This is the third installment of my series evaluating Wake Forest athletics on-field performance under athletic director Ron Wellman. This week, a sport close to my heart: men's soccer. Y'all get this a little early because 1) I like you, and 2) I have plans for this weekend.
Just as a reminder: this series is an attempt at an unbiased review to measure how each individual sports program has fared in the past 21 seasons. Why 21 seasons? Because Ron Wellman came aboard in October 1992, thus his impact on the seasons of the 1992-93 academic year are minimal. Thus, I'm primarily interested in looking at 1993-94 to the present, with a cursory look at how the program was faring before Wellman's arrival as the baseline with which to measure the performance during this period.
***** Index *****
***** Program Overview *****
Since the program's founding in 1980, Wake Forest men's soccer has had three head coaches: George Kennedy, Walt Chyzowych, and current lead man Jay Vidovich. Kennedy, hired for his experience as a high school coach in Florida, shepherded the Deacs through their first seven seasons, compiling a 64-51-11 record. After Kennedy's resignation, then athletic director Gene Hooks scored a coup, hiring former US Men's National Team player and coach Walt Chyzowych to lead the program. Chyzowych has been lauded as one of the foremost influences during the formative years of US soccer, and his time at Wake did not disappoint. In eight seasons, Chyzowych led the Deacs to four NCAA Tournaments and a surprise run to the 1989 ACC Tournament title. After a brief down spell in the early 90's, Chyzowych had the Deacons trending upwards heading into the 1994 season, but on September 2, 1994, Chyzowych suffered a heart attack on the Wake campus, dying later that day.
Rather than risk the season in the hands of an unfamiliar coach, Wellman chose Chyzowych's top assistant to succeed the legend. Vidovich had been an assistant to Chyzowych since 1986, and after a rough few seasons, began to get the program moving slowly in the right direction. In his first 8 seasons, Vidovich's record stood at 90-56-13 overall (.606 winning percentage) and 16-27-5 in conference (.385), very close to Chyzowych's career marks of 77-39-22 (.563) overall and 15-25-7 (.397) in conference. In 2002, Vidovich's 8th season, the Deacs managed to win the ACC regular season with a 4-0-2 conference record, kickstarting a stretch of dominance unmatched by any other Wake men's program in the Wellman era.
From 2003 to 2009, the Deacs won 4 more ACC regular season titles, had 4 appearances in the College Cup (soccer's Final Four), had winning percentages of .754 overall and .679 in the ever-tough ACC, and oh yeah, won the 2007 national title. Largely as a result of this stretch, Wake men's soccer has become one of the top 10 programs in the country. Even after a down period following 2009, the past two Wake teams have garnered top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament despite relatively underperforming compared to their respective talent levels. This past offseason, the Deacs had four players drafted in the MLS Draft, with another two underclassmen departing for MLS teams via contract; the six players leaving for the MLS were the most of any university in the country. Given Vidovich's recruiting prowess, it seems like only a matter of time before the Deacs break back through and win another title.
***** Note on Methodology *****
Soccer, unlike (modern American) football or volleyball, features draws (in soccer parlance, tied games are called "draws", the term "tie" is used as a synonym for any individual game) fairly regularly. For the purposes of winning percentage or calculating net wins, draws count as half a win. For example, a team finishing at 10-7-3 would have an effective win-loss record of 11.5-8.5 (.575 winning percentage) and 11.5 net wins.
The men's soccer program had a fairly prestigious history prior to Wellman's arrival. Kennedy and Chyzowych both had success, with the former winning an ACC Coach of the Year award in 1981 and the latter winning the ACC Tournament (something Vidovich has yet to do, by the way) in 1989. As a result, the standards set from 1983-1992 are not low:
Again, as reference: the gold line represents the aggregate winning percentage over 1983-1992, which in this case comes out to .561. Not too shabby.
The silver line represents the demarcation between the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons, when Wellman took over. All of the results to the right of that line can be attributed to Wellman's stewardship.
