A coach can only do so much with his players. Whether it’s calling out tactical orders or forming decisions that can make or break a match, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the face of a Division-I program. For JMU men’s soccer head coach Paul Zazenski, he has the benefit of having two assistant coaches who make his job a little easier.
Assistant coaches Adam Perron and Nicholas Melville started relatively recently. Perron was a hire made by former head coach Tom Foley after the 2017 season concluded, while Melville joined the Dukes’ coaching staff near the start of the 2018 campaign. With the head coaching change before the season started, the new coaching staff had little time to get to know each other.
“I had only known [Perron] for the short stint he had been a part of the program, which would’ve been three or four months,” Zazenski said. “[Melville] I knew even less, because he came in a week before preseason started. So, we got about a few days to get to know each other … We didn’t know each other at all, but [Melville and Perron] had a prior relationship, which is one reason why Nick is at JMU.”
Before their careers at JMU, Melville was coached by Perron in high school and the two played on the same Premier Development League team. During their time together one summer, Perron stayed with Melville’s family during the season.
Despite having little time on their hands, the three coaches were able to build chemistry quickly. The preseason served as a time not only for the team to get back into shape, but also for the coaches to learn about each other and figure out how they can help the team thrive.
“We’re around each other more than our families,” Zazenski said. “That can be a good thing and a bad thing, but we tried to go out to eat and spend time in the office and really just hang out in order to get to know each other and figure out who they are.”
Both Melville and Perron are new to the Harrisonburg area. The two are originally from New England and are still adjusting to life in the Shenandoah Valley.
Perron played professional soccer in the PDL and previously served as an assistant and goalkeeper coach at Ohio State. In 2017, he was the head coach of the Seacoast Academy U-19 team. The transition from one of the highest profile colleges in the country to a mid-major school brings different perspectives on how a program is run.
“In terms of players, you can attract a bit of higher profile players,” Perron said. “Recruiting a national team kid becomes easier because of the pedigree, but to give a lot of credit to the program here, any kid I’ve called always listened because of the academic reputation and the tradition of soccer that [former head coach Tom Martin] started.”
Being a recent graduate means Melville is able to connect with players on a personal level. With his experience at FC Cincinnati, he knows what it takes to get opportunities at the professional stage.
“Being able to help the guys and relate to them allows me to have a good connection to [the players],” Melville said. “Going to coaching from playing is a bit different, but whether if it’s just a side conversation or implement things that I’ve experienced in the game, it’s all about trying to help the guy get better.”
The chemistry between players is vital for success on the field, but the coaching styles of each staff member need to gel if they want to succeed in the CAA. Luckily for the Dukes, every coach knows his role and just how much he can put on the team without butting heads.
“They do a great job of reading off of me,” Zazenski said. “You can’t have assistants that are overly one way or the other. I think I set the tone and expectations as a staff, and they follow suit. With that being said, they want to bring their own coaching and expertise to the sidelines. The way they carry themselves is very professional and positive.”
It’s important for every team to have chemistry within its coaching staff, but it’s also key for the players to want to play under their coaches. Every coach has experience at high levels of American soccer, so the team respects them and wants to learn so they can reach the highest levels of professional soccer.
“They’re fantastic,” senior midfielder Thomas Shores said. “Both of them are young guys. It’s nice to have the young guys who just came out of a playing environment we all aspire to be at. It helps bridge the gap as far as a coach’s perspective and a player’s. It’s easy to relate to them.”
The current coaching staff of the JMU men’s soccer team has been able to come in and earn the respect of the players. They’ve been able to carry the high standard and tradition that’s been set for the Dukes’ program that continues to rise in national pedigree.
“You come into work and you’re surrounded by good people,” Perron said. “You don’t think about the lights, cameras, Nike deals and everything of the bigger schools, it’s more of who you’re around every single day.”
A head coach can do everything they can to find success, but the ones who build successful programs are those who have a capable supporting staff. For Zazenski and the Dukes, they’re in good hands.
Contact Noah Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.