Findley's New Challenge
Aug. 25, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. - Amid the myriad of items in Kelly Findley's office is a family photo, a plaque bearing a Bible verse, a board projecting NC State soccer's core principles and stacks of books.
The title of one hardback -- "Good to Great" -- seemed to shout from the shelf.
While men's soccer at State has long been good, athletics director Debbie Yow yearns for it to become great and made that clear in a phone call to the former Butler coach several months ago.
"`Men's soccer is important to us. We want to win a national championship,'" Findley remembers Yow telling him. He liked her message, saying: "You don't hear that very often from administration. That excited me."
So Findley accepted the NC State's coaching job, headed to Wolfpack Country last February with his wife Joanne and their five children, ages 3 to 10, and found a home in Cary.
Findley left a comfort zone at Butler, where he -- much like heralded basketball coach Brad Stevens -- had carved a special niche. His five Bulldog soccer teams compiled a 59-25-15 record with two Horizon Conference titles, climbed to fifth in the national rankings, and excelled in the classroom.
But at age 40 he was ready for a bigger league and a bigger challenge.
"State has so much potential and I'd love to be the person to maximize that potential,'' said Findley, a short, physically fit Energizer Bunny of a man with a mustache and beard and a sparkle in his eyes.
On the day Yow hired him, she exuded confidence in his ability to maximize that potential.
"Kelly Findley has great character and is totally focused on winning championships and graduating his players," Yow was quoted as saying on GoPack.com. "He will revitalize Wolfpack men's soccer and will elevate our program to elite status in this sport."
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Findley's first Wolfpack team opens the season Friday night at home against St. Francis with what he dubs "good talent." But he tempers his positive outlook with a "we've got a long way to go" warning.
He has a plan to get there, however -- global recruiting, signing elite players who possess character, commitment, discipline, a team-first mentality and a willingness to adhere to the coach's "core principles."
Note two of the 11 principles: "We Expect To Win Everything" ... "We Have Character At All Times."
Wolfpack assistant Dave Costa, who turned down the head job at Butler to come to Raleigh with Findley, admires his boss' values and the way he directs a program.
"He's an excellent leader, holds people around him, staff and players, to incredibly high standards,'' Costa said. "He takes great care of his players and helps them develop on and off the field. He's a family guy and makes sure his staff values the same things he does."
A man of faith, Findley glanced toward the shelf where the Bible verse -- a gift from his wife -- is prominently displayed.
The scripture is James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
"That's a vital part of my personality and how I try to lead my players," Findley said. "You've got to make sure you keep your priorities right.
"You've (also) got to keep some balance in life,'' he emphasized. "In the end, if I've won a national championship and lost my family, I really haven't won the battle."
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Raised in Houston, Texas, Findley started playing soccer at age 6 and remembers hearing predictions he would grow out of the sport. Instead, he grew into the sport.
His passion, combined with skills and savvy, served him well. At Judson College in Illinois he was a four-time team MVP, a three-time NAIA All-American and three-time conference Player of the Year. After that he logged six seasons with the pro Charlotte Eagles.
Some players were faster, some more talented, he said. To compensate, Findley played the game with his head as much as with his feet. Looking back, he believes becoming a student of the sport while competing helped prepare him to coach.
"I was not one of those immensely talented guys who could `just do it,''' Findley said. "I had to know what was happening ... I had to figure it out."
He figured it out, how to excel, how to win, and how to communicate his knowledge. In good physical condition from running, riding his mountain bike -- and chasing five children -- Findley looks as if he could still score goals and dish out assists.
"It's important to demonstrate (fitness) to players,'' he said. "It's hard to tell guys to run harder if you are 50 pounds overweight."
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While in college Findley didn't seriously consider a profession other than coaching.
"I enjoyed the team environment, enjoyed the game," he said, but other reasons, such as enriching people's lives, factored into his career decision.
"What I really like is the leadership part, spending time with the guys, hoping to make them better people, to be there in the vital character-building moments like I had people do for me."
A voracious reader, Findley has gleaned from famous football coaches such as Bobby Bowden -- "The Bowden Way," -- and Lou Holtz, soccer luminary Alex Ferguson and basketball legend John Wooden.
From Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, what did he take away?
"Sports is a platform for character and development,'' Findley said. "You can impact 18- to 20-year-olds the rest of their lives and other generations. In the end, at this level, it has to be about winning, too."