Katelyn Ruhe, a midfielder, said. “She’s helped us a lot. She’s had us come up early and had us working on crossing and finishing.”

Given her resumé as a prolific scorer and an offensively gifted midfielder, Rutledge has mainly worked with attacking midfielders and forwards this summer.

“Fresh out of the gate, I can relate well to them — just trying to help them any way I can,” she said.

According to Chin, having Rutledge on staff gives midfielders and forwards a great mentor.

“She knows what it takes to be successful at the next level,” Chin said in an interview Tuesday. “She’s doing a really good job relaying that to the girls that are playing right now.”

Pitt finished 13th in the Big East in goals per game (1.05) last season.

In early action this year, the Panthers scored twice in an exhibition win at home against Saint Francis and posted two more goals in the regular-season home opener — a 2-2 tie with Eastern Michigan — before Ohio shut them out in their first road game.

As the team is two weeks into a three-month season, Rutledge’s coaching role will have room to expand as time progresses — like that of fellow first-time assistant Morie Kephart, Chin said. But for now, Chin is glad to have someone with Rutledge’s pedigree on board to work with the offense.

“Her coming up here, coming to a Big East program as a first-time assistant is pretty big, but it says a lot about her and her playing experience,” Chin said.