October 19, 2012 - Before he was even hired as the founding coach at Florida Gulf Coast University in sunny Southwest Florida for the 2007 season, Bob Butehorn knew the lack of men’s programs at multi-sports state powerhouses Florida, Florida State and Miami left a recruiting void that he could exploit.
Butehorn also believed the year-round warm weather would give him an immediate training edge with his plans for an international style of play. Throw in shiny, all-new facilities at a school that opened only a decade earlier, and all the ingredients were in place for rapid success.
Sure enough, less than six full seasons later, Butehorn finds himself helming a program on the rise. Following the school’s four-year reclassification in all sports from Division-II to Division-I that came without postseason eligibility, FGCU qualified for the NCAA championships last year in its first season eligible.
There also were notable upsets a season earlier of Ohio State and South Florida, both ranked in the top 25 at the time, and a season-ending NCAA RPI rank of 34th. FGCU’s 2-1 defeat at South Florida in 2010 snapped the Bulls’ 30-game home unbeaten streak.
“I had a feeling that if I got to Florida and it was warm and I could train 365 days a year, I could develop players a little bit faster and I could get a style that I really liked to play,” said Butehorn, noting the successes of Florida International in Miami in the late 1990s and early 2000s and Central Florida in Orlando and South Florida in Tampa in the last decade.
“I just saw that it was an area that I felt like there was some real possibility, some real potential.”
Recruiting across the state and internationally, Butehorn sought players who fit his ideas for the faster, technique-based “beautiful game” rather than the physical, defensive-minded brand of soccer that he said is too common in many American college programs.
“I think one of the problems we have in this country on a larger scale is when we try to play at the next levels, internationally, the physical capabilities of our players are nullified because the technical speed at which we play can’t match what other teams are doing,” Butehorn said.
“Sometimes that can result in a very defensive-minded, destructive way to play the game,” he said of physical, disruptive soccer. “I’m taking the other side of the road. I’m going to try to get the best soccer players I can find and develop them and develop the game the way we see it: a free-flowing, creative, idea game of (improvisation) that it should be.”
Focusing heavily on four-year players to give them time to develop in what Butehorn sees as a more-intricate, cohesion-dependent style, FGCU improved its record from just 6-11-2 and 6-10-2 in each of its first two seasons to 8-7-1 in its third year and finally 13-3-2 in its fourth year, when the Eagles went 9-0 to win Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title.
Once finally eligible for the postseason last year, FGCU went 12-6-2 overall, won a second straight A-Sun regular-season title at 7-1 and won the A-Sun tournament as the No. 1 seed in its first try. But with a team they thought had the potential to make a run in the NCAA tournament, the Eagles were crushed when, with Lowe’s Senior CLASS All-America first team senior goalie Adam Glick out with an injury, FGCU lost 1-0 in double overtime to the same UCF team that FGCU had beaten 2-1 in Orlando earlier in the season when UCF was ranked No. 8.
Starting almost anew with 12 freshmen and nine sophomores dominating its 26-man roster, FGCU took its lumps earlier this year with losses at ranked foes Akron, Georgetown and South Florida. But with players from eight nations helping give the program its greatest talent level yet in its six seasons, FGCU has put itself nearly atop the A-Sun standings midway through the conference schedule.
“There’s always the goal to win championships,” Butehorn said. “That’s how we built the program, trying to get the organization and the group at its peak at the right times.”
Whether this year or in the future, Butehorn doesn’t want FGCU just upsetting top teams but rather expects it routinely to be one of them.
“We’re making the right steps to get there,” he said. “It used to be an ambitious goal, we felt. But we’re now getting to the potential where we truly believe in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It’s just going to be execution.”