Nearly six months away from kickoff, newly-appointed men’s soccer Head Coach Ryan Anatol has the Seawolves well into their preseason grind. Though he is not participating in lunges or sprints, Anatol himself is working hard, too, at establishing rapports with his new players.
“I believe in building relationships with your team on and off the field and to show your players that they’re important to you as people” said Anatol, who signed on as the head coach earlier this March. “Once we form those relationships, it helps what we do on the field.”
Last September, while serving as the assistant coach at the University of South Florida, Anatol, 32, had a chance to play against Stony Brook. The Seawolves lost, but Anatol was impressed with what he saw. “Scouting them and playing against them, I knew that it was a team with young, talented players.” Six months later, he was named the Stony Brook head coach.
“I was actually blown away by Ryan at his interview,” said Stony Brook Athletic Director Jim Fiore to a small crowd during the reception to welcome Anatol. Fiore had spent 24 hours with him during the interviewing process weeks earlier. “Most importantly, what really struck me with Ryan is what a quality human being he is.”
Born in Trinidad, Anatol grew up in a soccer-centric environment. He started playing when he was five years old. “Like every other kid, I wanted to do what my big brother was doing,” Anatol said, smiling, “and my brother was a soccer player.” His English mother, who “had soccer in her blood,” nudged him on as well.
Anatol later moved to the United States to play soccer at the University of Southern Florida, where he was a part of the school’s back-to-back Conference USA Championship teams in 1997 and 1998.
When his playing days wound down, he realized that he didn’t want to quit soccer. Upon graduating South Florida in 2002, Anatol landed an assistant coaching job at the University of Akron. In two years, he helped the Zips notch a 28-10-5 record and land two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
He then returned to his alma mater and spent six years there as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. When Stony Brook’s erstwhile head coach, Cesar Markovic, resigned in January, Anatol saw an opportunity.
“The more that I looked into it, when I saw the academic reputation; when I saw what was going on in the athletic department and the staff, I realized that there were a lot of positives to [Stony Brook],” said Anatol.
Anatol’s keen eye for talent also played a role in his signing, according to Fiore, who considers Anatol a prime recruiter. “My job is to bring in the best talent. We are going to set the bar high,” said Anatol, who looks to take advantage of his southeast and international ties to recruit out-of-state prospects.
After signing, Anatol went right to work. He met with all of his players individually and promptly began a training regimen.
Every weekday morning, on the track midfield, Anatol is amid the scuffle of blue and yellow practice vests, barking out instructions that can be heard all the way from the Lavalle Stadium parking lot. Dressed in an all black tracksuit with closed cropped curly hair and an exuberant smile, he’s young enough to be confused as a player.
Just two weeks into training midfielder Kyle McTurk has already acknowledged his new coach’s fervor. “He’s an intense person. I was scared at first, but he knows his stuff,” said McTurk after a morning of practice.
Anatol has been training McTurk and the rest of the Seawolves to polish their habits early in the preseason, focusing practices on fine-tuning player reactions to move more quickly on and off the ball. If a scrimmage squad commits a faux pas, Anatol reprimands them the old-fashioned way: ten push-ups.
“I have an intense personality,” said Anatol, unknowingly echoing McTurk. “But once training is over, my door is open. The guys come in and we joke around and spend time with each other so I get to know them more as people.”
As Anatol eases up at the end of practice, players josh him for his odd whistling propensity. “He kind of whistles at us like dogs,” McTurk laughed. “Now it’s become a joke. He whistles at us to try get our attention.”
And Anatol has managed to whistle his way into the hearts of his players just a month after meeting them.
“He means what he says,” said McTurk, a junior. “If he tells you something, he’s going to do it. He’s just a straight up kind of guy.”