The story of Hall of Fame college soccer coach Nick Cowell
Coaching has been at the centre of Nick Cowell’s life for over 30 years. The way he sees it, it will be part of his end as well.
Provided it comes with a big victory.
“Hopefully, I’ll just keel over on the field after beating our big rivals in the conference championship,” Cowell said. “If you’re going to go..!”
Not that the St. Edward’s women’s coach is going anywhere soon. In 2006, Cowell was announced as the fourth head coach of the St. Edward’s University women’s soccer team in Austin, Texas. Over 13 years and 400 wins later, he has never had a losing season and is the most successful coach in the school’s history.
During a career spanning more than three decades, Cowell has accumulated an overall record of 414-128-45 with a winning percentage of .744. Across all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) divisions, he is 16th in the all-time list and among the top 10 active Division II coaches, ranked by wins and winning percentage.
Did he foresee such success? Cowellponders for thought: “I never really went into it with any great aspirations of having a long career. Like I tell my kids, if you can find a job that you don’t really think is a job, just do it,” he says.
It’s clear just how much Cowell loves his job. But how did it all start?
In 1983, he received his bachelor’s degree in French and Spanish at the University of Birmingham, England. Over the next five years, he became increasingly involved in the U.S. college system, finally landing a job that kickstarted his career this side of the pond.
“When I was at university, I used to come over every summer to work camps. I went to Canada one summer, then the next year I went to Tampa Bay Rowdies. I kept going back for about five years and got to know some college coaches,” Cowell says.
Back home in England, Cowell was unsure of what direction to take, when a phone call initiated his move to the United States.
“I was playing for Woking in London, just had a part-time job and wasn’t really sure what to do next. I got a call from one of the coaches I knew here, and he invited me to come over and play for a year in New York,” Cowell says.
In New York, Cowell found himself immersed in a new culture.
“There was a thriving Cosmopolitan League in New York, with several ethnic community sides. I played for a Greek team called Brooklyn Kosmos. I received a free apartment, a part-time job and a weekly appearance fee,” Cowell says.
Upon reflection, Cowell recalls the more humorous aspects of those years spent in the Big Apple.
“Apparently, a lot of the fans would bet on the games during the week, so if we won, random old Greek guys would come up after the game, shake your hand and leave $100 to $200 in the palm of your hand,” Cowell says.
Eventually, Cowell accepted an offer to become an assistant coach and get a master’s degree at the same time, at Cleveland State University, Ohio. Three years later, he made the transition to the women’s college game when he followed his best friend to Trinity University, San Antonio, another example of his connections made in those intermediate years proving fruitful and the start of his love affair with Texas. Cowell talks fondly of the Lone Star state and explains how he now considers Austin home.
“My wife’s from Texas so my kids were born here. I’ve been at St. Ed’s for 13 years now – that’s the longest I’ve ever been anywhere. After moving from San Antonio, I really enjoyed the lifestyle and didn’t want to go back up north to Ohio. That was so cold!”
The passion in Cowell’s voice is audible as he discusses his relationship with St. Edward’s.
“I’ve always coached at private schools with good academics, I think that was the attraction of St. Ed’s,” he says.
“It’s a great fit. I think division 2 suits my personality – the combination of athletics and academics. Austin is a great city to live in, so everything checked all the boxes really.”
Cowell has had a profound impact on the Hilltop, but more so on those he has coached. He talks about having ex-players show up for alumni events and his pride in having had an impact on people.
“When I talk to them, they look back on their college soccer career as one of the defining moments of their life,” he says.
Chidera Aririguzo can attest to that. She is one of Cowell’s current team and has played under his stewardship for two years.
“He has had a significant impact on me not only as a player but as an individual in all aspects of life,” Aririguzo says.
“He pushes me to work outside of my comfort zone to reach my highest potential and sees the best in me ever when I don’t.”
Cowell’s mantra is that “winning isn’t everything, but trying to win should be…in the game and in life also.” Yet, he’s keen to emphasize the extent to which the job has allowed him to constantly develop.
“I’ve learnt way more than I’ve taught my players,” Cowell states definitively.
“I’ve learnt so much from being a coach and in contact with young people. I’m definitely a different coach now than when I set out. I’ve developed over the years and hopefully my players would say that too,” he says.
Over the course of his career, Cowell has come into contact with many male players, as well as the young women he has coached. Cowell states that, particularly at the college level, there are notable differences between coaching female and male players.
“Boys won’t see anything that they did wrong, they’ll focus on what they did right.” Girls, he continues, “are the opposite…it’s really hard for guys to focus on their weaknesses, but I think women are very self-critical.”
Cowell’s honest appraisal is indicative of his extensive experience and his soft spot for the women’s game, of which he has progressive ideas about its development.
“There are some cities that are doing an amazing job marketing their team – like in Portland, for example.”
He suggests that other cities should follow suit and harness the Austin culture to encourage supporters to watch women’s games as well as men’s. His hope is that “fans will go to games to support the city as opposed to the team itself.”
Regarding his own future, Cowell is less certain of what the next few years may hold.
“I always want to go to work. I enjoy coaching, I enjoy the competitiveness of it. The cliché is that you take it one game at a time, but that’s really all I’ve ever done…if I keep enjoying it, I’ll keep doing it.”