Vidovich, staff ready to re-energize Pitt men’s soccer


Jay Vidovich looks to rebuild Pitt's struggling men's soccer team. | Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics

By Rachael Lippincott / For The Pitt News

After three years without a single win in ACC play, the Pitt men’s soccer team needed a jolt, and Athletic Director Scott Barnes needed an impact hire to fill the empty head soccer coach seat.

By impact hire, Barnes meant a coach capable of transforming Pitt’s team — taking a program at the bottom of its conference affiliation and bringing it to the top.

For Barnes, that person was undoubtedly Jay Vidovich, a two-time NSCAA National Coach of the Year (2007 and 2008) award winner and five-time ACC Coach of the Year (2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009) award winner, who is widely considered one of the best men’s soccer coaches in the NCAA.

At the time of his hire, Vidovich was at Portland Timbers 2, a third tier professional U.S. soccer team, and made the decision to return to the college soccer world.

When Vidovich accepted Barnes’ offer in December to come to Pitt, Vidovich immediately began laying the groundwork, making two impact hires of his own in assistant coaches Mike Behonick and Jeff Negalha.

With numerous championships and 10 awards, as well as more than 15 professional and collegiate soccer playing years between the three, the coaching tandem seems poised to create a team capable of winning championships.

After going 0-7-1 in conference play last season, even a fraction of that success would be a gargantuan step forward.

Vidovich said creating a culture based on a hardworking and goal-oriented mentality is the key to his enormous past success at Wake Forest, resulting in a record of 272-121-50 and a 2007 NCAA Championship.

“It’s all about the culture,” Vidovich said. “It’s about running it like a championship program.  It’s a slow drip — an everyday thing, with our players, with our staff, with our training.”

According to Barnes, Vidovich is already making a difference.

“I witnessed a cultural shift from the day Jay arrived at Pitt,” Barnes said. “This groundwork includes things from red-eye recruiting trips, to compiling an excellent coaching staff.  It is clear that Vidovich is focusing on every detail in the hopes of ultimately creating wins, both on the field and in the classroom.”

Vidovich has always tried to foster that intense focus in coaching. Given his Wake Forest resume, it seems to work.

William Hesmer, a Wake Forest goalkeeper from 2000-2003 and former professional player, was coached and mentored by Vidovich, and lauded Vidovich’s thoughtful and strategic work.

“For Jay, there is not a single decision that is too small. Every single little detail matters,” Hesmer said. “He sets the bar high on and off the field, but that was just the expectation. With all of these details, and all of this hard work, success can and will come. You see the work reward itself.”

In Hesmer’s sophomore year, a conversation with Vidovich completely changed the goalkeeper’s life, convincing him to graduate a year early to pursue a professional career.

Vidovich was always a source of support for Hesmer, helping him make a plan to graduate and identifying and developing the talent that Hesmer didn’t even know he had. When Hesmer suffered a serious leg injury, ending his Wake Forest career, Vidovich was there to support him.

This comes as no surprise to Behonick.

“Jay is the complete coach,” Behonick said. “He cares about the players on and off the field. He is a developer of talent and of young men. It’s evident in players I’ve played with and seen that have played for Jay. He has sent numerous talented players to the MLS in his time at Wake Forest.”

With two seasons at Penn State and five years at the University of Virginia, Behonick is a veteran coach that has helped these teams to ACC and national championships.

On the field itself, Behonick has vast personal experience playing soccer, collegiately for American University and professionally for the Puerto Rico Islanders and the USL. His perspective as a player and a coach greatly colors his teaching style.

“Being in locker rooms for so many years has greatly impacted the way I coach,” Behonick said. “His experience taught him a number of things, from what players succeed to the winning and the driven mentality Jay Vidovich talks about, to what coaches produce success from their players.”

Behonick also is striving for more active community support, focusing on both present and past students alike. The men’s soccer team is openly inviting alumni to come back for an upcoming April 10 spring game against Duquesne.

Vidovich’s other hire is Negalha — the 2011 NSCAA National Assistant Coach of the Year spent nine years at the University of North Carolina and an additional year with professional soccer team Orlando City, working with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Teams.

“Jeff is a go-getter. He is a guy that will work around the clock to get things done,” Behonick said. “The complement of the three of us, in our personalities, in our connections, in our relationships with different players and coaches and different clubs, is something really big. The tandem of the three of us is the interesting piece.”

They’re hoping they can mold an entirely new culture of men’s soccer at Pitt, just like Barnes desired.

“It’s a new era for us, for Pitt men’s soccer, for the coaching staff. It’s our first year, but Pitt will see it is the start of this championship culture, that championship team, the relevance of Pitt men’s soccer in the ACC and the NCAA platform,” Behonick said. “This is the start of something big.”

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