After a yearlong search, the men’s and women’s soccer teams will be led by new head coaches starting this fall. This past December, then-Athletic Director Julie Davis ’91 named Patrick Gilliam as head coach for the women’s team; in February of this year, Davis announced Steve McCrath as the men’s head coach.
Both programs have faced challenges finding new coaches. Pete Felske, the first head coach of the women’s team, retired in June 2021. Two months later, men’s coach Jake DeClute left the college unexpectedly. Interim head coaches John Gosling and Cesar Gomez took the reins for the 2021 season of the men’s and women’s teams, respectively.
“Going through that transition of coaching, that transition of power, then not knowing if we were going to get a head coach for the spring, start training, and [try to] have a mindset for the fall, that was kind of nerve-wracking,” said senior defender Wes Bevard.
While the college searched for coaches, the players hoped for someone with a strong devotion to faith.
“We really wanted someone who first and foremost loved the Lord, but also loved the game of soccer and would make us better soccer players as well,” said senior women’s forward Sophie Lindquist.
Both McCrath and Gilliam have impressive careers in coaching. Since 1998, McCrath has been head coach at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. Over the course of 23 seasons, he led his program to a 241-135-39 (62.8%) record and nine NCAA Division II Tournament appearances. In 2018, he led the team to a Division II National Championship. Before coaching at Barry, McCrath was an assistant coach to his father, Cliff McCrath ’58, at Seattle Pacific University. He also played professionally for teams such as the Seattle Storm and the Milwaukee Wave.
Gilliam comes to Wheaton from Trinity International, where he coached women’s soccer since 1997. At Trinity, Gilliam compiled a record of 342-168-28 (66%), the third-winningest record in NAIA women’s soccer history. A member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA), Trinity won three NCCAA championships under Coach Gilliam. Additionally, Gilliam has coached three NCCAA National Players of the year and has won NCCAA Coach of the Year three times, most recently in 2016.
“I’d probably group them together in the sense that they are both experienced and successful coaches that have been head coaches for a long time,” said acting Athletic Director Mike Schauer ‘93, who took over the role after Davis’ transition to another college department in May. Schauer noted that both coaches have a similar focus on Christian mentorship as the foundation for their coaching style.
Faith is important to both coaches. When asked why they decided to come to Wheaton, each attributed his decision to prayer and a sense of calling.
Even with the on-field success and stability he experienced in Miami, McCrath said that “something wasn’t right.”
“There was a little bit of a hankering that maybe there’s something more,” he said. “So that was the foundation to what got me moving forward, I guess. From there I think it came down to probably a God-centered decision.”
Gilliam said that Wheaton offered a “both/and” instead of an “either/or” coaching philosophy, giving him the chance to lay a spiritual foundation for his team while also preparing them to play well on the field.
After 23 years at Barry, has the transition to Wheaton been frustrating, natural, or a mad dash? Chuckling over the phone, McCrath says yes to all.
“Julie [Davis] said it really well,” he continued. “She said that you’re drinking from a firehose. I can’t disagree.”
Just a few weeks into the job, McCrath is already all-in on his new team, even changing his gear to match the Wheaton College Thunder. “I’m all blue shoes,” said McCrath.
The men’s team will kick off their season with matches against Concordia University Chicago and University of Chicago on Sept. 1 and 3. The women’s team plays Hope College on Sept. 2 before hosting the Bob Baptista Invitational at Joe Bean Stadium Sept. 9 and 10. As the season begins, the two teams want to build a hardworking culture of camaraderie, faith, and love for the sport.
“‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast,’” Gilliam said, quoting from author Paul Drucker. “In sports it’s all about X’s and O’s and workouts and the game plan. But at the end of the day, do I love going to this field every day? Am I just somebody who plays soccer?”