Chattanoogans have really gotten behind the Chattanooga Football Club over the past three years and have greatly enjoyed watching the team grow and mature into a very successful franchise. General Manager Sean McDaniel and the other administrative figures within the club have done a great job of building a strong foundation for the program that new head coach Bill Elliott is taking charge of.
With the arrival of Coach Elliott, a sort of new era is now beginning for Chattanooga’s soccer team and plenty of people are wondering what things are going to look like with Mr.
Elliott taking the reigns. Most people know that Bill is a Chattanooga native and that he has had tremendous success in previous coaching positions at both the collegiate and professional level, but beyond these facts, not many people have any idea what the “Elliott Era” of CFC is going to look like.
That’s why I set out to talk one-on-one with CFC’s new head coach and find out what he is all about:
LC: Has the transition from the University of West Florida to now with CFC been anything of a challenge or has your experience with coaching other semi-pro teams been enough to make this transition a smooth one?
BE: Well I’ve coached at this level, and arguably a higher level, in the past, so I understand the level. However as with all new jobs I am learning of several unique challenges surrounding my being the head coach for CFC. The first is that I live six hours away therefore I am learning about the local players as we progress through the season. I have known Jimmy Weekly, the assistant coach, and Sean McDaniel, the GM, for 20 years, so I have been able to communicate with them to help speed up the learning curve. Second I am realizing that I have joined the franchise in a rebuilding year as many of the cornerstone players from previous seasons have either aged or moved on all together.
LC: If you had to give a summary of your philosophy of coaching, what would it be?
BE: I think that the style that you want to play is more important than the system that you play…and your style has to fit the players. I like very much to play a possession-oriented game, but possession with a purpose. Meaning we’re not just passing the ball around for the sake of passing, we’re trying to get forward. Having said that the players will dictate how we play; once I get to know the players, I’ll try to mold them into the best possible product. What we can do with this team kind of remains to be seen. Until I get to know the personnel, I won’t really be able to answer that question too thoroughly.
LC: Tell me, in general, how you like to do your recruiting—how do you pick players when you’re recruiting and once you’ve gotten a roster nailed down, how do you develop your system from there?
BE: Well, about two-thirds of our players this year are local so those come from a mix of open try-outs and returning players. The remainder of our CFC players are ones that Jimmy or I have scouted with their college teams. Developing the system is tough because of you don’t really know the players until you have worked with them for a few months. This year the task is even more complicated as several key goal scores were recruited away from us at the last minute by professional franchises leaving no time to find replacements.
LC: As a coach, your teams have been some of the most outstandingly successful teams in the nation, yet you’ve also managed to keep them academically sound with 22 of your players making the Gulf South Conference’s All-Academic Team during your tenure. Now that you’re working with CFC—an organization in which academics are not a factor—how has this “opened doors” in the way that you can recruit? Have you been able to evaluate talent more subjectively without any outside factors such as academic record?
BE: Well it is nice. As a college coach, you’re always worried about academics, grades, and test scores. It’s nice to just hold a try-out and not have to ask about those external factors. Of course there’s still going to be a screening process over the next couple of weeks, even for the players that are a part of the group. We want to keep good people involved, so we just have to get to know them. One thing that I look forward to at this level different from the collegiate environment is the dynamic, which I hope will develop between our staff and the players. As a college coach it seems you are expected to be more of a father figure to the young men and therefore must maintain a certain distance from parts of their lives. In contrast I think that CFC’s philosophy seems to be that everybody—owners, board members, coaches—everybody is here to support the players and to be involved in their lives on a more personal level.
LC: What would you say are your main strong suits as a coach? What would you say that you do best from a head coaching perspective?
BE: I think at this level it’s about managing people—communicating with the players and your coaching staff. I think those are areas in which I have always been strong and I want to be seen as approachable and open minded by those I work with. Game-days for me as a head coach are stressful; I’m worried about wins and losses, lineup decisions etc. I love the training, so what I really enjoy is going out and putting on a training session that the players will enjoy.
LC: During your first season coaching the semi-pro Panama City Pirates, you started the season without a full roster yet led the team to a winning season that included and 8-game unbeaten streak. Has that experience led you to coach any differently than you would have before?
BE: I don’t think so. Coaching is always a work in process as you always face issues with player availability for injuries and many other reasons. If you keep an open mind and look at all the options, you sometimes stumble early but the end product is usually something the organization and its fans can be proud of. My teams have always excelled in the second part of our seasons and in tournament play. I think that is a product of my attention to player development and willingness to consider many different scenarios in regards to line ups and formations. I don’t like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Having said that, the thing that’s a little scary is that there are only 10 games. PDL [another semi-pro soccer league] has 16 games, the college season has 20 games; here there are only 10 games I just hope that will give us enough time to find the best way forward for our group of players and franchise.
LC: If you had to name someone that’s influenced the way you do things—which you’ve tried to model your career after—could you name someone specifically?
BE: The two biggest influences have been Pepe Fernandez who coaches at Maryville College and my dad. I started off at Maryville College as a grad-assistant under Pepe and to this day, he’s the person most often to use as a sounding board for ideas. He’s given me a lot of good advice over the years and certainly has been someone that I’d like to emulate as a coach in a lot of ways…He runs good training sessions, I think that’s something that became a priority for me and he communicates in a very common sense type of way with his players on the field and off the field...I’m not trying to be him but he’s certainly been influential as to the coach I have become. My dad although not a coach by trade has a great mind for and love of sports, combined with the work ethic and discipline that he instilled in me over the years I would be remiss not to give him much of the credit for how I conduct my professional life
LC: How has CFC’s atmosphere been different from other places that you’ve coached—with the great fan base and things like the Chattahooligans?
BE: The Chattahooligans are awesome. I went and stood in their section for five minutes during the scrimmage the other day and they really know how to enjoy/create the atmosphere that makes soccer so popular around the world. You can just tell that they really enjoy the time out at games, if all of our fans could be like those guys, we’d get any college player in the country to come here and play. I hope that group as well as our other fans will be patient with the transitions we are going through on the field this year and recognize that we will emerge on the other side with a product they can truly be excited about.
LC: In terms of the organization as a whole, how has CFC been different from other organizations?
BE: I really think that from what little interaction I’ve had at this point with the board and with Sean McDaniel and Krue Brock—I think that they’re all in it for the love of the game and to benefit the city of Chattanooga. I feel many organizations that get involved in soccer at this level go wrong by thinking that it’s a “get rich quick” scheme and it’s definitely not that. What I’ve been impressed with is that they just seem to have really good intentions and they seem to have gotten involved at this level for all the right reasons, like the love of the game and the love of the city of Chattanooga. Chattanooga will always be my hometown and I love it here mostly because of the people. Combine that with the fact that I grew up with soccer here participating on the first travel team out of Redoubt and latter playing with the Chattanooga Express. I consider it a privilege and an honor to be pursuing my passion for soccer and coaching in the city dearest to my heart.