Notre Dame men's soccer: Clark too busy with hobby for real job

South Bend Tribune

Just think, in about a month, Bobby Clark will be back on the practice field tinkering with his 2014 Notre Dame men’s soccer team.

Talk about a grind.

Wellllllll ..., maybe not.

One day removed from the biggest victory in the program’s history, the 68-year-old Clark is hardly reeling from the challenge of a five-month season that ended in a national championship Sunday.

“I played for 20 years (in Scotland) and I’ve coached for the next however many that is,” Clark said Monday.

For the record, this was season No. 13 at Notre Dame. Before that, he spent nine years at Dartmouth and five at Stanford.

“It is my hobby,” Clark said very matter-of-factly. “I’d be coaching a team somewhere. I’m just so fortunate that someone is willing to pay me for my hobby. This is fun.

“A grind is when you have to go down in a mine. That wouldn’t be fun at all.”

Over the years, Clark has been able to excavate some of the top collegiate soccer talent in America.

Last season, the Irish were the No. 1 seed overall in the NCAA Tournament, but injuries and other unfortunate situations left them short four starters in a loss to eventual champion Indiana.

An Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinal shootout loss to Virginia left Notre Dame as the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament this season.

Didn’t matter.

“The top four seeds get home-field advantage until the Final Four,” Clark said. “When you get to the final 32 teams in the tournament, any team can beat any team. Playing at home becomes very important.”

This season, the 17-1-6 Irish stayed relatively healthy and dodged any mishaps. Notre Dame was one of three ACC teams (along with Maryland and Virginia) in the Final Four.

The Irish came from behind to knock off the Terrapins, 2-1, in Sunday’s title game.

“From top to bottom, the ACC was the most competitive conference in the country,” Clark said. “We were prepared for whatever we would see in the tournament.

“Last year, though, the old Big East was pretty tough. It was really good before it all split up.”

Even though he’s done everything and seen everything there is to see in college soccer, Clark did some learning at PPL Park, in suburban Philadelphia; little things, well beyond the game, that only experience can teach.

Clark hadn’t been to a Final Four since he took Stanford there in 1998. He was there with Dartmouth twice before that.

“My next door neighbor is (Notre Dame women’s soccer coach) Randy Waldrum,” Clark said. “He’s been (to the College Cup) a few times (actually six). One thing he talked about was the (pre-tournament) banquet. He told me to be prepared to order more food after the banquet. There just wasn’t enough food for the players. He was right. The portions were small. When you’re playing games on Friday and Sunday, your players have to be fueled.”

Brian Wiese, Clark’s former assistant at Stanford and Notre Dame, is now the head coach at Georgetown. He led the Hoyas to the College Cup last season, and provided another sounding board for his mentor.

“The game never changes,” Clark said. “It’s just two teams trying to get past each other and put the ball in the goal.

“The talent level of the players has improved. If you go back to 1990, the U.S. qualifying for the World Cup was a huge event. Now, if the U.S. doesn’t qualify, it would be a disaster. We’re easily in the top 20 in the world now.”

With success comes pressure — on the world stage and in college.

Sunday’s championship has attached a target to the normal uniform issue for the Notre Dame program.

“When you become the national champion, that’s a seal of approval for the program,” Clark said. “It’s hard to get to the top. It’s even harder to stay there.

“I told the players after the game, ‘When you put on a Notre Dame jersey, everyone is excited to play you. Now, they’ll be even more excited.’”

The Irish will have to be even more prepared for the impending challenges.

“The great thing about college soccer is that the team changes every year,” Clark said. “Great players move on; new players step up.

“You spend January practices sizing up your team. I love the spring. You set out to develop a new team. ‘How does this one come together?’ Spring is about teaching. August is about competition.”

No time for a real job.

Notre Dame men’s soccer coach Bobby Clark hoists the national championship trophy following Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Maryland. 
Notre Dame goalkeeper Patrick Wall, right, hugs a teammate after Sunday’s 2-1 soccer win over Maryland in the national championship game at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.