Earlier this month, Harvard announced that Alex Ferguson, that embodiment of coaching grandeur, would take up a “long-term teaching position” at the prestigious university in May. The campus immediately started buzzing.
One day not long after the announcement, Harvard men’s soccer coach Pieter Lehrer sat down for lunch in the business school and couldn’t help but overhear a separate conversation between a group of students energized by the news.
“They were just talking about Alex Ferguson coming and how it’s going to be great to take his class and get his insight of leadership,” Lehrer said. “I think it reaches way beyond the soccer community.”
Ferguson’s class is titled ‘The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports,’ and it comes on the heels of a series of interviews the recently retired coach conducted at Harvard in 2012 on his coaching method. Still, it’s hard to avoid the obvious - one of the best coaches in soccer history on campus with two existing Division I soccer programs. What happens next?
“You have arguably the best coach in the world in your backyard,” Lehrer said. “You have to make contact.”
In whatever way possible.
The Harvard men’s and women’s programs are both coming off relatively successful seasons. The men’s program went 5-2-0 in the Ivy League, and a 2-0 loss to Penn on the final day of the regular season forced the Crimson to miss out on the league title and an NCAA tournament bid by a mere point. The women’s program, meanwhile, went 7-0-0 in the Ivy League and captured its fourth league title in six years. Harvard, which appears loaded for another three years thanks in part to women’s national team vet Margaret Purce, lost to Boston University in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
From that aspect, both are on encouraging runs with solid recruiting classes on the way. What that means for the teams specifically where Ferguson is concerned is still being explored. Both coaches talked about possibly auditing his class, inviting him to practices or simply sitting down to lunch to pick his brain. Whatever happens, Harvard suddenly has an ace up its sleeve that’s the envy of the country.
“We’re huge fans of (Manchester United),” Lehrer said. “It’s really unbelievable to have somebody of his quality on campus. We’re definitely going to reach out to him and would love to have some involvement with him.”
Ferguson led Manchester United on a tour of the campus during a U.S. tour in 2011, and he made a positive impression on the area when he opened up a previously closed Manchester United practice to the public. So that familiarity is there. Now for the big question - how to integrate him into the team.
“Whatever we can do without bothering him, we’re going to do,” women’s coach Ray Leone said.
Leone’s women’s program is already poised to dominate the Ivy League for the next several years. New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year Caroline Chagares is joining Harvard next year, bolstering an incredibly stout recruiting class and adding to a roster that already includes Purce, the league’s best player. Throwing Ferguson into that mix in some capacity isn’t just a boon for the players. It has the coaches and professors a bit giddy as well.
“I have more texts from my colleagues than anyone else,” Leone said. “As soon as it came across the wire people were saying, ‘Oh my God, are you going to be able to take his class?’ And I just said that I’m going to try. It’s exciting around here.”