NCAA Soccer – Expect The Unexpected: Texas Rolls The Dice With Angela Kelly

When you’ve been around the world of college soccer for a while, you tend to become numb to words like “shocking” and “stunning” which have become commonplace in the lexicon of some when describing the sometime turbulent world of the sport. But make no mistake, Texas’ hire of Tennessee head coach Angela Kelly to be the new head of their program is both of those things and then some.

There could be little surprise when ex-coach Chris Petrucelli got the boot after yet another limp season in Austin that culminated in a second successive first round elimination in the NCAA Tournament. Texas hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008 and hasn’t won a major trophy since they won the Big XII Tournament in 2007. For all the promise Petrucelli brought coming into Austin, the team only won the league once and never looked like serious contenders to make it into the College Cup in his reign. Combine that with a team that looked increasingly stale and a bloated salary, and it was hardly surprising to see Petrucelli depart at the end of 2011.

Once news of his ouster became known, speculation as to his replacement cascaded to include just about every big name under the sun. With massive coffers, the reputation of the University of Texas, and a success hungry athletic department, it was not difficult to see why the Longhorns job was seen as being so coveted. There was every chance for the UT brass to have their pick of a candidate pool that likely exceeded a hundred applicants, most of them likely very qualified.

I had been led to believe that Texas’ shortlist was a very short one indeed, and that a big name appointment was likely in the cards. It’s safe to say Kelly’s name was not on that shortlist, and once word trickled out to me late last week, I was left to reset my jaw back into place after reading the news. Among other things, Kelly had seemed like a lifer at Tennessee after helming the program for twelve years. There had been little indication that she would be looking elsewhere, but the lure of Austin appears to have been too much to resist.

Kelly doesn’t sail into Austin without a fair share of major trophies to her record. In Knoxville, the former North Carolina star picked up three straight league titles and also brought home four SEC Tournament titles. The Lady Vols also made five appearances in the Sweet Sixteen over the years in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, as you might expect, Kelly’s pipeline into Canada has also bore much fruit over the years, with many prime Canadian prospects trekking across the border and into SEC country.

The new Texas boss’ recent record though is not reassuring. Tennessee’s last league title came in 2005, and the Lady Vols spent much of the past half-decade in the shadow of Florida and more recently South Carolina in the SEC. The Knoxville side’s record in the SEC Tournament has been poor as well, with just one appearance in the final in the past six seasons in the miracle run of 2008 that saw the team lift the title in Orange Beach. The fact that Tennessee has won just one major trophy in the past six seasons likely has some in Austin ill at ease with their new boss.

Perhaps most worrying though for Longhorns supporters is Kelly and Tennessee’s recent lack of success in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee actually is going through a longer stretch without a win in the Big Dance than Texas having not won in the NCAA Tournament since 2007, with the Horns’ last win having come in 2008 against Washington State. Tennessee has only qualified for the field of sixty-four twice in the past four seasons, a mark that would’ve been worse had they not stolen the SEC’s auto-bid in 2008.

While you’d certainly commend Kelly and the Lady Vols for a much improved season in 2011, you can’t ignore how this past season ended for Tennessee. Given a seed that some questioned, Tennessee were drawn at home against an Ohio State team that looked dead in the water coming into the NCAA Tournament, with some wondering what the Buckeyes were doing in the Big Dance in the first place. Tennessee lost. Badly. Their 3-0 defeat to the Buckeyes was likely the most disappointing result of the entire tournament.

If anything, there might be a little more verve in Austin with the new blood. Tennessee did score ten more goals in 2011 than Texas, and though Kelly’s Lady Vol teams were unapologetically direct in their style, they were at least able to excite offensively this past season, something the Horns haven’t been able to claim in a while.

Make no mistake though, this is a major gamble from an athletic department who has seen their two previous hires underwhelm as the Longhorns played second fiddle to Texas A&M in the state for much of the past decade and a half. While Texas has ruled the roost in many sports, they have almost always lagged behind on the national stage in soccer. If Kelly turns out to be the figure to lead the team out of the realm of the above-average, most will wonder why the hire was doubted in the first place.

