They hail from different countries, different backgrounds and different sports. Each coach began his tenure at Elon University under a friend, a partner in coaching and saw unprecedented levels of success. Then, they took their careers elsewhere for fresh starts and new challenges.
This year, both Rich Skrosky and Chris Little return to help lead Elon into its newest era and its biggest stage.
Skrosky takes over the football program, and Little takes the helm of the men’s soccer team as Elon makes the transition to the Colonial Athletic Association.
The move comes after 11 years in the Southern Conference and just 15 years after Elon became a full-time Division I institution. Elon leaves a league where it competed against the likes of Furman University and Davidson College to one where it will head north to play schools like Towson University and the University of Delaware.
Skrosky, who coached at Elon under Pete Lembo from 2006 to 2010, said it’s bittersweet.
“I really enjoyed coaching in the Southern Conference back in the day,” Skrosky said.” But with the movement that the Southern Conference had with [Appalachian State University] and Georgia Southern [University], I think the administration was like, ‘This conference is starting to get a little uneasy. If you look at our footprint of our student body and alumni, it’s going to be awesome.”
Little left Elon less than a year prior to receiving a call from head coach Darren Powell, who told him he had accepted a coaching position with the Orlando City Soccer Club of Major League Soccer.
Little was an assistant under Powell from 2010 to 2012 before becoming the Academy Director for the NC Fusion and head coach of the Carolina Dynamo, which competes in the Professional Development League.
After he helped build the success Elon men’s soccer has seen — three straight SoCon Tournament titles and NCAA Tournament berths — Little immediately knew he wanted to be back. But there was more to it than the on-field accolades.
“The biggest thing that stuck out to me then, and still sticks out to me now, is the family kind of atmosphere at Elon,” Little said. “The closeness of the players, of the staff, of the academic support staff, the weight staff, the training staff, everybody. It’s a very, very close-knit environment. I think that’s what makes Elon very unique.”
Little still keeps in touch with Powell but is starting to make his own mark on the program.
“Chris certainly brings a level of intensity and expectation that will keep us at that winning level,” said Elon senior forward Jason Waterman. “That’s something we expected coming in and has really held true so far.”
Of all the teams at Elon, men’s soccer is right up there with men’s basketball in terms of student turnout at games. More than 3,000 people packed Rudd Field last November when Clemson University came to town for the NCAA Tournament.
Little said he is excited about that and the experience his players and staff get at Elon in general.
“That’s part of the Elon experience — small class sizes, the teachers are going to know who you are, the regular interaction,” Little said. “I think those principles and those values are embodied in our soccer program as well.”
When Little was at Elon under Powell, his role was slightly closer to the players than a head coaching job, which allowed him to get to know the players, many of whom are on the roster now, at a personal level. It’s helped with the transition thus far.
“We understand he cares about us as people when he’s coaching us,” Waterman said. “We know he’s going to be hard on us. He makes us want to work for him. That’s huge for a head coach and a team to succeed.”
Changing a culture
Skrosky left Elon in 2010, one year after he was on a staff that led the Phoenix to its first Football Championship Series playoff appearance. Lembo took the head job at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and Skrosky followed to become the offensive coordinator there.
When the Elon job opened up in November 2013 after three-year head coach Jason Swepson was fired, it wasn’t a difficult decision for Skrosky to come back. After all, watching Elon struggle to a 10-24 record was tough for him.
“It was personal for me,” Skrosky said.
With the low points of the last few seasons on everyone’s minds, Skrosky is determined to make the players believe in the tradition of Elon football. He’s brought in a number of speakers to talk to the team about the history of the program and the surrounding community.
“The biggest thing for [the players] to realize is they’re part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than this team,” Skrosky said. “There’s a lot of great football tradition at Elon, going way back. I want them to know how important that is.”
When Skrosky first came to Elon prior to the 2006 season, he didn’t know much about the school. He had heard of it, but that was about it.
During his five years at Elon on Lembo’s staff, he grew increasingly impressed with the community feeling which made everyone feel “connected.” That was a major reason he came back.
So far, he’s made an impact.
“He’s passionate,” said Kierre Brown, a fifth-year senior and wide receiver for Elon. “The few years in the past, we’ve lacked a passion for football. Either the players, the coaches, the support staff — whoever’s dealing with the program. We lacked that passion as a whole.
“With Coach Skrosky coming in, he’s just all about football. You see it on him in the way he carries himself. He doesn’t say it, but football is everything for him. It carries over to the players, coaches and everyone around him.”
As for the CAA, Skrosky loves the depth. There’s been a CAA team in the national championship in seven of the last 11 years, and it’s not just one team that made those appearances. It’s five different ones.
“If it’s not the best FCS conference in the country, it’s definitely amongst the best,” Skrosky said. “I think that would be a consensus. It’s a great opportunity for our institution to be able to play a [University of] Richmond and a Villanova [University] and a Delaware.”
A special place
When Little has some free time, which isn’t very often, he spends it with his 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
He’ll also wander over to watch Skrosky direct Elon football practice. Little, a native of Swindon, England, said he learns from coaches of other sports on a daily basis.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about working in an athletic department at a university,” Little said. “There are people from different sports, different backgrounds. It’s really interesting to see how they approach things and what their style is, ask questions and observe what other people do. We all ask each other questions of how we can get the most out of what we got.”
That’s something that Skrosky sees as being special about Elon, and how he hopes to bolster attendance at home football games.
“I try to make myself as visible as I can on campus, but I think it’s the players,” Skrosky said. “If you know Kierre Brown, you’re going say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go see Kierre play.’ You can do that at an Elon. At an Ohio State, they’re going to get their 100,000. But they don’t know the players. They know them because of ESPN, they know them from the dining hall, but they don’t know them from the dorm. That’s what makes an Elon, and this level even, pretty neat.”
Skrosky and Little both have different tasks ahead of them — football has struggled, while men’s soccer has been at the peak of the program’s history. But the CAA is on both of their minds, bringing with it new opponents, more travel and a tougher road to success.
It’s only been several months since they joined the staff at Elon, but it’s clear Skrosky and Little are fit to embrace the challenge — and the grind.