St. Lawrence's Bob Durocher: Bomber turned Saints coach
By D3soccer.com contributor
|St. Lawrence head coach Bob Durocher.
St. Lawrence University Athletics
Fifteen years ago St. Lawrence beat Messiah 1-0 in the quarterfinals to advance to the Final Four untied and undefeated, riding a 40-game unbeaten streak. After a pair of 2-0 wins over upstart Alma and preennial powerhouse and host Wheaton (Ill.), Division III soccer had its first ever perfect champion: the 22-0-0 Saints. The man at the helm of this accomplished squad was Bob Durocher who had been named head coach nine years earlier following St. Lawrence's sixth straight losing season.
St. Lawrence is located in Canton, New York—the same town where Durocher was born—just minutes from the Canadian Border. Durocher approached his prime as one of the top players in the region at a time when St. Lawrence was a powerhouse in the Independent College Athletic Conference (ICAC) under the leadership of head coach Bob Goodwin. It seemed natural that the rough-tackling, energetic Durocher would ply his trade for the hometown team, but Durocher took his talents south instead and became an Ithaca Bomber.
For Durocher, it was really a difficult decision to not attend St. Lawrence. “I really liked the guys and they had a great team,” Durocher recalls, but it was coach Bernie McKinnon, a former St. Lawrence stand-out hockey and soccer player, who advised Durocher to also consider Ithaca. Once he did, Durocher realized that at Ithaca he had the opportunity to contribute immediately to an up-and-coming team. That is not to say he wouldn’t have bulldozed his way onto the St. Lawrence team, as former Saint captain Brian Desrosier remembers well the terror that Durocher caused while roaming the Ithaca midfield. One particular meeting between the two came in 1980 when Ithaca battled St. Lawrence in Canton for a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. St. Lawrence entered the game as favorites and were confident of achieving a positive result. Desrosier was in his senior year at St. Lawrence and had never lost a game to Ithaca. What happened next was storybook and would live on in Saint lore. “The game was tied; then emerges a scrappy midfielder with curly blond hair, the captain of the Bombers. He scored a goal that ruined our season.” Durocher would go on to lead the Bombers to back-to-back NCAA appearances as team captain.
|Durocher guiding the Saints to the pinnacle of Division
III in the late 1990's.
St. Lawrence University Athletics
After a successful college career, Durocher the player began his transition into Durocher the coach. He would develop his coaching philosophy in Florida before returning home. After a brief stint at Canton College, destiny led Durocher to interview for the top job at St. Lawrence. Goodwin, after a season as Durochers’ sideline consigliore in 1990, entrusted the future of the Saint program to the boy from Canton who had broken Saints’ hearts a decade earlier.
The early years were extremely difficult for Durocher and the Saints. St. Lawrence struggled to win games while playing the Durocher brand of football. In an era of rough and physical soccer, this former player known for his scrappy workmanlike play insisted on playing total football. Durocher the coach understood that it would take time for his brand of soccer to take root. After four seasons of losing, and with time perhaps running short, the 1994 version of the Saints signaled a rebuilding of the program. In that year Durocher led the team to their first conference championship in a decade. The two seasons that followed saw Durocher once again competing in back to back NCAA Tournaments, this time as coach.
|Durocher's Saints celebrate his 300th win.
St. Lawrence University Athletics
St. Lawrence was making steady progress and Durocher’s possession-oriented style led to increased success including a national championship in 1999 that came in the middle of a 60-game unbeaten streak that began in 1997 and ended during the 2000 season. After another Final Four run in 2002, the next decade has seen Durocher and his teams make almost annual appearances in the NCAA tournament while attempting once again to reach the pinnacle. This year marked the Saints' nineteenth NCAA post-season appearance and the seventeenth under his watch. And while team success is what matters, last October Durocher reached a personal milestone of 300 wins in his 24th season at the helm.
Durocher, for his part, has stuck with his philosophy of total football. “There are risks these days in playing possession oriented football and not many teams still do it” says 400-game winner and former National Champion coach Mike Russo who is retiring after 36 years at Williams College. “We here at Williams have a lot of respect for St. Lawrence soccer and Coach Durocher for the way they play”. Conference rival and RPI coach Adam Clinton agrees. “I appreciate the style that St. Lawrence plays, and also that Durocher’s men are respectful both in victory and defeat. I would encourage any young coach to study the Saint program and Durocher’s philosophy”, says Clinton.
Durocher, whose role model is coaching icon Doug May, would advise young coaches to be willing to learn from their mistakes and be willing to adjust their goals with the reality of the situation. He also believes that good communication is key. “It is very important to be honest with your players. Sometimes those conversations are hard. Every coach has to have a good plan and make sure that it’s crystal clear to the players.”
|Durocher communicates halftime adjustments to his charges.|
Durocher also feels that a coach must lead by example on and off the field. His players agree. Former All-American and star of the St. Lawrence national championship team, Jamal Ballantyne recalls that “coach was perhaps the fittest player on our team the year we won. We would do five mile morning runs and he would be leading the way from start to finish”. Durocher no longer participates in the Saints’ morning runs, but the passion remains high. Coming off another successful season, including another appearance in the NCAA tournament, Saints fans can look for that day that the hometown boy can deliver yet another championship. Durocher, meanwhile, is content with simply teaching young men to combine grit and talent both in soccer and in life.
St. Lawrence head coach, 1990 - present (25 years)
32nd most career wins in D-III history
19th best career win pct. in D-III history
60-game unbeaten streak (11/19/97 - 11/12/00) - 2nd longest in D-III history
29-game winning streak (9/4/99 - 9/29/00) - 5th longest in D-III history
Coach of the Year:
National - 1999
Regional - 7 times ('98, '99, '01, '02, '10, '11, '13)
Conference - 12 times ('94, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, '01, '04, '07, '10, '11, '13)
Empire Athletic Association (EAA) - 1994
Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association (UCAA)/Liberty League - 13 times ('95, '97, '98, '99, '01, '02, '03, '05, '06, '08, '10, '13, '14)