West Virginia University is hoping Dan Stratford’s championship pedigree at the University of Charleston will transfer over to the Mountaineer men’s soccer team.
WVU announced Monday afternoon that Stratford, a WVU alum and former player who coached UC to two of the last three Division II national soccer titles, will take over the Mountaineer program. Stratford replaces Marlon LeBlanc, who resigned from the position in December.
Charleston moved quickly in naming Stratford’s replacement, promoting assistant Daniel Smee to the top job. It’s a familiar process for UC, who promoted Stratford from assistant to head coach when former head coach Chris Grassie left for Marshall.
At the same time as LeBlanc’s resignation, the Golden Eagles were in the hunt for their second national title. Once again using a suffocating defense and pairing it with one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, Charleston allowed just one goal over two games in the Division II College Cup to capture the crown.
“It’s an incredibly proud moment for me, and it feels like I’ve gone full circle from being a Mountaineer freshman in 2004, to now being in this position to lead the program,” Stratford said in a WVU release. “I’m really excited to get started with the players and work toward taking this team to the next level.
“I’m also incredibly thankful for the time I’ve had at UC and how I’ve been looked after by everyone at the university, in particular [UC athletic director] Dr. Bren Stevens. I thank them for trusting in me, as well as the players and staff for buying into the identity that we’ve developed and the success we’ve had.”
Defense had become a calling card of the Golden Eagles under Stratford. Over 25 matches, in which Charleston went 22-2-1, UC pitched 17 shutouts and never allowed more than one goal in any match.
Charleston allowed just .32 goals per match, and was even stingier in 2018, when it allowed just 0.19 goals per match. That is the top goals-against average in college soccer history among Division I and Division II teams.
The 2018 edition of the Golden Eagles were upset in the third round of the NCAA tournament, marking the only season in Stratford’s three-year tenure as head coach that he didn’t win a national title. UC won its first in 2017. Before taking over as head coach, Stratford was an assistant coach at Charleston for three seasons under current Marshall head coach Chris Grassie.
Before Stratford came to UC, he spent three seasons as a WVU assistant, where he finished his playing career as an All-Big East and All-Region selection. He remains tied for first in WVU history in career matches played (85) and sits second in career assists (27).
Stratford was drafted by DC United of Major League Soccer in 2008 and played professionally both there and in the United Kingdom.
Smee’s collegiate playing career came mostly in West Virginia as an all-conference player for West Virginia Wesleyan. He spent two seasons as a graduate assistant coach at Slippery Rock, serving as interim head coach in the spring between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The Newcastle, England, native also had assistant coaching stops at West Virginia Wesleyan and Lees-McRae College.
“Dan is a brilliant soccer technician, and his ability to build remarkable and lasting relationships with our players has been extraordinary.” Stevens said in a UC release. “Coach Smee has been a vital contributor to the successes that our program has enjoyed as one of the premier teams in collegiate soccer.”
Smee had been by Stratford’s side as long as he was UC’s head coach and the two worked together the next three seasons to capture a pair of national titles.
“I am thrilled to have been given this position and the opportunity to lead this elite program,” said Smee. “I am ready to work to ensure we continue its’ unrivaled recent successes.”