Karl Lindholm: Saward’s remarkable ‘coaching tree’

DAVE SAWARD, FOR 33 years the head men’s soccer coach at Middlebury College, addresses his team in his last year as coach, 2017. Alongside Saward is his assistant that year, now his successor, Alex Elias. Photo credit: Will Costello

I spied Dave Saward a couple of sunny Saturdays ago in a knot of fans at the Middlebury College men’s soccer game against Tufts. He was there to watch two of his protégés, Middlebury coach Alex Elias and Tufts coach Kyle Dezotell, compete against one another on the South Street pitch where Dave spent so much of his time.

Dave retired in 2017 after 33 years coaching soccer at Middlebury, where he won 347 games, (appearing in 10 NCAA postseason tournaments), a national championship in 2007, innumerable honors and awards, and legions of fans and friends. It is always wonderful to see this engaging Brit who invariably greets you with a warm smile and a light remark.

What is perhaps most striking about Dave Saward’s soccer career is his “coaching tree,” that is, the extraordinary number of his players who have decided to pursue a career in coaching and have succeeded at such a high level.

“One of the most gratifying aspects of my coaching career are the students who have chosen to make coaching their lifetime career choice,” Dave wrote recently. “It’s doubly gratifying to see them plying their trade in the NESCAC League.”

I’ll focus here on those former players coaching in NESCAC now, Elias, Dezotell, and Scott Wiercinski at Bowdoin — and two others, Josh Shapiro, now at Harvard after winning FOUR national D-3 championships at Tufts, and David Lindholm, who has had various stops in his soccer journey, and in whom, well, I have a personal interest.

Alex Elias, Midd ’08: a Manchester, Vt., native (Burr & Burton), Alex was a first team All-American for Middlebury in the Panthers’ National Championship season, 2007. In his first three years as Middlebury’s head coach (29-11-14), he has taken the Panthers to the NCAA postseason tourney in all three years.

Saward on Elias: Alex has already established himself as a formidable coach. His attention to detail will have him looking for the best players and methods to take those players to the next level. I have zero doubt he will lead the Panthers to continued success.

Elias on Saward: Coach Saward modeled a grace and humility on and off the field that compelled us all to treat people the right way and to keep the wins and losses in perspective. His coaching centered around relationships, and that’s a big reason so many of his players chose to stay in the game.

Kyle Dezotell ’03: Also a Vermonter, Kyle attended North Country Union High School in Newport before coming to Middlebury. He is the leading goal scorer in Middlebury College soccer history and was an All-New England player. He is in his first season at Tufts, having served as head coach at Ithaca College and Norwich University, and last weekend won the 2021 NESCAC championship, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Saward on Dezotell: Kyle was a highly gifted goal scorer for the Panthers. The single-minded attitude that goal scorers need to have has certainly translated into his successes as a head coach. He is a student of the game, driven to succeed.

Dezotell on Saward: I can’t pinpoint the exact reason so many of us have gone into coaching but I bet it has something to do with the fact that Coach Saward’s life as our coach looked like fun. He challenged us, pushed us, and worked us hard, but also put us in an environment where having fun along the way was also allowed.

Scott Wiercinski ’99: The coach at Bowdoin since 2013, Scott has won two NESCAC championships and qualified for three NCAA postseason tournaments. As a goalie at Middlebury, he helped lead Midd to a 48-10-3 overall record and four straight NCAA Division III tournament appearances from 1995-98.

DAVE SAWARD, RIGHT, with his 2007 National Championship team. Saward retired in 2017 but has left a remarkable coaching legacy. In the front row, middle, is his successor Alex Elias, an All-American player in 2007. To his right is Andrew Banadda, now the top assistant at Bowdoin; in the back row, 3rd from right is David Lindholm, an assistant coach (goalies) on that team; and far left top row is longtime assistant coach, the late Andrew McCabe.
Photo credit: Middlebury College Athletic Communications

Saward on Wiercinski: Scott was a gregarious character as a player who had clear love for the game from the minute he joined the team. His success at Bowdoin as a coach is no surprise as he is a charismatic leader who has a great knowledge of the game.

Wiercinski on Saward: I have spent my career as a head coach trying to re-create the energy, camaraderie, and atmosphere of Coach Saward’s soccer program at Middlebury. Playing for him was the inspiration that propelled me to pursue a coaching career.

Josh Shapiro ’97: At Middlebury, Josh was a captain and played on three NCAA tournament teams. In his 10 years at Tufts, he won NCAA championships in 2014, ’16, ’18, and ’19 and numerous national and regional Coach of the Year awards. He is in his first season as the Harvard coach.

Saward on Shapiro: Josh’s successes at Tufts are just a precursor of the success he will bring to Harvard University. He is an astute recruiter of very good players. His upbeat personality and optimistic approach are manifest in the way his teams play the game.

Shapiro on Saward: Dave was a massive influence on my desire to coach. I was constantly learning as a player under him. Maybe most importantly he fostered an environment where we could not wait for training every day. We worked very hard, but we loved every second of it.

David Lindholm ’05: After playing four years at Middlebury College, David coached two years at the Salisbury School and then worked for seven years in MSL (Major League Soccer) in Los Angeles and Denver. Now at Bard College, he is the interim Athletic Director. In 2018, he coached the Bristol Stockade FC to an NPSL championship.

Saward on Lindholm: Assistant Coach at Middlebury in 2007, David was an integral part of our staff that helped guide a special group of players to a National Championship. David is a natural coach who has an exceptional manner with students.

Lindholm on Saward: I learned as much from Coach Saward’s attitude and energy at practices and games as I did from his tactical and technical coaching. We were totally committed, but it never stopped being fun. He has a wonderful perspective on soccer and it extends well beyond the game.

Saward’s coaching tree flourishes beyond these five. Three other of his players are head college coaches: Chris Parsons (1988) at U.S. Coast Guard Academy; Devin O’Neill (1991) at Western New England University; and Andrew Biggs (1990) at Bryant University.

And … there’s more! There are fulltime assistant coaches who played at Middlebury under Dave’s guidance who will likely find their own head coaching opportunities: Andrew Banadda (2010) at Bowdoin, Adam Batista (2014) at Brandeis, and Greg Conrad (2017) here at Middlebury.

That indeed is a remarkable legacy for a gifted coach!

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