On Your Marc: 11/15


He saw, he learned, he won

UD coach Mike Tucker says goodbye

By Marc Katz

Over the years, lots of people not interested in any particular sport asked me general rules of some game in case they were caught in a situation where they had to watch.

It’s all about runs scored or points collected or baskets made.

Hockey players always used to tell me it’s about “putting the biscuit in the basket.” More detailed information was not needed, though I’ve never quite figured out cricket.

For a keen observer, just watching might be enough. For a coach, people and business skills are also necessary.

Mike Tucker has all of those.

He’s the guy who played baseball, football and basketball in high school, then watched his kids play soccer.

Then, he taught and coached a bunch of other kids as if he grew up with a soccer ball tethered to his foot.

It’s important to know he was and is competitive, and spent several years out of the University of Cincinnati in the family boat business on the Ohio River. He’d help build and repair boats starting as early as 4:30 a.m., then, when his oldest daughter, Lori, went to the University of Dayton to play soccer, he’d take off in the middle of the afternoon to drive up and watch.

Tom Schindler was UD’s women’s soccer coach at the time, more than a quarter century ago.

“Tom said, ‘If you’re putting in all this time, I’m going to put you to work,’” Tucker says. “I really fell in love with the sport. I knew very little about it. But I knew enough about athletics. I knew enough about managing kids and people to make it work. If you watch a soccer game or hockey game, there are so many sports that have so many of the basic movements. What you’re trying to accomplish is much the same.”

You can watch and learn. Of course, there’s more than just what you see on the field.

“I don’t know how many people know that coaching at the college level is like managing a small business,” Tucker said. “I was very fortunate to have my experience in the boat business.”

In the blink of an eye, he became a volunteer women’s soccer coach at UD, an assistant coach, a part-time head coach and a full-time coach who spent 25 years with the Flyers, the last 22 as head coach, ending this season.

He’ll be 68 soon and is retiring to be with and travel more with his wife, Chris. Until this season, he never posted a losing record, and because his team won the A-10 championships recently, he may not.

The Flyers won the tournament as a seventh seed to enter his 10th NCAA tournament at 9-9-3, making Tucker’s all-time record 313-123-33. Dayton’s first-round NCAA game was Saturday against Ohio State.

Retiring was something he kept to himself until, when his team wasn’t playing well at a recent game, he blurted out, “Girls, I’m kind of sorry. I’m not coming back. Can we just turn this thing around right now?” He looked at his roster. A granddaughter, Sidney LeRoy, is on it. How many coaches mentor daughters—and granddaughters?

How many coaches leave behind a program that includes 10 A-10 championships and resulting nine NCAA tournament appearances in an era when the number of NCAA schools playing has mushroomed from about 80 to 335?

He started out as a competitive guy who played and coached other sports until he moved to club soccer when his daughters (Traci went to UC) became interested.

Schindler noticed and lured Tucker into the program. Tucker stayed when Bill Gleason took over head coaching duties for three seasons. Schindler and Gleason were winning coaches as well.

And then, the program was Tucker’s

Under Tucker, who found players in cities where UD traditionally found athletes and students, the program continued to flourish.

“We were pretty fortunate,” Tucker said. “St. Louis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, where there were heavily-weighted Catholic areas, were good, particularly because of CYO, which was a big pusher of soccer. We had good ethnic pockets in Rochester and Buffalo and New York City, Detroit. There were always club teams, and high schools were just beginning to play.”

To even the field a little more, Tucker enticed UD’s administration to advance available scholarships from one and a half to 12 ½, just shy of the NCAA limit of 14.

“I’ve never professed to be a soccer expert,” Tucker said. “I know enough about the game, about athletics. I think I’ve been able to identify really good assistant coaches who can do the parts well I can’t. We try to have the same teamwork in the office we expect to have out on the field. It has worked.”

As much as soccer has been a big part of his life, Tucker feels he owes his wife some of his free time, especially to visit seven grand children. “And, frankly,” he adds, “I just don’t have the energy I used to. It’s time to let somebody else do this. I’m hopeful to keep my hand in the program a little bit.”

But he just can’t let go all the way.

“I loved the boat business,” Tucker said. “I thought I was having fun… until I did this.”

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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