Walking up the stairs to women’s soccer head coach Terry Gurnett’s office, I still wasn’t sure what question I should ask first. In his 32nd season as UR’s head coach, Gurnett is the winningest coach in Division III women’s soccer history.
He has won two national championships and was named the NCAA Division III Coach of the Decade in the ’80s. How do you even begin to talk about that kind of success?
Luckily for me, Gurnett wasn’t the kind to get caught up in all of the accomplishments of his three-decade march into the NCAA record books. His candidness and good-natured remarks left me respecting not only his success, but also his humble demeanor.
‘We like to have good people on the team,” he said at one point. ‘Keep it simple, so that I can understand it.”
When I asked him about his Coach of the Decade honor, he chuckled, shaking his head as if embarrassed that I called attention to the distinction.
‘It was a very slow decade,” he responded.
That was how it was throughout the conversation Gurnett was always quick to give credit to his colleagues and his players, all the while not taking any for himself.
‘There are a lot of people who have contributed to the success of the program here,” he said. ‘I’m just the last one standing from the old days.”
But I couldn’t trust that statement. Gurnett is not, as he claims, ‘just the last one standing” there is something unique about the coach. That is clear from observing him pacing the sidelines come game time, where his passion and dedication to the team are palpable even from the top-most row of Fauver Stadium.
And when I asked how, after so long, he kept the whole coaching gig from becoming just a routine, he laughed and replied that the answer was easy.
‘One of the great joys for me is to take a group who has different personalities and goals and put them together and make them into a team,” Gurnett said. ‘That’s what motivates me.”
It was 34 years ago when Gurnett first stepped onto the field as a ‘Jacket. A sophomore at Monroe Community College in 1974, Gurnett played soccer for an MCC team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. That year, they scrimmaged UR. After the game, the ‘Jackets’ head coach came up to talk to Gurnett and, eventually, convinced him to transfer to UR, where he played soccer and graduated in 1977 with a baccalaureate in economics.
The fall after he graduated, Gurnett came upon an interesting opportunity. The University was looking to start up a varsity women’s soccer program and was in need of a coach. They asked Gurnett, and he agreed, despite claiming, ‘I didn’t have the foggiest notion what I was doing back then.”
Fast forward and you’re looking at a program that has been bestowed with an unparalleled amount of success.
But Gurnett is not looking at his record. His thoughts, instead, are firmly planted in the present, where he talks lovingly of his wife, Mary, and their three children, and also of his perpetual thirst for knowledge.
‘I learn something every single day about myself, about coaching,” Gurnett said. ‘I consider myself always the student.”
I was amazed. How could 396 wins and two national championships not go to your head?
Gurnett’s response was simple.
‘Schedule Washington University [in St. Louis] and University of Chicago in the same weekend,” he said. ‘That will keep you grounded.”
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.