If you asked his players what they thought of him, they would give a wide range of answers looking something like this:
“He doesn’t take anything seriously,” said Kimmie Krauss, a junior midfielder on the Elon University women’s soccer team. “But really, I love playing for him.”
Or something like this:
“He’s such a personable and easygoing guy,” said Claire O’Keeffe, a senior defender on the team. “You obviously respect him as a coach and everything in that nature, but he’s someone that I truly can say knows me and knows who I am. He knows how to inter- act with me and I can joke around with him and he knows me more than just a soccer player or just another person.”
Stuart Horne, the associate head coach of the Elon women’s soccer team, said he picks and chooses his spots, but in the end, it comes down to being “human.”
“I do take things seriously, but I guess it’s just the approach that doesn’t seem like I do,” Horne said. “One of my philosophies as a coach is you have to be human. Like the other day, I put some pictures up on our Facebook page and right away, (junior forward) Catherine Brinkman takes a few pops at me because my math was off. You can’t be soccer, soccer, soccer all the time. They have other things going on. I like a good banter with the kids and all that stuff. We have our moments here and there.”
A three-year limit
As a kid growing up in Fayetteville, Horne played soccer from the age of 7, continuing through his senior year of high school. Af- ter graduating from Douglas Byrd High School, Horne had “a few” offers to continue his career, but nothing fit his fancy.
“I was just an OK player,” Horne said. “The few offers I had weren’t places I really wanted to go and I was a big school kind of guy, so I went to East Carolina University.” While at ECU, he started doing what he called “the perfect college job.”
“I was coaching recreational soccer while I was there,” he said. “It was perfect for me.”
Prior to his junior year, Horne decided to transfer to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
“I used to always want to go to school in New England,” Horne said. “There was always something about it and really actually ‘going away’ to school.”
During his first year at UMass, Horne was sneaking around the rules a bit as a domestic exchange student from ECU. But once the decision was final, the tuition price changed.
“My first year at UMass, I was still paying in-state tuition,” Horne said. “It’s a great scam. Brilliant. But I was up there for maybe a week and I was already in the admissions office getting the transfer papers and all of that stuff. But that last year, I was paying that good old out-of-state Massachusetts tuition.”
Things changed significantly.
“I actually traded a guy a surfboard for a pair of hockey skates because I knew I was going up North,” he said. “I knew there was no way I was using a surfboard in western Massachusetts.”
While at UMass, Horne’s passion for coaching became even greater when he started coaching and refereeing club soccer games and officiating high school games. These opportunities led him to Jim Rudy, the head coach of the women’s soccer team, and the rest of his staff.
“At this point, I was just like ‘Man, this would be a pretty cool living,’” Horne said. “Just in talk- ing with them, they were telling me how to go about getting into it and what I had to do, but Jim Rudy was huge in getting me into coaching.”
As a political science major with a concentration in American government at UMass, Horne had plans to go to law school following graduation. But thanks to his connections with the women’s soccer coaching staff, three weeks before graduation, Horne said he called his parents to let them know of his decision.
“That call went something like: ‘Hey mom and dad. I don’t know if I want to really pursue this whole law school thing. I want to give myself three years and if I’m not coaching college in three years, fine, I’ll call it a day,’” Horne said.
Third year’s the charm
With his limit set at three years before giving up on becoming a college coach, Horne set out on his journey to the NCAA level by starting at Frontier High School in Deerfield, Mass., then moving on to Amherst Regional High School in Amherst, Mass.
“The group at Frontier I had, they were a really good group,” Horne said. “The things you want out of your first coaching job, that was perfect. They were open and very coachable.”
Before he entered his second year at Amherst Regional, an assistant position at Chowan University became vacant and Horne was hired as the first primary assistant coach in Chowan’s program history.
“The position was open, and with my set three-year thing, I started putting some stuff out,” Horne said.
His position did not last long, though. Just three months later, head coach Pam Brown left the school to continue her education.
“I said, ‘Well that’s awesome. But what about me?’” Horne said.
After going through the process of searching for a new head coach, the administration decided to name Horne the head coach of the program.
“My first college position really was head coach,” Horne said. “You can’t be counted as an assis- tant for three months. You don’t even get done with all of your (human resources) paperwork in three months.”
Three years out of college, Horne was a collegiate head coach himself, which is something he feels helped him most in his devel- opment as a coach.
