Head Coach Rich Manning coached five members of the 2003 U.S. Women's World Cup team while at Santa Clara.
June 12, 2003
Michael C. Lewis The Salt Lake Tribune
The kids were lined up along the front row of the bleachers, hanging over the railing with all manner of shirts and balls and posters, just waiting for soccer star Brandi Chastain to make her way over so they could get an autograph and adore her in person for just a moment.
Meanwhile, Chastain was busy adoring Rich Manning.
Manning, the soft-spoken women's soccer coach at the University of Utah, is not terribly well-known among Utah sports fans.
But in the world of women's soccer, Manning is not all that far behind Chastain, the shirt-stripping hero of the Women's World Cup four years ago. He worked alongside Chastain as an assistant coach for one of the best collegiate women's teams in the country at Santa Clara before joining the Utes last year, and coached five of the women who now play for the U.S. National Team that is in town training for an exhibition against Ireland at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.
Two of those women -- Aly Wagner and Danielle Slaton -- will join Chastain on the roster for the Ireland match, and the younger sister of another will join the Utes in the fall. All of them, some of the best players in the world, agreed after a workout at Ute Field that Manning is exactly the kind of coach who can turn Utah into a national power.
"Absolutely," Chastain said. "There's no doubt that Rich has the capability of bringing a program like the University of Utah to a national level. One, because he has a university that understands that he needs support, and they're willing to give it to him. And when you have that support, you can move mountains."
Manning already has nudged one.
The Utes had been good but never great when Manning was hired, and they finished 13-4-3 in his first season and won a match in their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Better still, by some accounts, the Utes beat rival Brigham Young in that tournament match, ending a 12-match losing streak that stretched to the birth of the local programs in 1995. Players praised him for getting the team into unexplored territory by instilling confidence and communicating well.
While Manning typically deflects attention with gentle self-deprecation -- he joked that his connections might help the Utes recruit "until they figure out I don't know what I'm doing" -- his former players are steadfast in their conviction.
Wagner and former college teammate Kylie Bivens both called Manning the "glue" that held together the Santa Clara team that won the 2001 national championship, and both said he has a particular gift for connecting with his players.
"Everybody loved Rich," Bivens said. "He was the 'High Five Guy.' He could tell when a player was struggling, and he had his way of picking you up. He did it in a certain way, when he'd say, 'Aw, gimme five.' And you could just tell that he knew you were struggling and that was his way of trying to help you out."
Chastain said that comes naturally to Manning, a former math teacher who understands female athletes and enjoys passing on the nuances of the game he learned as a player. Plus, he's just nuts for the sport.
"He's one of the true soccer aficionados," she said. "He could name games from 15 years ago with these players as youth players, and he would know what position they played, the score of the game. It's truly amazing the way he truly appreciates the finer things and the subtleties of the game and I'm sure he has brought a lot to this community in terms of the excitement and the passion."
Well, the kids aren't leaning over the railing asking him for autographs just yet. But with references like Chastain's, maybe they will start thinking about it.