OXFORD — Matthew Mott always knew he wanted to be a head coach, especially a head coach in the Southeastern Conference.
After seven years of working as an assistant women”s soccer coach at Auburn University, Mott took a “risky” move, by his admission, to become an assistant coach at the University of Texas.
The move took him away from his roots in the Southeast (he also was an assistant coach at the University of Central Florida), but it exposed him to another region and to another way of running a program.
Now Mott hopes to bring everything he has learned together as the new head coach at the University of Mississippi.
Mott replaces Steve Holeman, the only women”s soccer coach in Ole Miss history, and inherits a program that returns six starters and is coming off its fourth NCAA tournament appearance.
Mott”s goal is to build on the foundation Holeman established and to make the NCAAs an annual destination for the Rebels. He plans to do that with a more aggressive style of play that fits his personality.
“I am high energy,” said Mott, who spent four years as an assistant coach at Texas. “I am a players” kind of coach. I want to develop them and make them the best player they can be. We won”t be outworked by anyone.”
Mott said he felt very comfortable and enjoyed working as an assistant coach. He said he learned a lot from Karen Hoppa when he worked for her at UCF and at Auburn and from Chris Petrucelli at Texas. He feels all three jobs helped him mature as a coach and broadened his recruiting ties.
Mott gained a reputation as a top-notch recruiter while he was at Auburn, helping Hoppa build inroads into the state of Georgia and create a program that annually competes for the SEC Western Division title.
In Ole Miss, which went 13-6-2 last season, Mott inherits a program that fits that description. Not only does Mott hope to blend everything has learned, but he also will take a page or two from Holeman.
“There were many years where Ole Miss was playing a 3-5-2 and we were playing a three-player front that we thought was pretty darned good, with Sarah Steinmann and some of those guys, and we were like, ”We hope they play three in the back,” ” Mott said. “For some reason it never seemed to be an issue because they were able to handle us. Those teams were always very disciplined. We are going to built on that.”
Mott wants to do that with a style that attacks more and tries to get balls forward earlier. He said Ole Miss has been a possession-oriented team for such a long time that he wants to tweak that thinking so the Rebels can be more dangerous from more places on the field.
“We”re going to try to up-tempo it a little bit and get after it a little bit more on defense and in our attacking third,” Mott said.
To accomplish that goal, Mott said the Rebels will use a lot of players. He said his team will “have to be fitter than everybody” to attack from all areas.
“There will be an emphasis on fitness and discipline and working really hard,” Mott said. “This team, so far, has been very, very good at the aggressive style. They are getting after each other in practice, they are working hard, their energy level is high, and they seem very excited to be out there.”
Mott credits junior forward Dylan Jordan, an “absolute monster” according to Mott, junior forward Kelsey Breathitt, senior midfielder Taylor Cunningham, a preseason All-SEC pick, and junior goalkeeper Alley Ronaldi for setting the right tone in practice. He said freshman Mandy McCalla “has been excellent and has put her stamp on the team” as someone who “is going to be a very important piece to our team.”
The Rebels were picked to finish third in the SEC West in the preseason coaches poll. Even though Ole Miss has only one senior, the team appears to have all of the pieces to make Mott”s plan come true.
Now it is up to him to take what he has learned and to shape the program in his image.
“It was great to come in and take over, but it also means there is a higher expectation and you”re not building from scratch like you did at Auburn,” Mott said. “But I think it is time for Ole Miss to take a step up where we are consistently in the NCAA tournament, and advancing in the NCAA tournament, and we”re consistently battling for the SEC West title. The SEC West is only getting more difficult, but I think we”re right in the middle of it. I feel like we”re a team to be reckoned with every year.
“I think we have the right mind-set and the right talent. It all has to come together.”
Ole Miss plays host to Middle Tennessee at 7 p.m. Friday.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.