Wednesday, November 29, 2017

All The Best, Bobby

Yes, this is a football site and not a futbol site, but indulge me this morning as I reflect on the news of the retirement of Notre Dame soccer coach Bobby Clark, who began his college coaching career at Dartmouth in 1985.

As the college's assistant director of sports information back then I was asked to sit in for what we were led to believe was little more than a courtesy interview for a late addition to the candidate pool for the vacant Dartmouth men's soccer coaching position.

I can't remember who else was in the meeting – except for the late Whitey Burnham, who arranged it – but I clearly remember walking out of the interview thinking that was no courtesy candidate. The search was over. Bobby Clark had to be the next Dartmouth men's soccer coach.

And here's the thing. The man had enjoyed a remarkable career as a goalie in Scotland – his British record for consecutive scoreless minutes would hold up for 38 years until a Manchester United goalie broke it – but he never brought up his playing career during the interview. Not one word about it. Only after he was hired and we built up his file did I come to realize just how legendary his career had been with the Aberdeen Dons, and just how beloved he was in his native Scotland.

Bobby was on the job just a few days when he wandered into my office carrying an old schedule and asking me, "What is this Bow-doin?" pronouncing it exactly as it was spelled. He was new to the American college scene, but he caught on quickly, going 82-42-13 from 1985-93, winning three Ivy League championships and setting the framework for the success Dartmouth soccer has enjoyed pretty much ever since. I don't know that I've ever met a better coach or a more charismatic person.

In every era there are coaches whose players love them but with Bobby the affection and respect his players and others had for him was palpable. I recall when I was at the newspaper some years later having to write a story about Andrew Shue, the former Dartmouth player then on the TV show Melrose Place. I had placed a bunch of calls trying to chase down Andrew to no avail, and finally gave Bobby a call to ask for help. No more than five minutes later my phone rang with an apologetic TV star on the other end of the line ready to give me all the time I needed.

Bobby's impact in these parts is still being felt. Not long after he arrived in Hanover he founded Lightning Soccer, the ubiquitous Upper Valley youth program that seemed to be every bit as important to him as the job that brought him to the area. He was soccer's Pied Piper for a generation of little boys and girls. A reception in his honor after he announced he was leaving Hanover to coach the New Zealand National Team saw Leede Arena packed to the rafters with Bobby Clark fans. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, including mine.

Bobby would go on to enjoy success as head coach at Stanford and for the past 17 years at Notre Dame, where he led the Fighting Irish to the 2013 national championship. I read the release about his retirement and watched the video posted on the Notre Dame site and a tear came again to my eye thinking about how much the man meant to so many who had the privilege to play for him and work with him. He was, quite simply, the best.