But if Kelly’s recent middling form with Tennessee follows her to Austin, we could well see the Longhorns brass pilloried for what may be seen in retrospect as a lack of ambition in filling the breach left by Petrucelli.

48 thoughts on “NCAA Soccer – Expect The Unexpected: Texas Rolls The Dice With Angela Kelly

  1. Unknown

    Who would you suggested they hire. Not knowing all the details. There is a lot that goes in to hiring a coach. There are certain demands from each side and lot of things have to match up. Very complicated process. Who is or was available and wanted to move. This looks to be a pretty good hire. Her background looks very strong. She looks to have done well considering where she was at. I believe with what she did at TN with what she had. I could only imagine what she could do at Texas with the resources that are available and the talent pool to pull from.

  2. Michelle

    Very very disappointed in this hiring as a Longhorn. More surprised than anything else though. Can you share what when on in this hiring process that us fans should know about? Nobody can’t tell us not to tweet about this or talk about your article. That’s just ridiculous.

  3. Unknown

    What are you so disappointed about. Why I see nothing wrong with it. Breath of fresh air. New beginning with new vision

  4. Aldo

    So basically you are saying that only statistics and prestige should determine the hiring of a coach. Nothing about their vision, coaching style, recruiting style, ability to work with a hierarchy should be considered and nothing short of hiring Sir Alex Ferguson is good enough for this program?

  5. Bob

    I’m sure AD Dodds has much more important things to do than think about a soccer coach. Working with ESPN on network scheduling takes a lot of time!

  6. Unknown

    I agree with you Aldo. Though her stats are not bad either considering her circumstances at TN which is not a soccer powerhouse and had 5 sweet 16 appearances and had won the conf a few times. As I recall though. When Mack Brown was hired he was not exactly winning national championships at UNC or Tulane before that. Heck, he only got to a Independence bowl at Tulane and the highest ranking he achieved at UNC was #4 but UT saw more in him like I believe they see in Ange. Coaching involves so much more than just x’s and o’s. It is about leading, connecting, relationships, vision, passion and then the game.

  7. Jimbo

    Thanks for your input Angela.. I mean Unknown. What she did at TN with what she had? Are you KIDDING? They are waaay more well off and have more resources than I’d say over 90% of schools out there. I’m sure Texas could care less about soccer compare to any of their major sports but paying someone 250K a year in college soccer is a big deal. She was a bad season away from being fired at TN and that is why this hiring is a shock to many

  8. Theobservantspectator

    I have watched Ange Kelly and the Tennessee program for several years and compared with other regional women’s D1 programs. Tennessee has top facilities and a great soccer atmosphere as does Carolina, Florida, etc. If you believe TopDrawer and the other sites Kelly brought in top talent from California, Florida, Canada, the big northeast programs, etc. From her experience she knows the X’s and O’s, player skills, and the game in general but for some reason could not put it all together for the big show. Kelly is a very good coach but there are whispers, rumors, as to why becoming a great coach has eluded her.
    First, there is her playing philosophy which mimics more UEFA or other international FIFA play than American NCAA soccer. She only subs when she has to and not as a strategy as many of her counterparts do. I heard a story of one coach telling a fan “I’ll show you how to beat Ange Kelly tonight” and did so by strategic substitutes wearing down one side of her mids and backs with aggressive speed, then subbing in speed finesse for the quick score. Personally I don’t know how true or prevalent this really is but I do know her reticence about subbing is well known in the SEC and believe her win-loss record suffers from this tendency.
    Second, given a women’s athletic program legendary for the leadership and mentoring of Pat Summitt and Joan Cronan, other coaches know that Coach Kelly seldom does anything on the field or with her players to change a strategy paradigm that is not working in a given match. Sometimes, just changing a few players temporarily creates a new condition or feel in a match that leads to a new approach. The difference between very good and great may lie in this leadership capability. Kelly’s playing mentor Anson Dorrance knows this and she apparently had the bench strength to make this work this past season. Again, the W-L record may suffer.
    Finally, during the two rough seasons of 2009 and 2010, there were rumors around the conference that Coach Kelly had very poor personal inter-relationships with her players and a team with very low morale. Only she and her team know if this was true but the rumors were prevalent. Again this may be a leadership issue. Pat Summit’ s twelve laws come to mind.
    I know Tennessee was shocked when Kelly left, I know I was as an outsider, and hope she is a good fit for Texas. Women’s NCAA soccer needs Ange Kelly to become a great coach. She had the tools to do so with the Lady Volunteers. I will be watching to see if she can do it at Texas.

