Brandeis coaching duo leads the NCAA in tenure
WALTHAM — In 1973, soccer superstar Pele visited a Watergate-stressed Richard Nixon in the White House, Billie Jean King won the “Battle of the Sexes,” and Mike Coven was named head coach of the Brandeis men’s soccer team.
In 1980, Denise Dallamora became Brandeis’s first and only women’s head soccer coach.
At a combined 77 years and counting, Coven and Dallamora are the longest tenured pair of soccer coaches in collegiate history, according to the NCAA.
Seventy-seven years is a lifetime of memories.
Coven, 67, has coached the son of a former player.
“It makes me feel old,” says Coven, who played varsity soccer for American International College in the 1960s. But he looks and acts younger.
He’s got four grandchildren. The players call him “Gramps” behind his back, but they do so with love and respect. He’s the first person they go to for advice.
“He has more energy than most of us,” says Michael Soboff, a tricaptain from Framingham. “That’s the biggest thing, energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.”
Ask him about winning the 1976 national championship game and Coven smiles.
Every year without fail, Rob Muller, his former captain and now a child psychologist, calls him on the anniversary of the 2-1 double-overtime victory against Brockport State.
“Cleve Lewis won it with a header,” Coven recalls. “He is Carl Lewis’s older brother.”
When he was a 15-year-old high school kid, Carl Lewis, the future Olympic gold-medal sprinter and long jump star, came to Coven’s office seeking advice.
“Carl was a very good soccer player, but his parents were both track and field coaches,’’ Coven says. “He was thinking about giving up soccer to just concentrate on track.”
“I said, ‘Soccer is booming now, don’t give up soccer.’ He said, ‘No, Coach, I think I have to do it. Track is where my future lies.’ I said, ‘You’re crazy!’
“Many, many years later. Cleve is inducted into our Hall of Fame and the whole family comes. I’m sitting at a table with Carl and he had just won his ninth gold medal. And he said to me, ‘Coach, remember that conversation we had many, many years ago about track and me?’ and I said, ‘No I don’t remember that conversation at all.’ ”
Coven, now in his 42d season, has notched 490 coaching victories.
“I still enjoy it,” he says. “I know the day is coming up [to retire], but I’ll know when to quit,” says the feisty Coven.
Dallamora, in her 35th season isn’t ready to retire either. She’d love for her team to win a University Athletic Association title first.
But she’s far from bored.
“Each year there’s a flock of new talent and that keeps it fresh,” she says.
Since the dynamic duo appeared, Brandeis soccer has made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, 23 ECAC appearances, and won six ECAC titles. Together, they’ve coached 11 All-Americans.
Dallamora studied sports medicine in college. When she was just two years out of Northeastern, Brandeis offered her the assistant team trainer job, a physical education teaching job, and the full-time head coaching job. Although her main sports were basketball, softball, and lacrosse, she accepted and never looked back.
Talk about multitasking, she even drove the white van to away games.
“I was a little nervous in those days,” she says.
It was the fall of 1980, John Lennon’s “[Just Like] Starting Over” was all over the airwaves. Dallamora embraced her chance to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes.
Still, times were tough. Brandeis budgeted only $75 for recruiting, barely enough to buy newspapers to check scores. Her team was outscored, 20-0, in its first two games and won a single game all season.
But the former point guard on a Framingham North basketball team that twice made the Eastern Mass. finals learned on the job. The team has earned a postseason berth in nine of the past 10 years.
Bonding is big with the Judges.
Last week, Dallamora took the team apple-picking in Bolton. The Judges have been to Sky Zone for trampoline parties, and to pool parties. Dallamora also cooks her famous turkey meatballs and pasta.
The players past and present love her.
“She’s a softie and she’s a weeper, she’s so compassionate and caring,” says associate head coach Kerry Baldwin.
“Denise is like a mother figure for us,” says Sapir Edalati, a senior captain. “A lot of people don’t live around here so we’re a family and she’s like our mother. She inspires us all the time.’’
One of her favorite sayings is “Catch the butterfly.’’
“It’s very abstract, that it takes a whole team, it takes a net to catch a butterfly,” says Baldwin. “It’s very difficult to do with your hands.”
Last month, Dallamora earned a milestone 300th win, becoming just the 14th coach to do so in NCAA women’s Division 3 history. She was presented flowers and an autographed team picture.
She was also a pioneer, incorporating yoga into sports, long before it was fashionable.
“I teach yoga, the team takes yoga,’’ she says. “I started 36 years ago.”
Ask her too many personal questions and she becomes uncomfortable.
“I don’t like to be interviewed,” she says. “What can I tell you? I just don’t like talking about myself.”
Coven, meanwhile, is loose. Asked the secret to his longevity, he answers quickly.
“I don’t know what the secret is. My wife seems to feel that being in this environment that is young people, spending my day with young people, teaching my gym classes or coaching, keeps me young.”
His current players are amazed at how competitive he is. At scrimmages, losers do push-ups.
He’s even outlasted the signature white towel with the orange stripe he’s carried on his shoulder for every game since he started coaching at Brandeis. He refuses to throw in the towel, but it wore out two years ago and was replaced.
Soccer has taught him life lessons that go beyond the final score.
“I think the most important thing in life is to be a good person and to treat people with respect,’’ he says. “And treat people the way you would want to be treated.’’
Both coaches credit everyone but themselves for their longevity. They both say that listening to their young associate coaches teaches the old dogs new tricks.
“Denise and I are good friends,’’ Coven says. “She’s done a great job.”
The two head coaches have a relationship built on respect.
“We work close together because our teams travel together,’’ says Coven. “Every once in a while a relationship develops between one of her players and one of my guys, it’s nice.”
As for the future?
“We’ll see,” says Coven. “They may fire both of us. Who knows?’’
That is highly unlikely. The women are 11-3-1 this season and the men are 14-1.
“It’s been a good year,” says Coven. “Both of us are doing great.”