The University of Akron soccer team will lose coach Caleb Porter at the end of the season. He is the only person to deliver a Division I team national championship in any sport in the school’s history.
Porter and UA on Wednesday confirmed reports that he will leave to take over the Portland Timbers of the Major League Soccer in December. One of his former Zips players, Darlington Nagbe, plays for the Timbers.
“I always believed that it would take a truly special situation for me to leave Akron, and the Portland Timbers position is that type of opportunity,” Porter said in a news release. “Given how invested I have been in the Akron program and community for the past seven years, this has been an extremely difficult decision.”
When questioned briefly by the Beacon Journal, he refused any other comments, saying he preferred to concentrate on the season. The seventh-ranked Zips, who are expecting to compete for a national championship, opened the season with a 4-0 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Friday.
Reports out of Portland said that Porter, 37, would be introduced as coach Wednesday morning, but he was leading the Zips at practice. Zips Athletic Director Tom Wistrcill said it was important that the coach tied up all the details of his contract with the Timbers before making an official announcement.
Members of the UA team said that the recent reports that surfaced in the (Portland) Oregonian weren’t a complete surprise, because Porter kept them involved during his decision-making process.
“He let us know a little earlier, so we weren’t just bombarded,” said Bryan Gallego, a sophomore defender and captain. “We weren’t surprised. We’re all sticking together.”
Wistrcill said that he and Porter talked about the opportunity three or four times a day for the better part of a week.
After the Zips won the national championship in 2010, UA signed Porter to a 10-year contract with a base salary of $275,000 plus incentives. Built into the deal is a buyout option that will cost either Porter or the Timbers $200,000.
But there are other issues that have to be considered. Wistrcill said Porter wanted to finish out the year. It’s a noble gesture, but doesn’t it also hold the potential to be a distraction?
“No, definitely not,” Gallego said. “We’re such a close group. This is the closest I’ve ever been with a team like this. We’re all one family. We support the coaching staff and Caleb, so I don’t think it’s going to be any type of distraction.”
“I think they know that their best opportunity for the future is having a good year and playing really well,” he said. “I think this will focus them even more because I think when they look around the room that they know that, as a group with the head coach, they’ll be able to win a national championship.”
Wistrcill said that he hadn’t had the chance to sit down with university president Luis Proenza to discuss the search for a replacement, but that candidates within the program and from outside would be considered and that the search will begin immediately.
Porter staying for the season should help the search because it buys UA time to find the right coach.
“I think, if not the best, we have one of the best situations in college soccer right here,” Wistrcill said. “As a matter of fact I’ve already got voice mails on my phone. I think I know what those are when I don’t recognize the numbers this time of year.”
Porter will leave the program in a great situation, having built an NCAA soccer powerhouse at a mid-major school. Wistrcill believes the foundation is solid for the future.
“This program is going to be successful regardless of who the coach is,” he said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.