Union hires alumnus as assistant men’s soccer coach

By Kathryn Moore
Staff Writer

J.R. Landham is the new assistant men’s soccer coach.

Union has chosen J.R. Landham as assistant men’s soccer coach, making him one of the youngest assistant coaches in all the National Collegiate Athletics Association.

Landham, 22, graduated in May with an undergraduate degree in exercise science. He was a four-year starting goalkeeper for the Union Bulldogs as well as seven-time NAIA TranSouth defensive player of the week, three-time TranSouth All-Conference team member and two-time TranSouth Scholar Athlete.

Landham also served as a team captain during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Clovis Simas, men’s head soccer coach, suggested Landham apply for the position this summer while working a soccer camp at Union.

“I didn’t really feel qualified, but the more I thought and prayed about it, the more I wanted the job,” Landham said.

After lengthy interviews with Tommy Sadler, director of athletics, and Dr. Jerry Tidwell, senior vice president for university relations and athletics, the university offered Landham the position.

Although Landham does not have any collegiate coaching experience, many new NCAA assistant coaches also have little or no collegiate coaching experience, Sadler said.

“The advantage we have with (Landham) is that he can obviously relate to the players and our student athletes, having been one himself here at Union,” Sadler said. “He can give advice to the players on the challenges that come with not only being a college student but also a college athlete.”

Landham said he instantly realized how much this job would challenge him because he would have to coach many of the players he called teammates just last season.

“As a very fresh ex-player, I immediately began to think about the areas that bothered me the most as a player,” Landham said. “Those areas have become my focus for this season.”

In addition to serving in roles such as goalkeeping coach, travel coordinator and field maintenance, Landham has chosen to focus on team communication, fitness and player development, especially in junior varsity players.

“I want to boost team morale while giving them the opportunity to have a chance play after college,” Landham said.

Landham added that the hardest part of making the transition from player to coach was his worry that players would not respect him in his new leadership role. However, he called the players’ positive and encouraging response a huge blessing.

“They have shown me the respect an assistant coach deserves,” Landham said. “When I was a player they talked back to me some, but as a coach they have to listen, even if they think I’m wrong.”

Many of the men’s soccer players are enjoying having someone they know well in a coaching position.

Chip Crockarell, sophomore business accounting major and right defender for the Bulldogs, said even though he cannot joke around with Landham on the field anymore, he still respects him.

“One of the great things about having (Landham) as an assistant coach is that he bridges the gap between Coach Simas and the players,” Crockarell said. “He has always been one of our friends so that helps with communication between us and the coach.”

Not only is Landham making the transition from player to coach, he also is making the transition from student to staff member. A retirement plan, health insurance and a blue staff parking sticker all are benefits Landham can now enjoy since he is on the payroll.

“Getting paid at Union instead of paying for Union is fantastic,” Landham said. “I love being here without having homework. I wake up and play soccer with awesome guys all day long. It’s a dream come true.”

Landham hopes to retain his position as long as he can, unlike many NCAA assistant coaches who only stay with one team for two to three years. He is most excited to make a name for the men’s soccer team in the NCAA and to qualify for conference playoffs as soon as eligibility allows.

“The most exciting part is being a part of a team that challenges me in so many ways,” Landham said. “I’m learning constantly from the best, and I’m so lucky to be starting my career from such a high point.”

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