Sept. 29, 2011
By Amy Hughes
UCLA women's soccer became one of the nation's top programs during the 12-year tenure of head coach Jillian Ellis, as the program made seven straight College Cup appearances from 2003-09. But when Ellis departed Westwood to take on the Development Director position for U.S. Soccer, Senior Associate Athletic Director Ken Weiner didn't have to look far to find her replacement. Then-assistant head coach B.J. Snow was selected to take over the program, foregoing a full national search for this coveted position.
"Every administrator has to have a short list in their hip pocket," said Weiner. "I had obviously been studying B.J. for years and was impressed with his command of the team, how he managed the girls, his people skills, his preparation, his organization. He's just really an impressive guy.
"And, if we didn't snap him up, I knew there were two other colleges who were interested in him for this year, and the national team was also looking at him."
"When we found out [that Ellis was leaving UCLA], it was very shocking," said senior defender Amelia Mathis. "But when we found out B.J. was taking over, it was a relief. He's definitely the perfect person for our head coach."
Snow navigated his first off-season as a head coach with a Bruin squad so small that it didn't have enough field players to compete in scrimmages. Players were brought in from UCLA's club team to play in some of the team's spring games.
During the February signing period, Snow announced that 11 players had signed National Letters of Intent to play at UCLA. That group included 10 national team standouts (nine from the U.S. and one from New Zealand), three of whom were named their state's Gatorade Player of the Year.
Snow has started his first head coaching season with an 8-0-1 record entering matches this weekend against Oregon and Oregon State at Drake Stadium (5 p.m. on Sept. 30, Noon on Oct. 2). The Bruins are currently ranked No. 2 in the nation.
"The biggest change is that the buck stops here," said Snow of his new position. "The wins and losses, more-so the losses, are pegged on me. But that's something I was relishing from the get-go."
"It's been a pretty smooth transition, I think, mostly because Jill gave me so much responsibility over the course of my five years," he continued. "Not a lot of the day-in and day-out operations have changed."
UCLA's current 28-player roster includes a dozen true freshmen as well as two new assistant coaches and a new Director of Soccer Operations. Louise Lieberman is now in her third season as an assistant coach for the Bruins and is the lone holdover, along with Snow, from the 2010 coaching staff. Despite all of those fresh faces and a new name in the head coaching position, Snow never saw this as a challenge.
"It was good because everybody was starting new at the same time," said Snow. "We had a bunch of new people on the team. We had a whole new staff for the most part, and I was able to put my personality on it a little bit. I think the transition was certainly easier than someone coming in from outside the family to take control."
Keeping things within the "Bruin Family" was something that Weiner considered in the hiring process as well.
"B.J. had a huge hand in the recruiting class that was on the line," said Weiner. "A lot of the commitments were because of him and the success of the program. Retaining B.J. to keep that commitment to the girls that were going to be faithful to UCLA and keep that group intact for the future success of the program was critical. I did my due diligence. I talked to a lot of people who know B.J. I talked to our team, which pleaded with me to hire B.J., and I knew right then if he had the confidence of the team, of the community, and of the new recruits, he was our guy."
Although Snow, a four-year starting defender at Indiana from 1996-99 and a two-time NCAA champion (1998, 1999), was a relative newcomer to UCLA, he quickly became a part of the Bruin family. He now describes UCLA as his "dream job."
"In athletics, UCLA is certainly known as the top of the pecking order across the country," said Snow. "I had a couple of other job opportunities over the last few years, but it would've had to be the perfect situation for me to leave UCLA. You're talking about a place that has the complete support of the athletic department and the school. You don't get that combination very often.
"The tradition of UCLA athletics is not only known throughout the country, but throughout the world," continued Snow. "The players come here because they want to win. That's part of their involvement in signing on to be a part of our team. They come here because they want to compete for a national championship every single year. I knew that when I signed on for the gig, they knew that when they stepped onto campus for Day 1. That expectation hasn't changed."
As this Bruin squad continues to improve and learn, the expectations remain high, despite the change in head coach and the team's youth.
"With how this team is structured, he's going to be able to hit the ground running," added Mathis. "It's going to be a great transition for him and for us. It's going to be nothing but great things from here on out. He works really hard for us, and he cares about us. He's like a father figure, and we can go and talk to him. That's what makes us so together as a team."
"He's not a UCLA product, but he assimilated quickly," said Weiner, who is in his 17th year as Senior Associate Athletic Director and 31st year at UCLA. "He's a really genuine person. He's philosophical. He believes in Coach Wooden. He's great for the program. He rarely gets upset.
"In all the years I've been here," said Weiner, "this was probably one of my most obvious hires."