Derek Greene doesn’t consider himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. His dream job just came a little sooner than expected.
Less than a month before Vanderbilt’s season opener, coach Ronnie Woodard suddenly retired and the reins of the women’s soccer program were handed over to Greene.
Does this sound familiar? It should.
Just more than a year ago – on July 7 – Bobby Johnson abruptly stepped down from his post to spend more time with his family. Longtime assistant Robbie Caldwell took over, less than seven weeks before the team’s first game.
And this summer, on July 29, after 10 years as Vanderbilt’s head coach, Woodard announced she would leave in order to be around her \ son more.
“Who knows who is going to surprise us next year,” Greene said of the back-to-back summer coaching retirements. “The parallels were just unbelievable. I don’t know what Bobby’s reasons were overall but I do know what Ronnie’s were overall. It was just the grind of it was just too daunting.”
Greene, who has been with the Commodores since February 2010, was immediately named interim head coach by Vice Chancellor David Williams.
Greene, however, isn’t scrambling. Tipped off by Woodard in June that she was contemplating retirement, he began to put things in motion.
“We are not going to miss a beat,” Greene said. “Knowing what she was thinking, I went ahead and started preparing myself mentally and doing all the organization I needed to do to have the team ready to run smoothly the day I would potentially take over.”
Preseason camp began last Friday, the Commodores play a exhibition game at Louisville this Saturday and their first regular-season game is at home on Aug. 21 against Furman.
Vanderbilt finished 8-10-2 last year, with a 4-5-2 mark in the Southeastern Conference. The Commodores lost nine seniors but will have nine incoming freshmen plus Florida State transfer Abby Carr. Greene believes finishing in the top half of the SEC is feasible and says the talent is there to turn around a program that, in his mind, has underachieved over the last four years.
He also doesn’t think the players will have trouble adjusting to a new head coach.
“The fact these kids have known us over the last year and a half, they know our personalities, they have responded too us and I think they have a lot of respect for us as coaches and as people – just as we have respect for them as players and people,” he said. “But I really think the transition is going to be seamless. We are not going to have any issues. All of the feedback I have received from the kids is positive. Everybody is energetic and couldn’t be more fired up to get started.”
Greene’s only other head coaching experience at the collegiate level occurred in 1998-2001 when he was in charge of Division II Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tenn. But he has more than 18 years experience coaching youth and collegiate soccer.
The Knoxville native’s first collegiate gig was in 1996 as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater, Tennessee in the Vols’ first year of NCAA competition. From there he went to Carson-Newman, where he led the Eagles to their highest finish (fourth) in the South Athletic Conference in 2000.
He then spent seven years at Ole Miss, helping guide the Rebels to three NCAA Tournaments. In his lone season with Belmont, in 2009, the Bruins were the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season co-champions.
He believes all his travels around the South have prepared for the situation thrust before him at Vanderbilt.
“Certainly this is a dream job for me,” he said. “When I started coaching youth soccer basically in the early 90s and I found out that I wanted to do college soccer, Vanderbilt was a really strong program at that time and truthfully was a place that I would consider a dream job. It is close to my home. It is a place where you can win and win big. Every coach’s dream is to be in a job, in a situation where they think they have a chance to compete for a national title.
“Vanderbilt is a place you can do that for women’s soccer. I would be thrilled if we could make this thing stick long term.”
He hopes to shed the interim label soon and talk to Williams about his future “at some point.”
For Greene, he knows exactly where he wants to end up.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” he said. “I heard a coach say one time that all coaches coach to get somewhere else. This truly, I think, is my somewhere else.”