For Andrulis, modeling successful athletes and people is a life's work

Men's soccer coach Greg Andrulis is in his ninth season in Fairfax after coaching the MLS' Columbus Crew (Photo courtesy of Mason Athletics).
Men's soccer coach Greg Andrulis is in his ninth season in Fairfax after coaching the MLS' Columbus Crew (Photo courtesy of Mason Athletics).

At first glance, it would be hard-pressed to differentiate this particular office in the Field House from any other on the George Mason University campus. The desk with the intimidating stacks of  paperwork is there, as is the comfortable chair and the desktop computer. The office is no different than the typical one in which a Mason employee would spend an entire workday.

However, once inside, the place speaks for itself. Team photos, newspaper cutouts, individual honors and – for die-hard soccer eyes – an impressive banner from a match against popular German club Bayer 04 Leverkusen, share the limited space on the office walls. The mementos take the visitor through the years of men’s soccer coach Greg Andrulis’ 32-year long, colorful coaching career at the collegiate and professional level.

“It’s what I have always wanted to do, to be a coach and a teacher,” said Andrulis, who recently began his ninth season with the Patriots. “I’ve been very fortunate [since being] a 23-year-old until today to do exactly what I wanted to do and enjoy every moment of it.”

The two highlights in Andrulis’s career came during his years as head coach of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew. In 2002, his first full season as head coach, Andrulis led the Crew to its first title in franchise history after defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Two seasons later he was named MLS Coach of the Year after his team’s impressive regular season performance.

Andrulis took his 10 years of MLS experience to Mason in 2005 and made a quick impact on the program, taking the Patriots to the NCAA tournament after a 10-year absence in only his second season. Since his first season with the Patriots, Andrulis has been applying methods which have prepared his players not only for success during their collegiate careers, but in some cases, for the professional leagues as well.

Throughout his career, coach Andrulis has determined that soccer skills are not the only thing a young man should possess to make to the next level.

“You have to have a couple of things. You have to have a soccer brain, you have to have some soccer talent, you have to be incredibly tough mentally, and you have to have a dream. It takes a lot of work, and talent alone doesn’t get you there. And you have to have a coach who likes you and will sign you; at the end of the day you have to have someone who loves you.”

“Since my first year, almost every year one or two guys have gone on and played professional at a variety of different levels,” said Andrulis.

While some of Andrulis’ former players have decided to play professionally in the United States, others have taken his coaching and teaching philosophy globally by trying their luck in leagues across Europe.

However, good results on the field are only one component of Andrulis’ definition of success. As pleased as he is to see some of his former players compete professionally, his goal is to help each one of his players to grow as individuals, not just as athletes.

“There are four key areas for us,” he said. “One, we want to be a competitive soccer team and we have been. We want to have classroom success and graduate our guys.”

Mason’s 2013 class will be an Academic All-American team. Many players on the team featured on the Dean’s List and the proud coach gives much credit for that to the university, which has always given the team “great” support.

“We want to be great in the community and we do a lot of community service things,” he added. “In the last couple of years, the team has been recognized by the athletic department for doing an awful lot of work outside of Mason. We want to make sure our players grow and experience things.”

Before working with the Crew and Mason, Andrulis spent 12 years with Wright State University. Prior to his stint in Dayton, Ohio, he learned the coaching trade as assistant coach for the men’s teams at Springfield College and Clemson University. In fact, he was a part of the Tigers’ national championship team in 1984.

Despite working alongside accomplished and recognized coaches, such as I.M. Ibrahim at Clemson and Tom Fitzgerald when he first joined the Crew, Andrulis set the foundations for his successful career much earlier as a goalkeeper and through his high school coach’s encouragement. 

“My high school coach was a phenomenal guy,” said Andrulis. “That’s when I really got the bug for the game - when I was in high school. When he came to our school he changed our team and every year we were in the state tournament. He’s been a life-long mentor and friend of mine.”

Andrulis played goalkeeper at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he began to see the tactical aspect of soccer and to discover the talent which would, to a great extent, shape his life.

“I think goalkeepers make great coaches and I’m not talking about myself,” Andrulis said. “I think their perspective of seeing the entire field and having to direct and learn and understand a little bit of both sides really helps you prepare going into coaching, to understand what it takes to beat the defense and what it takes to stop an opposing attack.”

Andrulis has a winning percentage of .549 over eight seasons with the Patriots, making them one of the university’s most competitive athletic teams at the moment. He concedes that it was not too hard for him to adjust to his new job following his work in MLS.

“The adjustment from college to pro was much more of a challenge than going from the pro to college because I had already done it,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the ball is the same size, the fields are the same size, the players at the professional level are obviously better in a lot of respects, and motivation is a little bit different, but at the college level it is more intrinsic - you feel like you are really contributing to young men’s growth and hopefully you can make a positive difference on and off the field."

On the other hand, Andrulis feels that since at the professional level results are the ultimate measure of success, the pressure of getting them in a “timely fashion” is bigger.

This fall, nearly 34 years after he first started coaching as a volunteer assistant coach at ECSU in 1980, Andrulis begins the latest adventure in his career. The 2013 season is the first for the Patriots in the Atlantic-10 conference, beginning conference play in October and November.

Conference opposition of the Patriots will include teams that are ranked top 10 nationally, such as St. Louis University and Virginia Commonwealth University, and others that often feature in the top-25 rankings, such as Dayton University. Andrulis embraces the challenge of playing against teams of such caliber and sees is it as an advantage to the Patriots’ Rating Percentage Index come NCAA tournament selection time.

The conference season may not have started yet, but Andrulis and his assistant coaches John O’Hara and Trevor Singer are already hard at work to achieve the goal of returning to the NCAA tournament. They spend hours watching and analyzing video of their future opposition’s style of play. If not, Mason’s coach would be on the field working with his players.

“It’s all I do,” he admits. “I have a very supportive wife and family. Yesterday was our day off and I spent six hours on the field watching soccer. This is what we do. It is on a seven days a week, year-round basis. We love what we do and work hard at it. Our assistant coaches put a tremendous amount of time in it and our entire staff does. We don’t do soccer vacations.”

Results-wise, it has been so far so good for Andrulis and the Patriots. Mason won four of their six games to open the season while losing only to the highly rated, although yet unranked, team of the University of Virginia.

“We talk to our guys about consistency and improvement,” he said. “Getting better, holding themselves to a higher standard, practice every day with a purpose.

Despite the optimistic start of the season, throughout his career Andrulis has learned to look professionally at matches and keep his emotions low-- an attitude he wants to pass on to his players.

“On the emotional side you try not to get too high [or] too low. We have 20 games to play and we can’t get overly excited about a win on Friday night because on Sunday you have to play again and you have to be ready.”

For help with this, other than his assistant coaches Andrulis relies on some of the more experienced players on the team, who step up as leaders and role models to the rest when the situation calls for it.

 “We have a great group of veterans here, great leaders on the team, and we foster that every year,” he said. “If you expect a high level of play and you expect high level of training every day, the guys will continue to improve in that respect, but we believe very deeply in team chemistry and working on those things. We believe in getting guys that are motivated and can motivate each other.”

Yes, there is a lot paperwork on his desk. Yes, it might not be the neatest and cleanest office. However, in Andrulis’ case, that does not indicate poor job performance or negligence. Instead of putting his effort into cleanliness, Andrulis focuses on growing and bettering his soccer program outside the office. In every moment he does not spend in his office, he works toward another team photo, newspaper cutout, or individual honor to hang on the wall. He works toward making another piece of history.

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