Retired soccer coach Rennie in Duke Hall of Fame

kcoons@newsobserver.comOctober 16, 2013 

Retired Duke soccer coach John Rennie joined six of his former players in the Duke Hall of Fame last weekend, with 1998 national player of the year Jay Heaps also a member of the induction class of 2013.

The honor was long overdue for Rennie, who established Duke as a national soccer power during his 29 years at the helm of the program (1979-2007), when he became the winningest soccer coach in ACC history (410-64-34). Including his six years at Columbia, Rennie compiled a record of 454-207-48, took 20 teams to the NCAA tournament, five to the College Cup (soccer’s final four), and one to the NCAA championship (1986). Along the way he coached six national players of the year – all are enshrined in Duke’s Hall of Fame – was the ACC coach of the year five times and the national coach of the year in 1982.

Those are the numbers, and they are impressive, but they don’t tell the whole story. In building Duke’s program, Rennie proved to the ACC that you could win with American players. Before Rennie’s title in ’86, Clemson had used its Nigerian pipeline to stock its team and rule the ACC, winning NCAA championships in 1984 and 1987. This was before Bruce Arena started his run of five NCAA titles in six years at Virginia (1989-1994).

“Did I really think it would work? I wanted to try,” Rennie said. “I had a couple of English players at Columbia who were great players. I could have gone that route here. But I had been recruiting players in the Northeast and New England area and thought they were good enough and brought them with me. I had a good knowledge of where the good kids were in New England. We added Texas and a few other areas later.”

Rennie credits former Duke athletic director Tom Butters for helping to nurture the program in the early days.

“He hired me and supported me when we started,” Rennie said. “He believed in soccer and what I was doing. We got a stadium with lights and increased scholarships. It would have been hard to do what we did without that.”

In 1982 Rennie took his undefeated and No. 1-ranked Blue Devils to the NCAA championship game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they lost in a marathon eight overtimes to Indiana 2-1. Four years later Rennie got his title, when Duke beat Akron 1-0 in Tacoma, Wash. John Kerr, now the Duke coach, was a senior on that Blue Devils team and the national player of the year.

The other enduring aspect of Rennie’s tenure is his coaching legacy. Many of his former players have gone on to coach in college or the professional ranks of Major League Soccer. In the college ranks, besides Kerr there are Ken Lolla (Louisville), Mike Linenberger (Sacramento State), Bob Jenkins (formerly at American University), and Tom Stone (Texas Tech women’s coach). Heaps (New England Revolution) and Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake) currently coach in MLS, Garth Lagerwey is the GM at Real Salt Lake, and Mike Jeffries was a former coach of the Dallas Burn.

Heaps said he learned a lot from Rennie in terms of X’s and O’s but also in judging character. Heaps has the distinction of having played for two Hall of Famers in Rennie and Mike Krzyzewski after making the Duke basketball team as a walk-on, and he draws an interesting parallel between them.

“Coach Rennie and Coach K made everyone understand they had a role, from the first man on the roster to the the last man on the roster,” Heaps said.

Stengel sidelined: Wake Forest forward Katie Stengel, a three-time All-American, has been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, in her left leg and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The senior is undergoing treatment that includes taking blood-thinning medication for at least three months and will be unable to play while on the medication.

Stars miss showdown: No. 4 North Carolina will host No. 1 Virginia at 1 p.m. Sunday in a key ACC women’s match, but the biggest star on each team won’t be available.

UNC’s Crystal Dunn and UVa’s Morgan Brian have been called to the U.S. Women’s National Team and are among 25 players U.S. coach Tom Sermanni will use in three friendlies from Oct. 20-30. Dunn and Morgan will suit up for Sunday’s match in San Antonio, Texas, against Australia and then return to their college teams for the rest of the season.

Looking ahead: It’s another busy weekend of ACC soccer. In women’s games, UNC hosts Syracuse (6-8-1, 2-6-1) in a 2 p.m. Thursday game ahead of the showdown with UVa. N.C. State (6-9-0, 1-8-0) is at home against Virginia at 7 p.m. Thursday and Syracuse at noon Sunday. Duke (5-6-3, 2-4-2) travels to Clemson (7-4-3, 4-3-1) on Thursday and No. 13 Notre Dame (9-4-1, 5-3-1) on Sunday.

In men’s games Friday, No. 12 UNC (4-1-5, 1-1-5) hosts Syracuse (8-4-1, 2-4-1) at 6:30 p.m., N.C. State (4-3-4, 1-3-3) entertains No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0-5, 4-0-3) at 7 p.m., and Duke (4-4-5, 0-3-4) is at Boston College (5-4-2, 3-3-1) at 7 p.m.

Coons: 919-829-4635

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