RICHMOND, Va. – It doesn't take long to realize second-year VCU Head Men's Soccer Coach Dave Giffard has a master plan.
As a long time assistant, Giffard (pictured) was no stranger to rebuilding as he helped turn UAB, Indiana and 2010 national champion Akron into some of the country's most respected programs.
After assuming head coaching duties of the Rams in December 2009, the Ferguson, Mo., native quickly got to work signing an 18-player recruiting class. The results paid huge dividends as the Black & Gold moved up eight spots in the Colonial Athletic Association standings from the year before.
Rebuilding brings fresh faces, and with graduation and the introduction of a new brand of soccer, Giffard and the Rams recently added 16 more players to their 2011 roster.
"Overall we have added 16 players that, along with our returners, will make up the core of who we will be as a program," said Giffard. "Some of these new players have the ability to step in and win a job from day one, while others will need to develop areas of their games before they are ready to play, but all have the qualities that give them the opportunity to have very successful careers here at VCU."
Giffard inherited a program that won just five games in 2009 while finishing ninth or worse in conference play in three of the previous four seasons. A turnaround won't happen overnight but if last year's results are any indication of what's ahead, the Rams can certainly be excited about the future of the program.
"With only three players remaining from when I arrived in January of 2010, our roster has undergone a number of additions within the first two classes," Giffard said. "Some of the players we brought in last year were freshmen, but many were transfers to help us to compete right away and give us a good base to build from for the future. I thought we were able to make strides last fall going from 10th to 2nd in a very challenging league and were really just a few moments here and there away from playing our way into the NCAA Tournament in year one.
"That first step is a relatively easy one. To make the jump from pretty good to very good and then from very good to elite is more challenging. I firmly believe that the addition of this group gives us the pieces now to begin to make those steps here at VCU."
A roster overhaul was necessary for the Rams to return to their winning ways. VCU has not been to the NCAA Tournament since reaching the quarterfinals in 2004, and has finished .500 or better just three times since 2005 – one of which came last year in Giffard's first season in Richmond.
"I feel strongly about the potential of our first eleven, but even more excited about the competition that we will have for every single position on the field," said Giffard. "To realistically challenge for a national title, talent is a must, but just as important is the growth that comes from competition and depth. The job of building a contender isn't just about putting together a bunch of talented guys and throwing them out on the field. It is a process that takes time."
Identifying and developing talent is perhaps Giffard's greatest weapon, and reward, on the coaching trail – it's about discovering a player's potential and then watching his transformation.
"During a player's four to five year career there is a tremendous amount of individual and team growth that happens within competitive environments," Giffard acknowledged. "That can only happen when you are fighting for your life each and every day with and against players who are doing the same. If you look around at the top programs, there are always players that go into college as freshmen without all the accolades and continue to grow and come out with a very successful college career and even successful pro careers.
"The finished product from that type of a daily grind is a group of individuals who were already talented, becoming more consistent, ultra competitive, and battle tested. This class will give us not only an influx of talent, but also the type of competition that will allow us to take the next step in our program's development over the next several years."
Giffard clearly has a plan for the future of the program as his first class helped yield a second-place regular season finish and the Rams' first CAA Tournament bid since 2007.
The foundation has been set and we're less than three months away from watching the construction of phase two.