  9. Unknown

    Well written. As far as top talent I will disagree with you on that. Just look at their roster. Very little to none with national team experience. So I am not sure what you consider top level players. Now look at the Texas roster. Lot more players with national team playing experience. I know for fact there are several players that are top 50 that liked Kelly but was not going to TN to play soccer. As a matter of fact there are a few on Tx she wanted to said no to TN. So as far as top 50 players nationally. There are a lot more at TX than TN. And I
    Can promise you that is not because of Peteucelli.

  10. Theobservantspectator

    For Unknown
    The top talent question is always a good one and for any sport, often best discussed with libations. You are correct about Texas having more national team players and then of course there is Stanford! However, my view of top talent is a log-normal graph, skewed to the right, with the x- axis having below average players to the left and top talent to the right. In this example I am thinking of the universe of D1 qualified talent. For NCAA D1 women’s soccer I believe most large programs, in our discussion Texas and Tennessee, have players under the main peak of the curve on the better side of the graph in what I would call the first and second standard deviations. Stanford this year had players in the first, second, and third standard deviations making them the top team. Most teams, again the Tennessee’s and Texas’s (?) have average, first and second standard deviation players, just fewer in the second deviation. National level of play certainly helps top players improve, but I do not believe national play in and of itself makes for all top players. Not all have the same opportunities, live in large markets, or might be multisport athletes where soccer is only one of their strengths. A good coach can take good talent to top talent and use top talent effectively. There is great parity in much of D1 soccer, like across the SEC, but it is the teams that integrate that top talent into a team of D1 average, first and second deviation players that win. Long response but I guess my idea of top talent is different.

  11. John

    Interesting development and discussion. First point is each season only 1 team gets it right. For that matter only 16 teams get it Sweet Sixteen right, etc. There are how many D1 women’s teams? In my opinion good coaching is a many faceted thing and many aspects have been noted. Head coaches have to interact positively w/ players, parents, assts., admin., media and on down the line. Trends of where the program is headed can be insightful (which does raise some questions here), but if I’m an AD (or player/parent) I want to look at other things as well. Are the players better after 4 years w/ this coach? Does the coach grow the whole person? Can the coach adapt or is it a matter of beating square pegs into round holes in terms of playing style, formations, etc? Sometimes I think the situation just gets stale. I’ve often thought that the solution is to trade coaches. Before either school gets in too deep a funk switch ’em up. Not the way of the world, but still the idea intrigues me.

  12. TNSoccerdog

    Some of you have said some true things. I wont mention who or what. I just know that TN has not shown well at USYSA Regionals and is not on the radar for national team members as well for obvious reasons. Yet there are some very outstanding players from this state that ended up playing at top D1 programs out of state. Go figure. The TN coach did not cultivate an atmosphere where the top players in the state could or would want to stay, even if they could compete alongside out of state players. One just needs to look at past players – the ones that have contributed greatly to their success. Some surprises there – in state players.

