By Chris Preston
Ten years ago, T.J. Mead was a 21-year-old college kid. Last month, he retired as one of the most successful soccer coaches in Vermont history.
Mead took over as head coach of the Champlain Valley Union (CVU) High School boys’ soccer team fresh out of college, with no formal coaching experience. He had starred for CVU as a center midfielder in the mid-‘90s under his predecessor, Dan Shepardson. After that, Mead would go on to play at the University of Vermont.
CVU was already a bona fide soccer powerhouse when Mead took the reins from Shepardson. Despite his lack of coaching experience, the transition couldn’t have been smoother. The Redhawks won Division I state championships in each of Mead’s first two years on the job. They would go on the win two more over the ensuing six years and appeared in two other state championship games – including a loss to Colchester this fall.
All told, the Redhawks won four state championships and went to the finals six times in his eight years on the job. Mead didn’t quite go out on top this fall. But at just 31 years old, his legacy is secure.
Why call it quits at such a young age? For Mead, it was mostly about family. Mead has two young children – Jackson, 4, and Cally, 1. Keeping up with them required a little more time and energy.
“They’re little busy bodies,” Mead says.
Mead also wanted to leave the program in as good of shape as he found it when he took over for Shepardson. It’s safe to say he’s succeeded – new coach Katie Mack, hired last week, will have the luxury of 19 returning players when she takes over next season. Mead still works at CVU as a ninth grade wellness teacher, so he still sees many of the players he coached this fall. But he knows it won’t quite be the same.
“I’ll miss competing,” Mead admits. Mead’s teams were always competitive. Defense was the cornerstone of CVU’s success the last nine years.
But Mead’s success at CVU went beyond X’s and O’s. Communication with the players – who, at least early on, were only a few years younger than him – was one of Mead’s greatest strengths as a coach.
“I always tried to take the calm approach,” Mead says. “I don’t get too excited when things are going well. I don’t get too low when things aren’t go so well. I tried to observe and provide players feedback at the right time.”
The wins and losses aren’t what he’ll remember most from coaching at CVU. It’s the bond formed with different groups of players – and the joy of seeing many of them graduate college and move on to the working world. Mead expects to coach again someday. When asked why he’s hanging it up, he qualifies it with “for now.”
“No question I will be coaching in some capacity at some point down the road,” Mead says.
For now, though, he’s content to spend more time with Jackson, Cally, and his wife, Stacey, at their home in Essex. He does a lot of CrossFit to keep the competitive juices flowing. He’s teaching Jackson how to play soccer and how to swim. At some point he’ll get “the itch” again and return to the sidelines. But Mead isn’t looking back just yet.
“It’s nice to walk away on your own terms,” he says.