Any NCAA athlete can confirm that losing a coach feels a little like a breakup, especially when the coach is special to the team.
That’s why it was dismaying for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps soccer players when their head coach, Matt Edwards, suddenly stepped down from head coaching duties after the fall season to “pursue other opportunities,” according to a December press release.
The close-knit relationship between the Edwards and the players made it a hard moment for the group to endure, but they have nothing but positive words to say moving forward.
“Matt’s relationship with the team was such that we could not only consider him our coach, but a friend,” Adam Singer CM ’20 said via email. “He knew all of us very well, individually, and by having that rapport with us, was able to tailor his approach to all of us differently.”
After five seasons, back-to-back regular season conference titles and the 2019 SCIAC Tournament title, Edwards’ departure “was pretty unexpected,” Houston Engleman CM ’22 said.
“With that said, there’s no bad blood between the team and [Edwards] because the team understands why he needed to move on … he’s starting a family now,” Engleman added.
Singer added that Edwards may be moving to a different school.
“When you look at the successes we’ve had, it makes sense that [Edwards] is receiving interest from other programs,” he said. “While the team was shocked at first, I think they’ve come to realize that his decision to leave is what’s best for him and his family.”
CMS Athletic Director Erica Perkins Jasper did not confirm Edwards’ reasons for leaving the school, and TSL was unable to contact Edwards directly. Jasper said in the press release that the search for a new coach is underway.
“Matt did an unbelievable job, so he put our program in a great position,” Jasper told TSL. “His impact with his players and the program is exceptionally positive.”
The Stags had a remarkable 2019 season under Edwards, winning the SCIAC tournament and making an appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA championship for the first time since 1985. They’ve compiled a combined record of 31-6-3 over the last two seasons.
Edwards worked to instill “perseverance, resilience, and success” in his players, according to Singer.
“[He] took extra time to inspect the flaws in our team, [went] to great lengths to recruit players that would fit our program, and even did some introspection as to what he could do better himself,” Singer added.
Edwards’ success did not go unnoticed.
In 2018, he and his staff received the SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year honor, which was followed by the United Soccer Coaches West Region Division III Coaching Staff of the Year award in 2019.
He had an overall five-year record of 52-32-9 with CMS, and according to the CMS press release, bounced back “from an injury-plagued 4-11-1 season in 2017 to finish in first in the SCIAC standings two years in a row.”
Additionally, “the jump from four wins in 2017 to 15 wins in 2018 was the second-best improvement in the entire nation, behind only Wesley College (three wins to 16),” the release said.
Singer praised Edwards for the turnaround.
“He trusted his process,” Singer said. “[In 2018] we had an incredible season and clinched the regular season title and were named the best defense in the entire country.”
Edwards had an immense impact on the program and his players, and was very popular among the team, Singer and Engleman said.
“We would have loved to have him back next year as a coach and see that continue, but if he needed to move on for his personal career, that’s fine,” Engleman said. “Everyone I think understands that pretty well, and we’re just looking forward to next year.”
Engleman praised Edwards for his role in players’ lives.
“He was always involved on and off the field, making sure we were doing okay in school and classes and socially,” Engleman said. “I think he was a great coach, and we had a lot of good memories and a lot of success under him. I will miss Matt as a coach.”
Despite leaving the team slightly heartbroken, Edwards also leaves an impressive legacy.
“Matt came in [three] years before my class came in, and I know that when he came in, the team wasn’t in a really good spot in terms of team culture and overall attitude toward what we wanted to accomplish,” Engleman said.
“Matt and the senior classes above me did a really, really great job of establishing what it meant to be a part of a team,” he added. “I think that if we continue our success, everyone on the team will know that it started with Matt coming in a couple years ago, and that’s gonna be his legacy.”
As the program searches for a new coach, Jasper is confident in the strength of the men’s team.
“It’s always sad when someone leaves,” she said. “But in good news for us, the program, the student-athletes are in such a good state that it’s been a very competitive job. We’ve had a very competitive pool of applicants.”
Singer ended his email to TSL by giving a message to Edwards: “Matt — we can’t thank you enough for all everything you did for us on and off the field! We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!”