Mark Hurley understands it’s a fine line.
Pittsford Mendon’s boys soccer coach knows the nicknames, the jokes and general busting of the chops that he does daily with his players could be taken the wrong way. But there’s a rock-solid reason the 41-year-old can act like he’s still one of the guys and not be worried someone’s feelings being hurt is going to end up with him explaining himself to a parent.
“It’s not just soccer for him. He cares about our life outside of soccer also,” junior defender John Galbraith says. “He tells us if we’re ever in trouble or we have a problem to call him, he’ll be there for us.”
For Hurley, building that bond and a relationship with his players is the key. He’s the next winner of the Coaches Who Care award, a joint initiative by the Democrat and Chronicle and Compeer Rochester that recognizes top coaches in Section V. A 1991 graduate of Greece Athena, Hurley replaced Mendon coaching legend Joe Borrosh 12 years ago. At the time of his retirement, Borrosh’s 498 wins were tops in Section V, and his teams also won 16 Section V titles and a record six state championships.
Mendon soccer was synonymous with winning. Thanks mostly to Hurley it still is. He has guided teams to a pair of state championships and five sectional crowns in his 12 seasons.
“I’m here to make them have fun,” said Hurley, who also played at Monroe Community College after high school. “They love soccer and I don’t at any point put such a stress on them that it’s a job, that it’s work, that it’s a grind. I want them to work but have fun at the same time and enjoy and look forward to coming (to practice) every single day.”
Hence the jokes. Hurley said he feels more like a big brother to his players — OK, maybe at the age of 41 it’s more like an uncle — than their coach. If he ever senses any teasing, coming from him or a teammate, is taken the wrong way, he takes care of it immediately and talks to his players. In a way, he’s trying to teach them it’s OK for teammates and friends to laugh with and at one another if it’s all in good fun and not mean-spirited.
“He’s just a great guy overall. He’s like a friend to all of us. He’s not just our coach,” says senior defender Jim Keneally. “He jokes around a ton. It just keeps us all relaxed. We don’t take it too seriously. We just want to be loose when we’re out there.”
It’s not fun and games all the time. That’s simply unrealistic, so “if you’re doing something bad, if you’re messing around,” Keneally says, “(Hurley) will take you aside and give it to you straight.”
He learned his values from his parents, Janice and Larry Hurley. “Be consistent. Family first. Do what’s right by others and take care of the ones you love. Just simple values that my Mom and Dad both taught me,” says Hurley, a physical education teacher at Pittsford’s Calkins Road Middle School.
Hurley and his wife, Gina, have two sons: Danny, 10, and Tyler, 7. They’re ball boys for Mendon and Hurley uses their role at matches as another way to teach his players. When he’s busy coaching, he knows his sons might be watching his players on the field or the sideline. How they act and what they might say in certain situations, especially if something doesn’t go Mendon’s way, is influential.
Hurley tells his players to “make sure they’re doing the right thing and being good leaders and role models,” he says.
Mendon is Hurley’s first varsity coaching job. He’d been a junior-varsity head coach at Pittsford Sutherland for three years before Borrosh decided to retire. He says the confidence Borrosh and Borrosh’s JV coach, John Iaculli, showed in him was important to Hurley finding his own way. Even now, he says their friendship resonates with him.
“They continue to support me and know I’m doing it the right way so I appreciate that,” he says.
The Vikings take a 4-2-1 record into Thursday’s Monroe County match at Victor (4-3).
Hurley says Bill Hueber, the former Greece Athena boys varsity coach, helped him fall in love with soccer. Hueber was Hurley’s youth coach from age 10 to 16. MCC coach Nelson Cupello affected him similarly.
“You recognize that every player has value,” Hurley says. “I’ve had 31 (players) on my roster before and that 31st person has as much value as (the player who is) All-State or All-American.”
Some former players who Hurley now calls friends were the guys who didn’t play that much.
“I ski with them, keep in touch with them,” Hurley says, “and some of the most meaningful letters that I’ve ever received, that I can relay to the team (now) about the value and importance of being a team player,” are from those guys.
About this award
The Coaches Who Care Award recognizes individuals who’ve shown a commitment to players that goes beyond only developing a winning team. Eligible coaches must work at local high schools at the modified, junior-varsity or varsity level. E-mail nominations to JDIVERON@Gannett.com. Please cite specific examples in your nomination. The coach of the year will be honored at the Oct. 29 Compeer Luncheon in Rochester. This year’s special guest is Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly.