For NC State men's soccer coach George Tarantini, the game of soccer belongs to the players. In 24 seasons as the Wolfpack's head coach, his teams have played an exciting, attacking, South American style of soccer that is familiar to the native Argentinian. It has become Tarantini's trademark.
"There is a responsibility that we have to assume, because I think the game deserves to be exciting," said Tarantini, whose brother, Alberto, played in two World Cups for Argentina. "The main reason you want to play attacking soccer is that the players want it, the coaches want it and the fans want it. I don't think [soccer] can be played any other way."
Tarantini began his coaching career at Arlington (N.Y.) High School in 1976, leading his squad to a 15-1 record and a Class AA Section I title. From there, he spent four years as an assistant at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He came to NC State as an assistant coach for both the men's and women's programs from 1982-85, before becoming the men's head coach in 1986.
The explosive nature that Tarantini's teams display has led to a great deal of success, and has made Tarantini the winningest coach in school history with over 200 career wins. He has posted a 224-189-41 overall record and led NC State to nine NCAA Tournament appearances, including three trips in the last seven seasons.
In 1990, the Wolfpack won the ACC championship and advanced to the Final Four before falling to eventual national champion UCLA on penalty kicks. He was named the ACC Coach of the Year in 1992 and 1994, also earning the NCAA Regional Coach of the Year award in 1994.
But it has been Tarantini's talented players and a flair for the exciting that have helped to define him and the Wolfpack program. The best seat in the house during a NC State match may be behind the opponent's goal. The Pack charges downfield quickly, often and in waves, and they are unpredictable, creative and relentless.
Last season the Pack once again returned to the NCAA Tournament, making it into the second round after earning the No. 15 seed overall. That trip came after NC State was ranked in the top-25 the final 11 weeks of the season, and also advanced to the ACC Tournament championship game.
In 2008, the Pack finished 10th nationally and second in the ACC in scoring offense. NC State finished its 2008 campaign as one of the hottest teams in the nation, as the Pack won eight of the final 11 games on the season, with all three loses coming to teams ranked in the top-five nationally.
The 2005 season was one to remember for the Wolfpack, as NC State was ranked throughout the season and reached as high as No. 7 in the country. The Pack received a first round bye in the NCAA Tournament, and the No. 14 seed overall, thanks to its third place ACC finish. After the season, three-time All-ACC performer Aaron King was drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS, then later traded to his hometown Colorado Rapids.
The 2003 edition of the Wolfpack returned to the NCAA Tournament, and completed the season tied for fourth in the ACC. For the only time in school history, the Pack went undefeated at Method Road going 8-0-1, including going 2-0-1 against all three of its ACC foes on its home pitch (all top-25 teams).
During a three-year stretch from 1990-92 when the Pack compiled a 43-12-8 mark, NC State outscored its opponents 161-77, averaging 3.8 goals per game. In 1990, NC State scored 76 goals and allowed just 26 in 22 games.
A prime example of the Pack's quick-strike attack came in the first round of the 1991 NCAA Tournament against ACC rival Clemson. The Tigers took a 1-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half, but only a minute and 34 seconds later, the Pack had scored twice, then added another goal before the halftime break to take a 3-1 lead.
"I would prefer the attitude that if we score one, we want to score two, and if we score two, we want to score three," said Tarantini. "I love to see goals and I like to see teams play to win instead of playing not to lose. When you play not to lose, everybody loses.
"If I teach my players anything, I teach them that every time they go forward, they have created something that has never been done before. When you go forward, the game changes."
Tarantini has also shown a great ability to help a player reach his full potential. He stresses individual skills within the team atmosphere, and he loves players with interesting personalities. Each year, he assures his players that they are allowed to take chances on the field. In fact, not only are they allowed to, it is expected.
At times, Tarantini's encouragement comes in the form of jumping up and down, hopping along the sideline, covering his head in a towel. Certainly, he is as colorful and animated as anyone in the game, and under his guidance, NC State has produced some of U.S. soccer's best players.
Tab Ramos, Roy Lassiter, Henry Gutierrez, Dario Brose, Scott Schweitzer, and Pablo Mastroeni all members of the U.S. National Team at one time during their careers, played for Tarantini at NC State. In all, he has produced 12 All-Americans and four ACC Players of the Year since taking over the Wolfpack program, with Aaron King earning All-American honors most recently. NC State had had success on the international level as well, as the Pack has had a player on five of the last six U.S. World Cup squads (Tab Ramos - 90, 94, 98 and Pablo Mastroeni - 02, 06).
The success comes through hard work. NC State's philosophy is to go forward and if they lose the ball, everybody must get back in front of the ball again. When they win the ball back, they must go forward again ... and quickly.
"My role is to have an environment where a player can create and express himself," said Tarantini. "A coach has to recognize strengths and weaknesses, but he should encourage the player to make decisions ... to grow ... to feel ... to play with passion." More than the style and success, Tarantini's program is built on three key ingredients -- academic commitment, athletic ability and personal integrity.
"At NC State, academics are the number one priority," said Tarantini. "If you don't make the grade, you don't play. It's that simple. Our players will always be student-athletes and fine representatives of NC State University.
"Soccer give student-athletes the opportunity to travel and learn through experience. If you have respect for the game and respect for yourself, the possibilities are limitless. Soccer is a great game that teaches many valuable lessons about sportsmanship, team play and about life."