Heading for Greener Pitch: Cook Will Leave Dartmouth for Job Coaching With MLS

Published: 8/22/2016 10:25:03 AM
Modified: 4/5/2013 12:00:00 AM
Hanover — Jeff Cook looked exhausted yesterday morning while seated at a table in the Oberlander Lounge of Dartmouth College’s Alumni Gym. Having just told the Big Green men’s soccer players he was resigning as their coach, the 45-year-old caressed a cup of hot coffee while discussing his jump to the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer. Cook will become director of recruitment for the club’s nascent youth academy and also have a role working with the professional team.

Dartmouth’s head coach since 2001, Cook flew back from Philadelphia on Wednesday night with his wife and his sons, ages 16 and 12, after spending four days exploring suburban neighborhoods and schools. He met with his players at 8:30 a.m. yesterday before moving on to inform a visiting recruit of the breaking news.

“It’s a strange day,’’ said Cook, adding that he got little sleep Wednesday night at his Hanover home. “I’m not unhappy with any aspect of my job at Dartmouth, and I don’t have any doubts about our success in coming years. It’s going to be very difficult and very emotional to leave Hanover and Dartmouth ... our family considers itself to be from the Upper Valley.”

Cook led the program to five Ivy League championships and seven appearances in the NCAA Division I playoffs. Dartmouth was 106-74-31 during his 12 seasons and his players earned 23 first-team All-Ivy selections. He is only the second of Dartmouth’s nine men’s soccer coaches to surpass 100 victories with the program, the other being Tom Dent, who captured 143.

“I’m really happy for Jeff,’’ said Dartmouth Athletic Director Harry Sheehy. “He’s a first class individual and he ran such a great program that we’re obviously going to miss him. But I know this is something Jeff wants to try, so it’s something we support. We have something to follow in Philadelphia now.”

Cook said he first had discussions with the Union’s youth academy director, Tommy Wilson, in February. He interviewed in person during March and gave the organization “a tentative” acceptance last week.

Cook said his job description calls for him to help establish and direct the Union’s new youth academy, which will be at full strength for the upcoming fall season. He will also coach one of the age-group teams, which are slated to be at the U14, U16 and U18 levels, and to assist Union head coach John Hackworth, a former University of Pennsylvania assistant.

“My dream is to coach at the professional level and it became clear to me that at some point, I had to make a move like this,’’ said Cook, who expects to wrap up his Dartmouth duties by month’s end and for his family to join him in Pennsylvania during the summer.

“When I first heard about this opportunity, I was very flattered, but I didn’t think it was something I could do career-wise. But the Union has made a significant investment in youth development and the goal is for it to have the best academy program in North America in five years.”

Speculation around Dartmouth athletics in recent days has centered on when a replacement for recently departed women’s basketball coach Chris Wielgus will be named. There was no hint that Cook was on the verge of leaving, and two of his players seemed a bit stunned yesterday morning, minutes after hearing the news.

“Nobody had heard any rumors and everybody was like ‘Why on earth do we have a team meeting at 8:30?’ ” said senior captain Kevin Dzierzawski. “We went from being tight and groggy to, wow, this is really happening.”

Said junior Colin Skelly: “It’s a complete shock, but we’re all happy for him. We knew it was going to come at some point, maybe not during our time here, but we knew he was looking toward the pro level.”

Cook has been a college coach for 23 years and said he feared he might not achieve his career goal if he didn’t take this opportunity. Nonetheless, he called the decision “agonizing” and appeared pained while discussing it.

“I had no desire to leave for another college, but I wanted to get to the pros and I didn’t know if I was going to get there,’’ he said. “That transition is becoming more difficult, but one of the reasons I became a strong candidate is because of my experience developing well-rounded players. (The Union) wants its academy players who don’t make the pro grade right away to go on to a great college career.”

Cook said the Union will recruit primarily from Philadelphia’s vibrant youth soccer culture, but that the rules governing which U.S. prospects are eligible for which youth academies are evolving almost by the month.

“One reasons this is so attractive is that we’re going to build something from the ground up with the umbrella of MLS,’’ Cook said. “The Union want to see locally produced players representing them and ultimately to represent the United States.”

In recent years, Cook has been working to attain a Union of European Football Association pro license, the highest certification offered by that organization and something that few Americans achieve. He holds a UEFA ‘A’ license and the British Broadcasting Company’s website describes those levels thus: “The UEFA pro coaching license is aimed at Europe’s elite band of coaches, but it is actually more about management than coaching itself. The UEFA ‘A’ license, a step below the pro license, covers matters more suited to the football pitch.”

Cook was the head coach at the University of Cincinnati from 1996-2000 and a Dartmouth assistant before that. During his first stint at Dartmouth, he was also director of coaching for the Upper Valley’s Lightning Soccer club.

A 1989 graduate of Bates College in Maine, Cook began his career as a University of Massachusetts assistant and then head coach of Division III Wheaton (Mass.) College. Dartmouth games last year attracted an average of 1,300 fans per game, 21st among Division I teams and first among Ivy programs.

“Our kids have grown up here and we’ll miss our friends, but we intend to be back frequently to ski and to enjoy the outdoors and to support Dartmouth,’’ Cook said of his family. “This is a challenging transition, but the one positive thing is that I’m not leaving for another college job.

“My loyalty to Dartmouth is genuine, and this is a career decision for me. Dartmouth and the Upper Valley are incredible places and we’re very fortunate to have been here.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.

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