  13. 100% backed

    Kelly is an amazing hire for this position. At Tennessee, she took the team to the next level a couple years after becoming head coach. The main problem at UT was the ability to score top level recruits. The program had it all – a multi-million dollar facility, an awesome coaching staff, academic support (an entire study center dedicated to athletes only)…i truly believe the one thing lacking was the location of the school in addition to its academic ranking. It’s amazing how many recruits gave these reasons as to why they wouldn’t commit to Tenn. Guess what Texas has? Awesome academic rankings, plus it’s in the heart of one of the countries most fun and bustling cities for young people. Texas too has the million dollar facility, will have an awesome coaching and academic support staff. Kelly has a die-hard attitude and has a way to drive, determine and motivate her players like no other coach I’ve ever seen. her passion for the game, and desire to win a national championship as a head coach is unmatched. With the support of the U. of Texas, the amazing town of Austin, better academics and a world class athletic program – I’d put money on Texas going far in the next couple years. A great choice – I’ll be watching.

    1. Mike

      I definitely get where you’re coming from. But blaming Knoxville for the problems in getting over the hump in my opinion is off base. What makes Knoxville worse than rural Auburn, Ala., or literal small town Athens, Ga., or Columbia, S.C. in a state where the soccer recruits are not on par with any of the other regional states? Yet Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina have had a lot more recent success than Tennessee.

      Success is half coaching. You can have the best players but not properly prepare or situate them to win. Or you can have “second-tier” players that others are indicating these programs are getting and perform well on the conference or national level. I don’t see South Carolina getting many more top kids than Tennessee, but they have passed the Vols as a program the past four years by a big margin. You have to get the players that fit your style, but more importantly you need to create a style that will breed success. I don’t think Ang Kelly has adapted her style recently to breed success, and as a result she’s fallen from the No. 2 team in the SEC her first few years into the No. 6 team in the SEC behind Florida, SC, Auburn, UGA and LSU.

      But maybe a new environment for both her and the Texas kids is just what’s needed to start a new winning era.

      1. abcde

        auburn finished 5th in the SEC in 2010 and 7th in 2011, losing in the regular season to Tennessee in both years, so i don’t think you need to say tennessee fell behind them. and as for your number 6 team ranking, well, tennessee finished 3rd in the conference the last two years. tennessee also beat georgia the last two years also.

  14. Anonymous

    To all–On the idea that TN does not have top players: we all know that making national teams has more to do with location, economic status and politics than it does actual talent. TN has some top notch players in their favor that often get overlooked. Everyone seems to forget that TN stayed in the top 25 all last season and appeared to be getting things back together under Kelly’s leadership. And as someone somewhat close to the TN program I am disappointed at everyones willingness to forget about the players emotions in the whole situation. The players read these articles and speaking poorly of the TN roster who is going through a shocking time benefits no one. Kelly is an outstanding coach that Texas should be grateful to have acquired.

  15. Horn Fan

    Anonymous, thanks for your insights. Can you help us understand what flattened out Tennessee’s results the past three to four years after such an outstanding early run by Coach Kelly?

  16. unknown

    To Anonymous. Facts are facts. This is not to say Tn did not or does not have good players. Yes in every program someone gets overlooked but based on the players resume and their accomplishments. They do not have very many players who have been recognized either by their local ODP, Regional ODP or the National program.Plus very little with All American honors or any other national honors. In addition not many if any in the woman’s professional league or playing professionally abroad. In the sports world this is just how they keep score on a players ability to play the game. As 100% backed mention. The truth of the matter is top players in this country for the most of them was not going to go to TN and play soccer. I had a direct conversation with one professional player who was recruited by Kelly to TN. Quote her words were. “I loved her and she is a great coach, but I was not going to go to TN and play soccer. What top player is going to go there and play”. I am sure that is a common theme based on the resume’s of the players that are on the current roster. That is not to say they are not good players or have heart. You can never measure heart. One thing that was mentioned in another forum is that TN recruited the Texas region very heavily especially the north Texas area. Which we all know is one of the top 2 in hotbeds for woman’s soccer recruiting. Look on the roster and tell me if you see if any of their efforts had paid off. Don’t think so. Now Kelly is at one of if not the best athletic programs in the nation. Not only that she now has the richest athletic program backing her. I have heard she is a tireless recruiter. Look out Coach G (A&M) you now have competition. Kelly is what Texas needed and I agree with 100% backed. I look for Texas to make great strides and be a contender year in and year out. With many conference championships and many rounds of playoffs

  17. 100% Backed

    So – give it time LongHorn Fan. Have you even met coach Kelly? Gaurantee that one you do – you’ll gain faith, hope, and trust in her. Let me know if that’s not the case.

