By Chris Mackowiak
For any first year head coach, establishing their program’s culture and team’s mentality can be a long road to success. For new Salisbury University Men’s Soccer Head Coach Alex Hargrove, it is a different story.
After spending the last 10 years with the SU soccer program, the former assistant coach is thankful for what his predecessor and mentor, Coach Gerry DiBartolo, created in his long tenure as the head coach.
“I was honored as both a player and an assistant coach to work under someone who has really been through the changes of the game over the last 30 to 40 years. I’ve been fortunate enough to work under him for ten seasons,” Coach Hargrove said. “Throughout that time, you gain a lot of valuable insight into game management, but as well as player management and how to run a successful program.”
Hargrove was also a player for four years at Salisbury University under DiBartolo in which the now Salisbury head coach accumulated 21 goals and nine assists in his career as a midfielder.
“The way I see it, he’s done all of the hard work. He took care of a team that had four wins in his first season as a head coach to a team that has 8 conference championships and 13 NCAA appearances, and my job is to keep the ship steering in the right direction.”
After obtaining what Hargrove calls his “dream job,” the SU head coach seeks to continue that classic Sea Gull soccer culture that became the staple of the program.
“Ours is and will continue to be one that is family-first and a very much ‘we not me’ mentality, getting all 29 guys to buy into the same concept that it’s not going to be 11 players that start the game that are going to allow this team to be successful. It’s going to be 29 guys day in and day out going in the same direction, working for each other.”
A large part of the success of this SU soccer culture is defense, which Hargrove intends to continue to preach first when it comes to his team.
“For me that’s what’s going to win games. Being solidified defensively has been a strong focus of our preseason, and now that we’ve gotten that base down, we’re starting to lay in some of the more attacking concepts that we’re hoping to implement over the course of the season.”
Coach Hargrove identifies himself more as a defensive-minded coach since he played as a midfielder. He looks to bring the “same intensity” he presented on the pitch as a player to his new head coaching role.
“My coaching style is to provide the structure and the instruction where necessary, but ultimately hopefully we can put our players into positions that they can use their player profiles to put the final pieces together.”
Away from the pitch, Hargrove notes his admiration for certain European soccer managers and their structuring or formations in utilizing their rosters. Some of his favorites include Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, Chelsea’s Antonio Conte, and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino.
When asked about his favorite hobbies, Coach Hargrove simply states: “I have two dogs, and I love the beach.”
While it is evident that a love for the beach is the perfect fit for a soccer coach on the Delmarva Peninsula, it was also evident to the soccer aficionado early on in his soccer career that he could become a coach.
“I’ve been a captain of every team I’ve ever played for. I remember my club coach when I was 16 told me that he thought I’d be one of the youngest college soccer head coaches. While I don’t think I’ve made that mark, I found myself in a program pretty early in my career. So, I kind of knew that’s where I wanted to go from an early standpoint.”
After learning and developing throughout his career, Hargrove is big on creating the team chemistry and environment similar to what he experienced as a player.
“My favorite parts were that it provided more social opportunities to meet more people and getting to work with a lot of the youth in the area which is a big favorite of mine.”
However, for Hargrove there is one goal at the end of the tunnel that may not be achieved today, but will be accomplished one day at a time.
“We want to be the most respected college soccer program in the country. I think if you look around at some of the other athletics programs in our department, there’s certainly a few that could put that statement on their programs.”
After starting his first season with an 8-0 victory over Wilson College, Coach Hargrove looks well on his way to building upon the success of the Men’s Soccer program and boosting its persona.