Mike Coven: 40 seasons and counting for Brandeis men’s soccer
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WALTHAM — The white, orange-striped towel draped over the shoulder of Mike Coven as he paced the sideline at Gordon Field is symbolic of his 40-year coaching legacy at Brandeis University.
“Grabbed it in the locker room the day of my first game and it’s been in my bag since then — part superstition and mostly sentimental,’’ said the 65-year-old Coven. “When I finally retire, I won’t take it home with me. It’s Brandeis property.’’
Coven ranks eighth in career wins among active men’s Division 3 soccer coaches, and 12th in all NCAA divisions, with 448 victories. At 6-0 as of midweek, the Judges were ranked 20th nationally, their highest ranking since 1997.
On a humid and breezy afternoon last weekend, as Coven walked to the field for a game against Clark University, there were greetings from the president of Brandeis, Frederick Lawrence and his wife, Kathy, and from head referee Doug Blais, who had a question for him: “Mike, how many years?”
“Forty, and if we’re both lucky, I’ll be giving you the business for 40 more,’’ said Coven, who played baseball and ran track at Brookline High. He first kicked a soccer ball with counselors from Israel and Europe while working summers as a teenage waiter at a summer camp in Maine.
“That’s where I fell in love with the game,’’ said Coven, who directed the Judges to the national title in 1976, and who has coached nearly a dozen brother combinations as well as father and son Mark and Luke Teece. The younger Teece graduated this spring.
Brandeis senior captain Joe Eisenbies of Hingham, and sophomores Andrew Bennie of Plymouth and Robbie Lynch of Weymouth played for Coven on the U-18 Crusaders United Soccer Club in Plymouth.
“He’s influenced the sport and his players in so many ways and he can be an intense and emotional coach,’’ said Eisenbies, a force on defense. “But most of all he cares about us.’’
The feeling is reciprocal.
Rob Muller, one of several Brandeis Hall of Famers from the ’76 team, calls Coven every year on the anniversary of their championship game, a 2-1 double-overtime win against Brockport State, to reminisce.
The game-winner was scored on a header by Cleveland Lewis, second on the program’s all-time scoring list and older brother of the great Olympic sprinter and long jumper Carl Lewis.
“Cleve was in my first recruiting class and we just took off from there,’’ said Coven, a past president of the New England College Soccer Coaches Association. “No one expected us to get him because we weren’t exactly a national power, but Cleve’s neighbor, a doctor who graduated Brandeis, influenced his decision.’’
The six sections of stands and the protective covers over the home and visitor team benches at Gordon Field were funded by the Brandeis men’s soccer alumni, and a banner featuring a color photo of Coven hangs at the far end of the stands at the synthetic-turf field.
It’s the headquarters of “Coven’s Corner,” a vocal gathering of students and athletes who watched the Judges defeat Clark, 4-2, on Sept. 8. The next day Brandeis made it 10 straight, dating back to last fall, with a 4-3 overtime home victory over previously undefeated MIT. On Wednesday, Brandeis struck for a pair of second-half goals in a 2-1 win at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, improving Coven’s record to 448-246-9.
“We made the banner in time for the first game of the year,’’ said Jesse Link, a senior pitcher on the baseball team who took Coven’s picture. “My sister is a graphic designer, which helped. Coach Coven is a special person.’’
“Nice, I never expected it,’’ said Coven, who played four years of varsity soccer at American International College in Springfield and coached two seasons at Newton South High.
He said today’s game is more sophisticated, more European-style and not solely based on athleticism and physical force as it was four decades ago.
“I give my assistant coach, Gabe Margolis, credit for helping me adapt, and I hope I’ve been a mentor to him in return,’’ said Coven, who constantly drills his players to anticipate what they want to do with the ball.
“That’s why Mike is successful,’’ said Blais. “He’s changed with the game but is still a disciplinarian. And even if he disagrees with a call, after the game, he’s just fine. I respect that.’’
Matt O’Toole , who is in his first year as the head soccer coach at Clark, grew up in Norwell and was coached at the Junior Olympic level by Matt Cushing, the head coach at Wheaton College and one of Coven’s closest friends.
“I was an assistant to Matt Cushing at Wheaton so it’s a small world, especially in this profession,’’ O’Toole said. “It’s all about finding the right fit for what you envision for your program. Mike’s great group of seniors, and all he’s accomplished reflects that.’’Continued...