Q&A WITH HEAD MEN'S SOCCER COACH DAVE GIFFARD
VCU Head Men's Soccer Coach Dave
Giffard has been in Richmond for nearly four months. Mitchell
Moore of VCUAthletics.com recently sat down with the first-year
head coach to discuss how his transition is going and what fans can
expect from his club this fall.
MM: First off, give us a feel for how the transition is going from being an assistant coach to now having the chance to run your own program.
Giffard: It's been an exciting transition for sure. The biggest difference from being an assistant coach to being a head coach is before I was making suggestions and now I'm making decisions. The transition has been a lot of fun. I've been fortunate to have been around a lot of very strong leaders who I've been able to pick some things up from over the years. Between that and coming up with some of your own ideas and things that you believe in, it's been fun to put those things into practice. Now I'll start to put my stamp on the program and show everyone what we're going to be about.
MM: Can you talk about your opportunity here at VCU and what your biggest adjustment has been so far?
Giffard: It's something I've been excited about for a long time. I'm certainly not trying to look past the places I've been but in the back of your mind, you're always formulating and thinking 'how would I have handled this situation?' I used to make suggestions and give input but at the end of the day someone else makes the decision. It's been fun to have that now become my decision. We have a good group of kids who have just bought into what we are doing. Everyone is working hard and it makes it a lot of fun to come to work everyday.
MM: Everyone is excited to see the roster your staff has put together. I know we won't find out for another few weeks but can you give Ram fans a sneak peek of what they can expect in the fall?
Giffard: When we got here we had a couple of objectives. The first objective was to get our culture going the right way. I think the guys here this spring have done a really good job of that. They have worked hard in training, in the weight room, in the classroom and off the field. They are in a situation where they're just excited to get a fresh start. The last few years obviously haven't gone the way anyone would have liked. No one likes to go through runs like that but I think these guys were just hungry to get after it. That was the first step for us, to get the guys here to understand what needed to be done and how we do things everyday.
The next piece for us was to try to identify a group of talented student-athletes who can help VCU and our program make a step back to being a power – certainly within the conference competing for championships – but to also put us back on the map and onto the national scene. When I left Akron to come here, I left to take my own program and to have an opportunity to accomplish some of the same things we accomplished there. My goals haven't changed and we're getting very close to announcing our group.
MM: What are the three most important qualities you look for when recruiting student-athletes?
Giffard: You look for guys that are winners; guys that are talented and guys that have a good work ethic. We've been fortunate to identify some of those players that have both winning characteristics and talent, and they're going to be joining us here at VCU.
MM: Talk about the process of completing your coaching staff and specifically, what do you look for when hiring assistant coaches?
Giffard: Putting together a staff is a lot like putting together a team. You have to have pieces that fit together and people that bring different talents and abilities to the table. [Assistant Coach] Brett Teach brings a lot to the table for us. He's a very good coach, a good recruiter, a hard worker and he's had a lot of experiences over the years with some top players and some top teams. For me he was no-brainer.
We're in the process now of rounding out the staff and we'll have a few more coaches coming on board. We have a third assistant coaching position and we'll most likely add a graduate assistant and a volunteer. One thing that was nice about my stops along the way at Akron, Indiana and UAB, was that we had a group of three, four and sometimes five people working as a staff with each one of us having our own responsibilities and roles. It's about finding the kinds of people that compliment my personality, my strengths and my weaknesses, as well as bring some things to the table that will allow us to function at a higher level. That's really been the focus and I'm very excited about how that search is progressing.
MM: Give us a taste of your coaching philosophy and how it has been shaped over the years.
Giffard: My coaching philosophy has been built a lot on experiences I've had as a player and as a coach. I think it's always important to remember what this is all about and that's the student-athletes. I've always tried to keep that in the back of my mind with anything that we do and the decisions that we make. We want to think about what's best for them as players, as students and as people.
That carries over into how we like to play. I like to be the aggressor. I like to play the game the right way. I like to put the ball on the ground and play a possession-type style. It's a lot more fun to attack than it is to defend. But when we do lose the ball, I like to get after it defensively and force the other team to give the ball back to us. I think the last couple of years at Akron, we started to morph into the vision that each of us had for how the game needed to be played. We're certainly working in that direction here through training and the recruitment of student-athletes. We're just trying to put together a team that will allow us to play the way we want to play and to be successful. In the heart of that, it's about finding a way to compete and be successful; finding a way to win and battle everyday. I think that's an important part of the transition as well.
