Tompkins Sees His Mentor Inducted Into National Soccer Hall of Fame

Brian Tompkins. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Brian Tompkins. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Bob Gansler Had Big Influence On Yale Men's Soccer Coach

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Ask Yale men's soccer coach Brian Tompkins who has had the biggest influence on his professional career, and the answer is easy. Bob Gansler. So when Gansler was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame prior to the U.S. men's national team friendly against Spain last Saturday at Gillette Stadium, Tompkins was thrilled and honored to attend the ceremony.

Gansler has been a mentor and friend since Tompkins came to the United States from England nearly 30 years ago. The two met at the Bavarian Soccer Club in Milwaukee, where Tompkins coached Gansler's son. Gansler then asked Tompkins to be his assistant at a local high school and later helped Tompkins get the job as the women's soccer coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Gansler was the head coach of the men's team at the time, and when he left to guide the United States World Cup team, Tompkins took over the men's program. After seven successful seasons with the Panthers, Tompkins was named Yale's head coach in 1995, where he has guided the Bulldogs to 121 wins and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.

"Bob was the single greatest influence on my career because he encouraged me to take my first U.S. coaching license and helped give shape and structure to my thinking as a coach," Tompkins says. "He is an extremely intelligent and cerebral person and mentored me to think more deeply about the game and channel the inherent emotion and passion from my English soccer background into a calmer, less chaotic way of thinking. Bob always says that soccer can't be played in a frenzy, and he has influenced a  generation of coaches to believe that it cannot be coached that way either."

It didn't take Tompkins long to be indoctrinated into Gansler's coaching style. As a volunteer assistant to him at UW-Milwaukee, Tompkins recalls a game where the team played a very poor first half, and he was convinced a tantrum was coming in the locker room at the intermission.

"I knew he wasn't happy and thought he was going to read them the riot act. I think the staff and players were all bracing for a tirade," Tompkins remembers. "Instead, he calmly told everybody, coaches included, to take a deep breath and clear our heads. He then proceeded to break down the first half – positive and negative – and concluded by giving them a few important points to focus on in the second half.

"Instead of riling-up a group of already emotional players, he got them focused on doing their jobs. Needless to say the second-half performance was significantly better. That reasoned and timely teaching moment had a profound impact on me, and I have tried to emulate it throughout my coaching career."

It certainly was successful for Gansler, one of the finest U.S. National Team coaches in history and also a prominent club coach in addition to his work at UW-Milwaukee. He was the coach of the U.S. men's national team from 1989 to 1991, including the 1990 World Cup, and coached Kansas City of MLS and Milwaukee of the A-League to league titles. He was named Major League Soccer's Coach of the Year in 2000.

"At heart he is, and always has been, a teacher, and his mantra to young coaches is `coaching is teaching in short pants.' He was an excellent player but his ability to observe, analyze, synthesize and teach the concepts of soccer is without peer," Tompkins says. "Coaches at every level seek his counsel and value his thoughts and opinions, and he is viewed with a reverence reserved for very few in any sport."

Tompkins and Gansler speak several times a year, either in person or on the phone. There is one conversation the two have every year, though, that is most special to Tompkins.

"He takes the time to call me during every season to discuss how things are going," Tompkins says. "Even though we are friends, I am always honored that a coach of his stature maintains such an active and genuine interest in me and my work."

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity