Coaching veteran sets game aside
Zeller to step down as coach, leaves legacy
Men’s soccer coach Rudy Zeller smiles after being drenched with water by his team after the Comets shut out Yuba College 2-0 on Nov. 12, his last game as coach. George Morin / The Advocate
The men's and women's soccer teams will each undergo a change of leadership over the summer.
After 16 years of commanding his team from the sideline of the Soccer Field at Contra Costa College, Rudy Zeller will step down from coaching.
"After 36 years (coaching soccer) it's time for me to move on. I think it's the right time to retire from coaching and reduce my workload," he said.
Zeller said he will not be leaving the college and plans to continue teaching physical education classes for two more years.
Athletic Director John Wade said he was informed of Zeller's decision last month.
Wade has named women's soccer coach Nikki Ferguson as Zeller's replacement, giving the team and its new coach plenty of time to prepare for the 2014 fall season.
Only a few weeks after Zeller announced his retirement to his players and coaching staff during a practice in mid-March, an application for Ferguson's former position as the women's coach was posted on simplyhired.com on April 3.
"We hope to fill the (women's) position before the season starts in August," Wade said. "But there is no timeline right now."
There are a few people who have made inquiries about the job but the college is waiting to attract more applicants, he said.
This is not the first time that Zeller has stepped down as coach, Wade said. In 2009-10, he went through some personal issues and took a leave of absence from his coaching position. Ferguson coached both soccer teams that season.
Wade said managing two teams would put unnecessary stress on any coach. "We don't want to put him (Ferguson) through that again."
Wade formed a hiring committee to conduct interviews with applicants for the women's coach position on Thursday. The committee consists of himself, Zeller and physical education department Chairperson Beth Goehring.
Goehring said, "We are looking for a candidate who is enthusiastic, has had experience working with the student population, and someone who is motivated to go out into the community and recruit players."
Let it be
When Zeller told sophomore Davis Okonkwo and his teammates, many were not surprised. There were rumors about him leaving for months but nothing was certain, Okonkwo said.
During the speech, "He became very emotional," he said. "You could tell he (Zeller) was sad that he is leaving."
Returning sophomore Brad Alman plays for CCC's men's soccer team but is enrolled at sister school Diablo Valley College, which does not have a soccer team. Zeller called Alman on his cellphone to tell him he will no longer be coach, Alman said. After the conversation, he said he empathized with Zeller's decision to hand over the reins to Ferguson.
Zeller has been not only directing the Comets' soccer team, but also serves as the athletic department's chairperson.
"I did not have as much time as I would have liked to dedicate to (the soccer team) because of my responsibilities as department chair," Zeller said. "At 64 (years old), coaching and being the department chair, I was overwhelmed. The workload was beyond what I am fully capable of."
"He (Zeller) was the head coach for a long time - but soccer is changing," Alman said. "We had a good season last year but he (Zeller) felt like we would have a better shot at a title if another guy stepped in - someone who can devote more time to the team than Zeller could last season."
Ferguson said with the cooperation of players and coaching staff, he will direct the Comets to the best of his ability in preparation for the new season.
"I hope to improve the team," Ferguson said. "Zeller has a good, established program. We need to maintain that level of excellence in practice during the coming summer months," he said.
"I'm excited for this opportunity," he said.
Zeller concluded his final season at CCC with one of the best records in recent history. The Comets finished second (7-2-3) in the Bay Valley Conference, (11-6-3 overall) to Merritt College by ceding low scoring games early in conference play. Missing a playoff berth by only five power points, two games and a tie.
Ferguson said the focus of the team will not only be on winning games, but taking what he learned from his 22 years of coaching to motivate his players to do well in their classes as well.
Liliana Reyes played for the women's soccer team last season. She was taken by surprise when told about Ferguson's new coaching position, however she is confident that Ferguson will excel once the new season is underway.
"He (Ferguson) is a strict coach, but a good one. He is consistent and is always planning ahead," she said. "Everything he does in practice leads into the next drill. He has a teaching style that is flowing."
Okonkwo said, "Not only is he committed to winning games, but to winning scholarships."
He said he believes Ferguson and the Comets will contend for a playoff spot right away because male players have a higher level of talent and dedication than female players, who shine academically.
Ferguson disagrees with part of that statement.
He said, "I don't think people should be viewed, or labeled as either a women's or men's coach," he said. "I'm just a coach. If you're good at what you do, gender should not matter."
Zeller said while the quality of players will not change much from the women to the men - the number of players who show up to tryouts will. He said the men's team has always had a higher turnout when it comes to recruiting.
"He will have twice as many players to pick from. He'll have a greater opportunity to create a successful program."
Assisting the future
Okonkwo said Zeller is still involved with the team. He has shown up to multiple practices after his announcement to help out with the transition.
Alman said Zeller is still teaching the spring semester soccer training class and both assistant coaches, Jon Scoles and Andres Orejuela, will return as part of Ferguson's coaching staff. He said Ferguson has shown up to a few practices to be introduced to players, positions and tactics. New and returning players are excited to find out how the new coach will alter the "identity" of the team, Alman said.
"Zeller is setting up Ferguson for the new season," he said. "But moving forward, it will be all up to Ferguson," he said.
Reyes said he will have no problem being the enforcer if need be. "Players won't be able to push him around. When his foot comes down, it stays down," she said.
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