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Coach Michael Coven still going strong as men’s soccer coach

By Brian Tabakin

Section: Featured, Sports

September 28, 2012

Surrounded by trophies, awards and certificates from his 40 years as the head coach of the Brandeis men’s soccer team, Head Coach Michael Coven reclined in his office chair after practice Wednesday afternoon. He joked, “I’m very popular these days. First The Globe [profile] and now The Hoot. I might as well retire after this. It’s great. It doesn’t get any better.”

Growing up in Brookline, Mass., Coven says “there was no high school or youth soccer.” The game was relatively unknown in the 1960s with only a few hot spots of soccer throughout the state concentrated in ethnic areas.

Coven was very fast as a kid and played a lot of baseball and track. He didn’t come across soccer, however, until the summer in between his sophomore and junior year of high school. That summer he was a waiter at a summer camp in Maine. “The majority of the counselors were international guys from England and Israel. Every night they would go out on the field and play soccer pickup games. I watched them for a while and then I joined in and fell in love with it.”

Coven explained that back in those days the game was much less sophisticated than it is today. “So if you had pretty good speed and you were somewhat athletic and you were physically hard you could be somewhat successful at it. I took to it very quickly.”

After falling in love with the game at camp, Coven went on to play soccer at American International College even though he had never played organized soccer. “I was a bit behind other guys on the team but I think I picked the game up pretty successfully.”

Once he graduated college, Coven played for various amateur leagues around Massachusetts and then played for the Boston Astros, one of the first professional soccer teams in the area in the old American Soccer League, ALS. “I played for their reserve squad and brought up a couple games on the A squad.”

Despite coaching for 40 years, Coven has not developed any rituals or superstitions. “I’m not a superstitious person, but I do have my towel. I have the same towel since I got here 40 years ago. It comes with me every game and travels with me. It’s probably a security blanket.”

Having paced the sidelines for 40 years, the game of soccer has naturally evolved and changed. Coven admits that he has had to adapt a little but says there’s one thing that has never changed. “I don’t think my relationship with the players has changed that much. I want to be there for my players more than two hours every day on the soccer field and I develop a relationship with my players that extend the rest of their lives.”

But Coven said the team has changed considerably in the last six or seven years, technically in the way it plays.

“The game has become so much more sophisticated. There is so much exposure now,” he said. “These players play the game at a much higher level than when I was growing-up playing or started coaching here. The game has evolved tremendously.”

Coven credits assistant coach Gabe Margolis ’05 for helping him adapt to the new realities of the game. “As a player I relied on my speed and athleticism, he relied on that, plus his technical ability with the ball and off the ball. I was very reluctant at first when he wanted to change our style. We used to be big and strong and fast and hard. He wanted to start playing the game with a little more skill. Now I’m a convert. We play a more attractive style of soccer now.”

Part of the biggest success of any soccer team is their goal keeping. It can be argued that it’s the most important position in any sport. Coven is very grateful that Tim Murray, the current goalkeeper coach and professional soccer player for the New England Revolution is able to coach the keepers. “He comes in and works exclusively with our goalkeepers. When Blake Minchoff came in, he was a very average goalkeeper. He’s improved tremendously. He was All-UAA last year and had 14 shutouts and he’s having a good year this year, I think because of Tim’s tutelage.”

In Coven’s 40 years on the job, his biggest regret is not one of loss or failure on the soccer field. It was his decision to bring in players solely on their soccer ability.

“We had a couple of bad seasons here and some of the players that were on those teams were not particularly good people. I had an idea when I was recruiting them that they might be trouble, but they were good players,” Coven said. “Something was telling me don’t get involved with them but I did and I regret bringing them here now because I think any of the years we had that maybe we were not as successful as we should have been, I could have done a better job in my recruiting effort.”

“I did not look beyond their ability as soccer players because some of them were very good players but they weren’t good teammates and they weren’t good people on or off the field and I regret that I probably brought them to Brandeis.”

Coven’s fondest memory at Brandeis is not the national title in 1976 or the multiple New England ECAC championships.

“I’ll never forget that at both my mother’s funeral and my father’s funeral, I looked up and my whole team was at each of these funerals. To me, that was a wonderful moment. It showed me the bond that we had. I think the letters and emails I get from former players wishing me well and congratulating me about different things are the things that made me feel that this is a special place for me.”

Coven shows no sign of slowing down in his 40th year. Each day he brings the same passion and enjoyment for the game that he brought to the field his first day on the job 40 years ago. His job does not end once he leaves the field. He cultivates relationships with his players and sculpts them into athletes, but also men.

“Some of my best friends now are players I had 25 or 30 years ago,” he said.

What started as an activity to pass the time nights at summer camp in Maine has turned into a lifelong passion for Coven, and if he has it his way, his passion will continue for decades.

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