  18. vofan

    Hornfan – I am fairly confident I can give you the correct answer for your question concerning the reason the Tennessee soccer program results flattened out over the last four or five years. The success of the program in Kelly’s first 5 or 6 years in Knoxville was the result of tremendous recruiting by a former assistant coach. As soon as the former assistant coach bolted the results weakened first in recruiting then on the field. IMO, Kelly is not a particularly effective coach on the field and a less effective recruiter. She has a difficult time relating to and motivating her players. From what I understand she was on her way out of Knoxville either way. Blessing for her the Texas job came open, I cannot honestly say the same for Texas.

    1. way off base

      i have never heard more of an off-base comment. can you give the name of the coach your referring to? If it is whom I think it is – again – you are WAY, way mis-informed.

  19. vofan

    Way off base – I am very familiar with the Tennessee program both inside and out. If you know the program well enough to have that strong of an opinion you are well aware of who the former assistant coach is. She could without question recognize talent and the team listened to and respected her. And I am not way off base or misinformed, I lived it. Your comments are biased and without merit to most in the know and even someone outside the program who takes the time to look at the program in depth. There is no question that the talent on the team took a nose dive around 2006. The records don’t lie. The only reason the record improved this past year was that the head coach dummied down the schedule playing a lot of second tier programs. Look at the 2011 schedule and compare the difficulty of it versus say 2005 or 2006.

    1. way off base

      sounds to me like you are the coach herself. if you were that in the know, you’d know the assistant coach got fired, she did not ‘bolt’ – at least not by choice, it was more like she was forced off the campus within a few days.

      but, you would know that, if, you lived it.

    2. abcde

      the 2011 schedule had A & M and UCLA on it. trips to kansas and oklahoma early in the season were not easy either. greensboror was a top 10 team when that game was scheduled. and the sec had 8 tournament teams, so that wasn’t an easy road.

      also if this mysterious assistant coach is so great, then how come they never got another division 1 job anywhere?

  20. unknown

    I believe now being at an institution like Texas and the staff that is rumored that she is assembling. She will do well. She is now where she needs to be to recruit the players that she has always wanted and was not able to get at TN. Not to say that the players were not good. Just not the level that you need to compete on a national championship level. I believe Texas now gets the players that have been going out of state to schools like Oklahoma state and Notre Dame to stay and go to Texas.To many players have been fleeing the state to go play at other places. A&M has done well in the recruiting. Coach G has done an awesome job. Players would much rather stay closer to home than go far away to school if they knew they had a chance to win. I believe based on Coach Kelly and what style she brings and what all her present and past players plus coaches have to say about her. She will turn this program in to a contender

    1. Soc fan

      Maybe coach Kelly will agree to play A&M in 2012 which petrucelli didn’t want. I would imagine that game would have the largest attendance of any women’s regular season game of the year. Perhaps she could even get espn to televise as its aggies turn to host!

  21. vofan

    I am very aware of what happened thanks and I am not that coach by the way. Angie Kelly is a one woman show. She strongly prefers (demands maybe) that assistant coaches serve only as cone placers and as ‘good cops’ when needed. If an assistant coach is competent and tries to actually coach, she/he is immediately perceived as a threat and will not stay employed. I understand that you have a different opinion way off base and that’s fine. In a relatively short time the Texas program will be able to make a decision whether your opinion or mine is more valid. What is undeniable is the dropoff in Tennessee soccer over the last five or six years.

      1. vofan

        Yes I do think that. Scott put up with what he did in order to further is education, then headed off to law school. I think the world of Keeley as a soccer player and even more so a person but her role was/is defined. She was a perfect choice for Angie in that Keeley had other soccer commitments and not always around. By the way both are quality people and made very good good cops. And for John, the former assistant coach was Sam(antha) Baggett. I truly wish Angie the best of luck in her new position. She has mellowed some and maybe its because she has learned from her past mistakes. Tennessee’s program will in all likelihood be revived with a fresh face and Texas can possibly improve if Angie truly has changed her stripes. Generally speaking I think the writer of this article was very perceptive in his account of the hiring.

