Asked how he would be celebrating the news of his hiring, women’s soccer head coach Seamus O’Connor laughed.
“I will be celebrating the traditionally Irish way,” he said.
After performing as an assistant coach under Matt Gwilliam for the last two seasons, O’Connor was promoted to head coach of the women’s soccer team on Friday afternoon, athletic communications announced.
“This school has been a very large part of our family,” O’Connor said. “My two cousins went here and my wife went to grad school at the Fox Business School, so we’ve always been a Temple family. One of my first sporting events, when I came over from Ireland, was a men’s Temple [soccer] game. I’m just a fan.”
O’Connor’s background in soccer began from his years in Ireland, playing goalkeeper for his alma mater, the Athlone Institute of Technology. During his collegiate career, he also trained with League of Ireland clubs Athlone Town and Longford Town.
After graduating in 1997, O’Connor coached youth leagues, worked with the Chestnut Hill College soccer program from 2008-10 and coached the Philadelphia Liberty Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) in 2010.
“Soccer is my number one,” O’Connor said. “It’s my passion. It’s something I don’t ever turn off. If I’m not coaching it, I’m reading about it or if I go home, my leisure time is to turn on a soccer game. I live it and breathe it.”
O’Connor joined Gwilliam’s staff in 2011 as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. During this two year stint, O’Connor brought in 25 recruits and helped Gwilliam build a Temple defense that had five shutouts in 2011 and seven shutouts in 2012, both figures being more than the program has garnered in nearly a decade.
On April 2, in the midst of the 2013 spring season, O’Connor and the team learned that Gwilliam had resigned from his head coaching position, departing for an assistant coaching role at Colorado College.
With the new vacancy, O’Connor entered his name for consideration.
“I thought I had a good chance because of the fact I’ve been here for two years,” O’Connor said. “I was lucky in the timing of it, that I got to work with the players all spring. They got to see what I can do.”
With Gwilliam gone, O’Connor was next in line to lead Temple through its spring schedule until a head coach was named. After the spring exhibition season bred positive results, players became advocates for O’Connor to receive a promotion to cement him as the team’s official head coach.
O’Connor said, “We had a lot of success in our spring games so I felt that I had a great [chance] in that I got an opportunity to showcase that if I am the head coach, this is what I’m going to do. I felt good that all the players were behind me and to get that number of players to support you made me feel really confident, but I was also very aware that this is a nationally recognized institution and I knew there would be a lot of good candidates. So, as much as I felt confident, I was also quite nervous.”
O’Connor was given official word about the coaching decision yesterday.
“[The members of the athletic committee] are excited for the opportunity to continue on the work that [Gwilliam] started,” O’Connor said. “He’s really created a winning attitude in the program. Now, we just need to take that next step in getting those wins together.”
As an understudy to Gwilliam and his defense-first tendencies, O’Connor said he wants to lead the team with the same defensive intensity that it has established over the past two years, but to also introduce his players to “attractive soccer”.
“Growing up, I was a supporter of Celtic Football Club, a club over in Scotland, and the Celtic tradition is that you don’t just win soccer games, you’ve got to win them by playing attractive soccer. That’s always been my mentality, to play attractive soccer,” O’Connor said.
By instilling more “attractive soccer” in the Owls’ game, O’Connor said he hopes to take advantage of more one-on-one situations, where individuals can showcase their skills freely.
“Like in basketball, the [one-on-one] with a dunk is the most exciting thing,” O’Connor said. “It’s the same in soccer. You want to possess the ball and get it to your players that can go [one-on-one] and get that goal. Its having the players who can be creative in situations, whether it be flicks or moves or little tricks that you have in soccer. Having the confidence to do those in a game. For me, playing attractive soccer is not worrying. Just play.”
O’Connor’s goal is to not only build upon the defensive strides the Owls have made, but to also improve an offense that faltered for most of the season, ranking at the bottom of national offensive statistics. During the spring schedule, O’Connor said there were tremendous strides in goal opportunities and offensive flow.
“We definitely have more of an emphasis on possession and attacking, but we’re still going to be very very solid defensively,” O’Connor said. “They’ve always been told in certain situations to play safety first. I was telling them to just play. Trust yourselves and play. And what it led to were more goal opportunities at the other side of the field.”
Since being founded in 1991, the women’s soccer program has earned four winning seasons, including the most recent coming in 2000. Things won’t get easier for the Owls, moving from the Atlantic 10 Conference to The American Athletic Conference, where the competition has increased.
O’Connor said he is up for the challenge.
“You’re excited to have the job and then you look at the reality of the job and [you realize] it’s an uphill battle,” O’Connor said. “But growing up in Ireland, I’ve been told many times ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do that.’”
“I grew up in a tiny town in Ireland where we used to get in trouble for playing soccer because it was deemed an English sport. Being in Ireland, it wasn’t really acceptable to play English sports. So, from a young age, I’ve always battled for everything”.
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.