Jobsons and Baylor a perfect marriage
Marci Jobson waited longer than any other player in the history of the United States women's national program before she made it to the World Cup. The way things are going, one of the rising young stars in college coaching and the architect of a revival at Baylor may have a chance soon enough to become the first former national team player to lead a team to the College Cup.
In both cases, she had some help beating the odds. And to know the whole story of how she landed Baylor on the soccer map, you need to know her other half.
Marci and Paul Jobson may have pledged to stick together for better or for worse when they traded wedding vows, but their soccer partnership has seen little of the latter scenario. Equals as spouses and parents, they have worked together as head coach (Marci) and assistant coach (Paul) for eight seasons, first at Northern Illinois and now at Baylor.
It's an arrangement that allowed Marci to stand on a soccer field in China and hear her national anthem played on the biggest stage the sport has to offer.
And it's an arrangement that lent credibility to sometimes overused words like "family" and "sacrifice" when they tried to convince kids to become part of a soccer culture at Baylor that existed largely in their own minds at the time.
"Paul and Marci are incredible at what they do," said Baylor senior Carlie Davis, part of the Jobsons' first recruiting class. "We always talk about how much we admire them for the teamwork and the partnership that they have. They never step on each other's toes, and they never have power over each other, but they kind of complement each other really well. ...
"They feed off each other and they both bring a lot of energy to our team. We kind of feed off what they bring. It kind of starts with them and trickles down to the rest of our team."
Now in her fifth season at Baylor, Marci, 36, is at the helm of an 11-1-2 team that's ranked No. 20. Facing perhaps the most important weekend of its regular season, Baylor heads to West Virginia on Friday for a game against the first-place team in the Big 12, and then to Stillwater, Okla., to face defending conference champion Oklahoma State on Sunday (ESPNU, 5 p.m. ET). A season after making the NCAA tournament for just the second time and winning a tournament game for the first time ever, the Bears may be building toward even grander ambitions this season.
Few expected Baylor to become nationally relevant, or even Lone Star State relevant, in such short order when the Jobsons were hired in December 2007 after seven consecutive losing seasons in which the Bears never finished better than seventh in the conference.
The Jobsons came to Baylor after three seasons together at Northern Illinois. She took the latter job, close to her Chicago-area roots, when she thought she was at the end of a playing career that included a season in Germany's professional league, three seasons in the WUSA with the Atlanta Beat, and another with the Charlotte entry in the W-League. She was 29 and newly married, and had done everything a player could do in the women's game except represent her country at the senior level. And frankly, international debuts were a young woman's game.
"I was looking for coaching jobs. I had interviewed at a couple of places," Marci said. "I thought my playing days were over, to be honest with you. I didn't think I had a chance in hell to ever get called up to the national team."
Within days of taking the job at Northern Illinois, she got a call from Greg Ryan, who had been her college coach at Wisconsin and again after she transferred to SMU, and who was then the new head coach of the national team. He wanted her to come in for one of the team's training camps. She thought her stay might last a couple of days, when the numbers game would inevitably catch up with her. She ended up making 17 appearances for the national team, becoming the second-oldest player to earn her first cap. She was the oldest first-time World Cup participant, on the team that memorably finished third amid a goalkeeping controversy in 2007.
For three years the Jobsons did what most of their friends said they were crazy to try, sharing the coaching load at a Division I program while she trained in California for weeks at a time and traveled the globe with the national team.
"Looking back on it, it was crazy," Paul said. "When we were in it, it was kind of like, 'OK, this is what we have to do.' And we got it done."
They did well enough to catch Baylor's eye, which was more than the program itself was doing with recruits in talent-rich Texas. Davis, a three-year starter for Baylor, was part of a competitive club soccer scene in the state that fed high school talent to schools like Texas A&M, Texas and even Notre Dame, which was coached by Randy Waldrum, who started the program at Baylor and led it to its only pre-Jobson success. The program in Waco was an afterthought.
"Honestly, Baylor was maybe in the mix, but not really top on anyone's list," Davis said. "I just remember when I was making my list of colleges I wanted to look at, I narrowed it down to, like, my top 10, and honestly, Baylor wasn't even on the landscape. I didn't know about it, I didn't know the coach, I didn't know what they were doing until Marci and Paul got here."
Davis didn't have firsthand recollections of Marci's playing days, but the idea that this new coach at Baylor had played for the national team at least made it easier to listen to her pitch with an open mind.
"She didn't sugarcoat it," Davis said. "She talked a lot about the hard work it would take to turn a program around. It would be a lot of sacrifice, it would be a lot of blue-collar work. But she was sold for it, and she wanted kids that had that same type of tough mentality that she had to help her and join her in turning the program around."
Baylor enters its weekend road trip having outscored opponents 37-7 this season. Senior Dana Larsen, the leading scorer the past two seasons (and an Academic All-American to boot), concedes that opponents would probably describe the team's style as direct rather than aesthetically pleasing. But the results speak for themselves, and speak to the ethos of passion and perseverance at the core of the program.
"Freshman year, we were just happy to get it over the half line sometimes and get a couple of shots off," Larsen said "And now we come into games expecting to perform, expecting to compete and to have an attacking advantage sometimes, as well. ...
"For Marci, it's really simple. She focuses on attitude and effort and trying to grow your heart more than anything else."
As much as the World Cup was a career highlight, Marci is just as likely to bring up the state championship she won in high school playing with her sister. Her current players might roll their eyes from time to time -- high school titles are old hat even to them -- but it's the same message: enjoy the moment, enjoy your teammates and enjoy the challenge.
That players like Davis and Larsen didn't know the details of their coach's playing days is not surprising in a sporting culture where professional women's leagues still struggle to gain a foothold. But what they and their teammates are doing at Baylor is itself part of the evolution of the sport. Marci isn't the first former national team player to coach in college, a list that currently includes Central Florida's Amanda Cromwell and Navy's Carin Gabarra, but she is the youngest. As such, she's part of a generation of women who have lived their entire lives in the Title IX era and can take the experience gleaned from those opportunities into coaching.
"I've played for males and females, and I wouldn't say I like one or the other better, but it is amazing to play for Marci," Davis said. "And to have her be a younger woman, also someone who has played at a high level, she can relate to us in almost every aspect of not just soccer but also life. She's really sensitive to our needs as people and soccer players and just as college girls. She literally can relate to us in basically everything we're going through."
And while not necessarily a blueprint for anyone else, she, in turn, is uniquely (if potentially awkwardly) positioned to relate to her associate head coach -- whether about tactics or day care.
"We've all known each other for so long, we really don't have any 'yes men' in our office," Marci said of husband Paul and assistant coach Chuck Codd, who came with the couple from Northern Illinois. "We can all just sit in a room, argue about points, get annoyed with each other, kind of be truthful, and then we may all just agree to disagree, and at some point I've got to make a decision.
"What is good is that we don't agree on everything, and it probably makes us better because of that."
Here she paused for a moment, then continued.
"Doesn't make it great for our marriage," she said with a laugh.
Although you get the feeling that, whether on or off the field, for better or for worse isn't much of a debate.