  22. john

    Not sure why the asst. coach’s name is being treated as a matter of national security, but I’m not willing to look it up. Having gone to high school myself and then coached f/ 25 years I encountered myriad reasons f/ players to choose a college. Distance from home was only one of them. Some of the reasons range from the goofy to truly insightful. I sat in the stands and heard a recruit say she wouldn’t go to a school b/c she didn’t like the asst. coach’s fashion style. Another player’s peference was based on “wanting to jump the coach’s bones”. These lines of reasoning could lead one to believe that there is only so much a recruiter can do. Hopefully each player is choosing the right school environment f/ herself by weighing all the factors.

  23. unknown

    looks like one of their assistants is Keeley Dowling. She was a pretty good player. Which like Coach Kelly. You can’t argue to much with someone who tells you to do something that has already been there and done that. Got to have respect for someone who not only can talk the talk but walk the walk.

  24. BTDT

    Being a great player does not always mean you will be a great coach. The best coaches know how to motivate and inspire the player to be the best that they can be both on and off the field. Coaching is not about creating fear and demeaning your players. It is about bringing the best out of every player you coach. Success breeds success. When the incoming class is told to de-committ by upper classmen before they arrive on campus the environment is not good. Best of luck in Texas.

  25. unknown

    I have heard that Alexa Gaul is looking to transfer, any word if this is true or if other Texas players will leave?

  26. 8mile

    I heard the same thing also maybe another one may be transferring but they have a very good goal keeper coming in, National team one. So I don’t think they are to worried about that loss Plus there is speculation that Kristine Lilly was on campus and was also seen at the basketball game . Umm! that would be huge if she is coming to Texas. That would be a big hire.

  27. J Williams

    Gaul is out, so is Lexi Harris and Clarissa Wedemeyer. Abby Smith, U-20 keeper will be a freshman next year, but will be tied up with U-20 world cup at start of season. Along with Abby, a strong 2012 class, and Top 100 midfielder for 2013 class so far.

  28. random

    This Lilly talk is so overblown it isn’t even funny. Lilly used to go visit Kelly in TN a few times a year so I wouldn’t be surprised if she took a visit out to TX to see her new digs.

  29. Unknown

    Well random. I guess we will just have to wait and see on that. I have heard from several different individuals that she will be on staff. Can’t say for sure but it would be very good hire if that is the case. Hey it is TEXAS. This ain’t no Tennessee lol

    1. random

      Don’t disagree that it could be a good hire I just don’t see it happening, but I’m not anywhere near TX to hear rumors so as you said we will see what happens.

  30. Demand more..

    I know Coach Kelly a little bit. For all of her “talents”, I wish she also had the moral values to back up her aspirations. I wince at how good she could become as I know her moral shortcomings undermine true greatness. I wouldn’t let my child play for her..

    1. cow pasture alum

      For the benefit of those of us with relatively little familiarity with the situation in Knoxville, Austin, or anywhere in between, could all of you be a bit less cryptic? Thank you.

  31. BTDT

    Great player does not always equal great coach. Those players haven’t left because they don’t know better. The coach can make or break a team.

    1. unknown

      Well BTDT that explains why Petrucelli was fired. Obviously what they were doing was not working. So if the players are so smart then why were they willing to stay around for a coach that was not getting the job done.Does not seem to me that they were that smart after all if they were willing to stick around for that. Don’t think Kelly can do much worse. Also to you demand more. Tell us what you know. You are leaving some really good details out. What has Coach Kelly done that is so morally wrong. That she has not been caught or punished for. I find that hard to believe that she is that bad of a person.

  32. Tom

    Ang and Lilly are pretty close if you know what I mean so that’s why she was there. She won’t work for the team. I still can’t believe this hire but good for her


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