“A lot of coaches come out of college and become a second assis- tant at schools like (the University of North Carolina at) Chapel Hill or Duke (University) and other big programs and it’s just like, what are you really learning? That you have all the money in the world and you could do whatever you want? No,” he said. “You definitely have to put in the work at that level and it was valuable.”
The next step
In the years leading up to Horne taking the reins at Chowan, the program was consistently in the lower ranks of Division III.
“The program I inherited, we had 12 players,” Horne said. “There were 330 Division III programs at the time. We were around the 310 ranking. It was a good group of girls, but it just wasn’t a competitive soccer program.”
According to Horne, there was only one thing that could turn the program around.
“Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting,” Horne said. “Where it was, we were still having a pretty decent offseason before (Brown) left, but we never had the numbers. So first year in, I brought in a large class.”
At the end of his fourth season at the helm, Chowan made history with its first postseason appearance in program history in the USA South Atlantic Conference tournament. A year later, he guided the program to the South Region championship, leading the team to the Final Four of the National Christian College Athletic Association Tournament.
“It was a great learning experience,” Horne said. “I had a really good group of girls on the team so it was hard to leave, but a better opportunity arose.”
A new challenge awaits
While on the recruiting trail at Chowan University, Horne became familiar with Chris Webb, one of the assistant coaches at ECU at the time. In 2005, Webb was named the head coach of Elon’s women’s soccer team. She asked Horne to join her in rebuilding the Phoenix.
“I had worked the East Carolina camp before so I got to know that staff pretty well,” Horne said. “Then, out on the road recruiting, you see people all the time and you get to know them. When she came here, I was one of the ones she asked to see if I wanted to do it. So Elon was really my first college assisting job because, like I said, can’t count three months.”
Having been at Chowan for five and a half years and becoming the most successful coach in the program’s history with 44 wins, Horne felt it was time to move on to the next challenge.
“Pretty much, we just kind of got where we could go and it was a great opportunity to come here, so here I am,” Horne said. “I am very proud of what we did there.”
Surviving a change
After just three years with the program, Webb resigned as head coach at Elon. Replacing her was an assistant coach from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Chris Neal.
“I knew Coach Neal the same way I knew Coach Webb: through recruiting,” Horne said.
When Neal was hired, he approached Horne to stay on as an assistant coach. Having already established a relationship with the players as well as incoming recruits to the program, Horne agreed.
“I had known Stuart through the recruiting ranks and I thought he would be a good choice, quite frankly,” Neal said. “I thought that, from an assistant coaching standpoint, he not only said all the right things to me, but was able to provide things that I’m not quite as good at.”
With a new system in place, both Neal and Horne shared the recruiting duties among many other responsibilities. But, according to Neal, recruiting is Horne’s specialty.
“He’s got a great eye for talent and he is great with kids and families once we get them on campus,” Neal said. “He really knows how to highlight Elon’s best traits.”
Horne credits his recruiting tactics to his time at his first coaching job.
“I really learned how to recruit at Chowan,” he said. “It’s a very unique school. It definitely, compared to Elon, has its limitations. I didn’t have an assistant at Chowan. I did everything, so a lot of it was on-the-job learning, so I really learned a lot there that has helped a lot here.”
Having attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where hockey rules all, and having traded his surfboard for a pair of hockey skates, needless to say, hockey is in his blood.
“They had public skate up there at the UMass rink, so a bunch of us would go on Friday nights and just learn and have fun with it,” Horne said. “Then when hockey season started, the crowds that get behind the team were crazy. I remember a game against (Boston University), there was almost 6,000 people for the game. I was just like ‘Oh wow, really?’ So that really spurned my interest originally.”
But hockey was never a constant.
“I was a New York Rangers fan,” Horne said. “I was at the Rangers’ run with Mark Messier and those guys holding the Stanley Cup. Then when they went to the first lockout and didn’t play at all in 1994, I was just like ‘Dude, this is ridiculous,’ and I kind of got out of it for a while.”
Not until about “five or six years ago” did Horne regain his love for the game: this time for the Boston Bruins and the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I’m kind of a Boston sports fan, so I picked up the Bruins,” Horne said. “I liked the way they played too. Then with the Hurricanes being the local team and easy access in going to practices and games and all that stuff, Hurricanes first and Bruins second.”
So when this year’s NHL lockout began, Horne’s response to the news was simple: “It sucks.”