MM: What is your philosophy on scheduling opponents? What kind of opponents can Ram fans expect to see at SportsBackers Stadium in the coming years?
Giffard: We have been in a situation the last few years where the results haven't gone the way we would have liked. The schedule this fall was essentially completed with the exception of the preseason games. My thought is if you're competing to be the best that you can and battling for conference and national titles, you need to play against the very best teams that you can, to get an honest evaluation about where you are.
Moving forward, our schedule will continue to feature more NCAA Tournament types of teams. We're already working on the 2011, 2012 and 2013 schedules. We're really trying to add the best teams possible to what is already a very competitive conference. With 11 games in the conference, and with everybody I've talked to, it just seems to be a very tough league to get through. The CAA is definitely going to be difficult but we're going to try to compliment that with teams that will allow us to prepare for the NCAA Tournament and the type of games we'll see there.
MM: What is your vision for SportsBackers Stadium? Explain the importance of having a true home field advantage for the team.
Giffard: I think SportsBackers Stadium is one of the best facilities in college soccer. It's a very nice facility and the surface itself is one of the best that I've seen. There's a lot of potential there to have a very special game day atmosphere. One of the things that I've been fortunate to be a part of in the past was some very special game day atmospheres. With the four years I was at Akron, we built our attendance significantly. We averaged around 500 fans our first year and about 2,700 fans last year. Part of that was the attractive style we liked to play, the talented players, and some work that we did in the community with staff, players and administration. I know that our staff, our players and our administration here at VCU is excited to build a very enjoyable atmosphere at the games. With the community like Richmond here supporting us, it's going to be realized. It doesn't happen overnight but I'm really looking forward to increasing fan awareness in the area and making it a little more fun for students, the general public and soccer fans. I think they'll enjoy the product that we're putting out there.
MM: Explain how being the head coach at VCU fulfills a career goal of yours and talk about the opportunity it presents.
Giffard: For the last 15-16 years I've known this is what I wanted to do with my life professionally. At each step along the way, from my time as a player to making the transition to coaching with club soccer, ODP, and into college, each step was a great learning experience for me and I always knew this is what I wanted to do. My ultimate goal was to not just become a Division I head coach but to come to a place that I think has the tools to compete at the very highest level and VCU has those tools. I've been impressed by everyone that we've met with since I came on campus. It's the same way in that our recruits and our coaching candidates have all been extremely impressed. It's a very special time here at VCU and the administration has given me a great opportunity. I think all of the pieces are here and in place to be very successful.
MM: What has been your most pleasant surprise so far?
Giffard: There really haven't been a lot of surprises so far, having gone through a transition with Caleb [Porter] when he got to Akron. There were a lot of things that I had seen from an assistant's standpoint that I knew were going to come up. I think the biggest surprise has probably been how hard the guys have worked and really bought into what we're doing. You never really know how things are going to go until you get in there and meet people. I couldn't have been more pleased with what they have done to this point.
MM: Where do you see this program in five years?
Giffard: Five years from now I would like to think that we are competing for the national title and we have put ourselves in a position where we are one of the elite programs in college soccer in all aspects – on the field, academically, attendance, game day atmosphere, playing the best teams, playing a great style, recruiting the best student-athletes, and allowing them to make the step to the next level. We've had guys here in the past that have come through these doors. Andrew Dykstra and Dominic Oduro are two good examples of that. Those guys are starting in the MLS right now for Chicago and Houston and I think there will be a lot more players to come. If you focus on the task at hand and you're doing things the right way, those things will come.
MM: You've been in Richmond for about four months now. What are your thoughts on the city and do you have a favorite spot yet?
Giffard: Richmond is a great city. I hadn't been to Richmond very often before I got here, other than coming to visit a few times for vacation when I was younger. I love it. It's a great place to live. It's a great place for students and for families. So far, my spot is Joe's Inn, which has become a regular breakfast spot for the staff, recruits and visitors. That's probably been my favorite hangout at this point. Richmond is the best place that I've lived and I look forward to living here for a very long time.