You can see that with the exception of a few seasons at the beginning of his tenure and at the end of his tenure, Vidovich has kept the program above this standard. Also note the 2005 dip in the otherwise lofty period mentioned above; we're gonna see a lot more of that 2005 season being a noticeable outlier in these graphs.
Here are the conference year-by-year results over the same period:
The average from 1983-1992 was a paltry .331 winning percentage, which the Deacs have easily eclipsed in most years since Wellman took over. (Hey there again 2005! You sure were a weird season.) Also note the definite trend up; even in the relatively down seasons following 2009, the Deacs have still managed an above .500 conference record in each season.
If you're looking for a reason why the general trend of the program has been consistently upwards, this actually is due to a decision that can be somewhat directly attributed to Wellman. Beginning in 1990, the soccer team began playing its game on the artificial turf of Kentner Stadium, which according to Vidovich had an adverse effect on recruiting. In his first season, Wellman okayed a return to natural grass, and soon after ground was broken on what would become Spry Stadium (featuring the newly-christened Walt Chyzowych alumni hill) - a massive upgrade in facilities that helped Vidovich become arguably the top recruiting coach in the country.
Let's take a look at 4 year rolling averages, separated by coach:
Don't be too alarmed by that sharp downward slide from Vidovich: this downward turn occurred as a result of some impossibly good seasons (22-2-2 in 2007, 21-2-1 in 2008) being replaced by good-but-not-great seasons. Overall, the program is still very healthy (the 4 year overall average after 2013 was still .562) and that's reflected in the conference results, where the dropoff hasn't been as dramatic. It speaks a lot to the high standards that Vidovich has set that the worst conference seasons since 2000 have been a pair of 4-3-1 campaigns in 2011 and 2012 (excluding 2005, of course).
In fact, that spike that you see up to the highest point was a direct result of 2005 being phased out of the average, jumping the average up to .781 (!!!) in conference play for the 2006-2009 period.
From this point on, we're mainly looking at the career of Jay Vidovich. Walt Chyzowych had one season under Wellman, but 20 of Wellman's 21 seasons have seen Vidovich at the helm. As a result, most of the graphs are going to be incredibly similar, both in terms of accumulation of net wins and of winning percentage. The graphs which dictate Wellman's overall performance will be the top graph of each pair, while the graphs that indicate individual coaching performance will be the bottom graph. Due to the vast majority of Wellman's data also being Vidovich's data, expect the graphs to all look extremely similar past the first few seasons of Vidovich's tenure.
Here we see the overall cumulative winning and cumulative winning percentages by coach. Note that Chyzowych gets credit for his earlier successes, while Wellman does not. Overall, the graphs look pretty similar after the first few seasons, with the former being a few percentage points lower than the latter.
What the shit, 2005? These graphs are practically perfect except for you. Why do you have to ruin all of my nice things? (The Deacs went 13-8-2 overall and 1-5-2 in ACC play in 2005, if you're wondering. Two years later, 22-2-2 and 7-0-1 and that national title. Yeah, I dunno either.)
Note again the similarities of the charts after the first few seasons.
Here are the overall net wins graphs:
The main thing to note about these graphs is how long it took for Vidovich to get rolling. His cumulative net wins was as low as 1.0 as recently as 1998 (so, 1 win above expected for his first five seasons). Then, every season from 2001 to 2009 was at least a win over expected, and all but 2005 were at least 2 wins over expected. 2007 and 2008 were both more than 8 wins better than expected (which... they only played 26 and 24 games those seasons, for perspective).
Also, interestingly, Chyzowych ended his career just in the negatives for wins expected, at .638 of a win below his projected record.
By the way, Vidovich's peaks were after 2009 (48.07 wins above expected) and 2013 (48.13). Over his 20 seasons, Vidovich has averaged close to 2 wins and a draw better than the already high standards. Since 2001, that number jumps up to over 3 wins per season (43.1 wins above expected in 13 seasons).
