Why is Erik Visser Untouchable?

After the dramatic improvement marked by the 2010 Lady Dons soccer season, the hammer of judgment fell swiftly on women’s ex-coach Mark Carr due to a disastrous showing in the Fall 2011 season. As Jim Millinder takes the reins from Carr, a similarly negative performance from USF men’s soccer constrains this alumnus to wonder why men’s coach Erik Visser appears to have escaped, yet again, the highly-deserved fate which quickly struck down his younger counterpart.

A year ago, I wrote an editorial in this paper urging USF to unseat Visser (Foghorn, 1 Dec 2010) not only on the basis of poor performance, but also on the basis of a voluntary mass exodus of talented players. Today, I vigorously renew that plea; 2011 marks the latest year in a streak of five losing seasons, and Visser himself has earned a losing record of 96-99-20 (win-loss-tie) as head coach. True, the number of losses doesn’t overwhelm the number of wins, but the near parity between victories and defeats suggests stagnancy, not progress. Any sensible athletic director should wonder whether returns on this investment continue to be worth the cost. After 215 games and 11 years of head coaching experience, the lackluster record appears not to be the result of some strange, uncontrollable occurrence; on the contrary, it’s symptomatic of a more chronic condition.

The continued tolerance by the university administration of these disappointing standings earned under Visser is akin to applying chemotherapy when a scalpel suffices. Recruiting efforts and retention of star players can only go so far. Let me reiterate a point I made a year ago: the failure of the USF men’s soccer team to qualify for the 2009 WCC tournament, despite the return of several talented veterans of the 2008 conference championship team, shows that the blame cannot be placed on the players alone. Depending solely on an influx of talent is no guarantee of success. Our calendars may read “2012″, but USF men’s soccer is exactly where it was at the end of 2009.

Should the entire student body continue to suffer the loss of pride in one of USF’s historically successful teams, or will the athletic department have the courage to cut off the tumor before more players amputate themselves from this organization? If USF has made a new year’s resolution to reinvigorate its athletic programs, I hope it chooses the former option. I say this knowing that hiring a new coach won’t automatically lead to trophies, but at this point I am reminded of that classic definition of insanity– doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results– and wondering if it applies to the present situation.

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