New head coach experiences homecoming
Ryan Kolakowski | Wednesday, August 22, 2018
When Chad Riley, the head coach of the Notre Dame men’s soccer team, moved on campus as an undergraduate student in the fall of 2000, his resident assistant in Dillon Hall expected to hear an English accent. Posted to Riley’s door was a nametag that listed his hometown as London. But, despite his English origins, Riley sounded distinctly American.
London served as one of many stops on Riley’s journeyman lifestyle. The Carbondale, Ill. native spent his teenage years in Houston before moving across the Atlantic for his senior year of high school. Notre Dame was Riley’s next stop and the place he would call home for four years.
After his undergraduate career at Notre Dame, Riley was drafted by the Milwaukee Wave United, a franchise of the A-league, a professional men’s soccer league now known as the United Soccer League First Division. Riley pursued a higher level of play but never found the right fit.
“I think that there were 10 or 12 Major League Soccer teams, and I trained with a few throughout the year but didn’t get picked up,” Riley said. “I went to Germany for a couple months and got offered, I don’t know if it would even be called a living wage, for a fourth division team. I think that’s when it hit me that I wouldn’t be able to play at the level I wanted to play.”
When his playing career floundered, Riley found success in the coaching ranks. He landed his first job at Oberlin College in 2004 with the help of his former coach, Bobby Clark.
“Going to Oberlin was great … they were looking for an assistant soccer coach and Bobby knew that I wanted to coach, and I wasn’t doing anything at that point in time,” Riley said. “So I got a call in August and took it and went there and loved it.”
Riley spent one season at Oberlin and another as an assistant coach at St. John’s University in New York. In 2006 he returned to Notre Dame as an assistant men’s soccer coach, rejoining Clark, the coach that led his team from 2001-2003.
Riley spent six years on the Irish coaching staff before moving on to Dartmouth College to accept a new assistant coaching position.
“After a few years … you sort of learn a lot,” he said. “You can always learn a lot, but I think for my career, in order to take the next step, I had to go and start getting some new experiences.”
For the second time, Riley left Notre Dame with his vision set on new goals. He moved to Hanover, New Hampshire with the expectation of serving as assistant coach under Jeff Cook, the Dartmouth head coach at the time. However, Cook resigned in 2013, allowing Riley to fill the post of head coach after only one year on staff.
The success that Riley found at Dartmouth did not come instantly. In 2013, his first year leading the program, the Big Green placed last among the eight schools in the Ivy League.
“You think you have a base understanding of everything before you become a head coach for the first time,” Riley. “You go from making a suggestion to making a decision … I learned a lot, a lot early on as a head coach,” he said.
Riley turned the program around quickly, leading his team to Ivy league titles in each of the last four years.
After the 2017 season, Clark retired from his head coaching position at Notre Dame. Riley found another opportunity to return to his alma mater, this time as the head coach of its men’s soccer team. Riley said it was surreal to be taking over for Clark, the same man who led him during his playing days.
“You feel like he was such an institution, and obviously I had been with him and been around the program since he started, so it’s crazy how fast 17, 18 years goes by,” Riley said. “There’s only one bad part of this job, and that’s following coach Clark.”
Riley hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the men’s soccer team while building on the structure that Clark put in place.
“Do I do things differently? I think so,” Riley said. “I think everyone is going to do things differently, but I think the spirit, the foundation, that culture, at the end of the day it’s there.”
That culture of the soccer team and the Notre Dame community influenced Riley’s decision to return to campus.
“Every year, the athletic department has a mass with Fr. Jenkins, and I think that just, I don’t think many places do it like we do it,” Riley.
Riley said that his family life is intertwined with his coaching career. The new head coach is the father to a son, Prescott, and a daughter, Georgina, and his family is now expecting a third child. Riley and his wife Caitlin are graduates of Notre Dame, and he said his family feels comfortable on campus.
“I love South Bend,” Riley said. “Ever since I came here in the summer of 2000, just to see how much it has grown and changed along with the campus, we’re really excited about our life here.”
Now the new head soccer coach can once again call South Bend home.