Ahem... Vidovich currently has accumulated 35.1 wins above expected in ACC play, with 34.0 of that coming since 2001. Again, that's above 2 wins and a draw better than expected PER SEASON in conference play over those 13 seasons.
I think what I'm trying to say is that Vidovich is very, very good at his job, and we are lucky to have him.
Chyzowych ended up at 2.9 wins above expected for his conference record, thus continuing the weird pattern seen in football and volleyball of Wake coaches underperforming overall but overperforming in conference play (admittedly, the conference standards have been quite low in all three sports).
***** Summation *****
Proj. Record: 88.6-69.4 (15.6-31.4)
Actual Record: 88-70 (18.5-28.5)
Net: -0.6 (+2.9)
Proj. Record Under Wellman: 10.1-7.9 (2.0-4.0)
Actual Record Under Wellman: 8.5-9.5 (1.5-4.5)
Net: -1.6 (-0.5)
Proj. Record: 237.9-186.1 (47-95)
Actual Record: 286-138 (82-60)
Net: +48.1 (+35.1)
Proj. Record: 248-196 (49-99)
Actual Record: 294.5-208 (83.5-64.5)
Net: +46.5 (+34.6)
***** Analysis *****
Without having worked on too many other sports, I feel comfortable saying that Vidovich is the best hire of the Wellman era. The run from 2001 to 2009 is nearly peerless among modern-era Wake sports, ranking slightly behind field hockey's run of three straight national championships but just ahead of baseball's run of three ACC Tournament championships in four seasons from 1998-2001 (both Jen Averill and George Greer were holdovers from Gene Hooks's AD tenure).
Really, though, the story of Wake Forest men's soccer is one of unquestioned excellence, and not just during that stellar period. From the early days of George Kennedy through the much beloved Walt Chyzowych, Wake has been blessed with a program that has almost always found itself among the national elite. Wellman's tenure has only seen an even higher peak to the program, culminating in that 2007 national championship. Although the circumstances surrounding his hire were devastating, Vidovich has more than justified Wellman's support in promoting him before the 1994 season. Wellman himself - through the decision to build Spry Stadium and thus give the program the quality facilities needed to recruit in a nationally-competitive fashion - has also contributed to this success.
Regardless of how you feel about Wellman, men's soccer is unquestionably a gigantic plus on his resume, and one for which every Wake fan should feel thankful.
***** Running Total *****
Football: -6.4 (+2.9) --> -25.8 (+17.3)
Volleyball: +20.9 (+40.8) --> +36.9 (+124.4)
Men's Soccer: +46.5 (+34.6) --> +109.7 (+233.8)
Total: +120.8 (+375.5)
Total: +127.3 (+678.5)
Note: For now I'm keeping the assorted weighting system (x5 to football and men's basketball; x2 to men's soccer, women's soccer, women's basketball, baseball, men's golf; x1 to volleyball, men's cross country, women's cross country, field hockey, men's track and field, women's track and field, men's tennis, women's tennis, women's golf). For those of you that don't read the comments, I am not wedded to this formulation, and would like opinions as to how you think I should formulate the weighting system. Options that have been suggested:
- delineating a clear line between revenue (football and men's basketball) and non-revenue (the rest) sports, with the former being weighted x5 and the latter x1
- keeping the system currently in use, but moving field hockey to the x2 category
- formulating a system with weights given according to percentage of maximum attendance per sport
- formulating a system with weights given according to ticket pricing, which would serve as proxy for fan interest (higher cost = more interest)
At the end of next week's review, I will have a poll allowing you to vote on whichever weighting system you prefer. I will include any system that gets suggested in the vote, so if you have an idea, please say so in the comments.
Next week: We continue with soccer, as we look at the women's program! Can Tony da Luz's impressive streak of making the NCAA Tournament in every single season match the peaks of the Vidovich era? Tune in next week to find out!