Chris Little was the academy director for the NC Fusion and head coach of the Carolina Dynamo soccer team of the Professional Development league when he received a call from former soccer coach Darren Powell in April.
Powell, a close friend of Little and whom he worked under as an assistant coach at Elon University from 2010-2012, had just resigned from Elon to take a position with the Orlando City Soccer Club of Major League Soccer and was helping Athletic Director Dave Blank find his replacement.
Naturally, Powell thought first of his close friend and former colleague, who, after a short exchange of pleasantries, he asked to return to Elon to become the head coach.
The decision, Little said, was a no-brainer. He was going to return to his old stomping grounds, where he had so much success under Powell’s guidance.
“Darren and I are close friends, and he told me on the phone about his new opportunity,” Little said. “Then he finished the conversation by asking if I would have any interest in coming back to Elon, and there was no hesitation. The answer was yes.”
Little wasn’t handed the job right then and there. After his conversation with Powell, he contacted the university to gauge its interest in him and to make known his desire for the job.
After going through the formal interview process with Blank, Little was named head coach April 29.
The announcement was welcome news to the players. Jason Waterman, a senior next season, said it was a perfect fit because of the team’s familiarity and comfort with the former coach, who recruited most of the players to Elon.
“We were all thrilled,” Waterman said. “We knew he was a candidate and he was someone we were all really pulling for because we know him personally and, more importantly, we know he’ll hold us to the championship expectations that we’ve had in the past.”
As a result, Waterman said, the transition from Powell to Little will be virtually seamless. Much easier, he said, than if the school had brought in a coach from outside the Elon coaching network.
“It’s much easier to transition to Coach Little because we’ve all worked with him before,” Waterman said. “We know what he’s going to expect out of us and his style of coaching, which you don’t really get if you get a coach who hasn’t worked with you before.”
Little understands his players wanting to keep everything as similar to Powell’s regime as possible and has therefore pledged to keep his coaching philosophy as similar to Powell’s as he can.
“There isn’t anything that’s broken,” Little said. “If you look at the success in the last couple years, it’s unprecedented. So why change anything? It’s only a matter of continuing where Darren left off.”
Little understands that it will be difficult to maintain the success Powell had, especially after last year’s NCAA tournament run, but doesn’t feel any added pressure to live up to lofty expectations.
“Any time you’re going to take over from someone who’s had such a high level of success, it’s going to be difficult,” Little said. “What he’s achieved at Elon has been incredible. I have some very big shoes to fill, but I’m to add to Darren’s success.”
Waterman doesn’t see any scenario in which a new coach limits the success the program has had over the last few seasons. In fact, Waterman said he thinks Little will bring the program to new heights.
“There’s no question we can maintain the recent success we’ve had, even with a new coach,” Waterman said. “Coach Little is going to take the success we’ve already had and build on it and take us to a level we’ve never reached before.”