Playing for himself
As a season ticket holder for the Hurricanes, Horne and his wife, Leslie, bring their two children, Keegan, 8, and Gavin, 5, to games just an hour down the road in Ra- leigh when NHL games are played.
“We bring the kids out and they watch and go ‘I want to do that too,’” Horne said. “So we got them into skating.”
While skating with his kids, Horne noticed an adult hockey session called “Learn to Play.” The advertisement immediately caught his eye as something in which he could be interested in participating.
“I just said ‘You know what. Why not?’” Horne said. “I’m 38, not getting any younger. Let’s give it a shot.”
After gathering the necessary gear to participate, Horne started attending the session every Tuesday morning at 7.
“It was the classic getting up early, pack the hockey bag and going out for the ‘bad ice time,’” Horne said.
According to Horne, there was one coach and about 15 players for his first session. In Horne’s mind, the session was teaching the basics of hockey. Apparently, he got the wrong idea.
“In my mind it was, ‘Okay, here’s your stick, here’s your puck, and this is how you pass,’” Horne said. “Not at all. When I got there, we were running a pattern drill and I was just lost. I was like, ‘This is not ‘learn to play.’ This is called a training session.’”
Though not what he expected, Horne stuck with it for the next three months. By the end of the three months, he felt he was ready to start playing real games. In January of this year, Horne signed up for the D-League of the Greensboro Ice House’s Adult Hockey League, which is considered the league for rookies and beginners.
“It’s so much fun,” Horne said. “We play on Friday nights, so obviously in-season I can’t do it, but before the season, I played almost every Friday night since January. It’s awesome.”
Here to stay
Over the years, Horne said he’s had some opportunities arise to potentially become a head coach again, but it comes down to being in a place where he wants to be: right here, “home” at Elon.
“This is just a really good place to be,” Horne said. “Plain and simple. This school itself is ridiculous, but in a good way.”
As for the thought of leaving to pursue another job, Horne said it would have to be good for him professionally or for the family.
“I’m not going to leave just to leave,” he said. “I like it here. It’s a great part of the state and it’s a great school. I know this sounds like the company answer, but it’s the truth. I do like it here and I like the people I work with and everything is just set. If I was to move on, it would have to be a really good opportunity.”
Now midway through his eighth year at Elon, it’s safe to say Horne has established his place in the program not just as a valuable coach, but also as a friend and a mentor for the players.
“It’s really rewarding, especially at the college level,” Horne said. “Take Claire (O’Keeffe) for instance. I remember seeing her as a junior in high school and recruiting her through her senior year. Now she’s here and four years have passed and it comes to senior day and you look back and go, ‘I’ve known that kid for six years,’ and that’s really cool. It’s awesome to interact with them. There’s a little bit of everything.”
When Horne was first recruiting O’Keeffe, the program was in the process of changing head coaches. Even with the change, O’Keeffe still said she felt comfortable coming to Elon because of the part Horne had played during the recruiting process.
“We were in contact my junior year and at the time, there wasn’t a head coach here, but he still played a vital role in me staying interested in the school and keeping it as a main option,” O’Keeffe said. “He showed confidence in me as a player and I definitely would say he played a fundamental role in me being here and me being success- ful and happy in the choice that I made.”
When it comes to interacting with the team, O’Keeffe said it comes natural to Horne, which is something she said makes him “one of the girls.”
“He fits right in,” O’Keeffe said. “He’s your soccer coach but he can also get in on the daily gossip and he can jump right in and start conversation. He’s such a great person. I really don’t know how else to put it.”
According to O’Keeffe, Horne has played such a pivotal role in her life over the last four years that she said she will never be able to thank him for everything he’s done both as her coach and her role model.
“He’s like another dad to me,” O’Keeffe said. “I’ve known him for six years and he’s played such a huge role in my life and I will absolutely never forget him. He’s seen me grow over the past four years and he helped me shape who I am.”
O’Keeffe said she thinks interactions with the players are what helps the team succeed and stay strong together — because of guys like Coach Horne that can be human while still being a coach.
“It gives everybody a complete sense that it’s not just work,” Horne said. “When we’re out practicing and in games, just get it done and do work. But then there’s always off moments when you’re on a bus or something. You have to be able to interact with the team on personal, individual basis. It gives the feel of a complete experience and I think kids enjoy it because they can have a pop at Coach Neal and (myself) and talk with us and we’ll come back at them. We can be human with them.” §