When Fran O’Leary was hired by the University of Massachusetts in 2015, he recalls it as the chance to build something “exciting.”
The Minutemen, six months removed from longtime coach Sam Koch passing away, were coming off five straight losing seasons. In 2014, under interim coach Devin O’Neill, UMass went 3-14-1, not winning until their sixth game.
The job was a reclamation project of sorts for O’Leary, an NCAA coaching veteran coming off a stint with MLS side Toronto FC. Previous stops included Division 1 programs Dartmouth and George Mason, as well as Bowdoin in Division 3.
“We knew what we had with a great state for soccer, a great institution on the rise, but we had challenges,” O’Leary said. “We were bottom of the league, didn't have the largest scholarship budget, so we set out to make it a great experience and try to make the players better. We weren’t getting ready-made players, but we got guys who wanted to get better”