Men’s Soccer: How Tim Lenahan left a mark on Loyola coach Neil Jones


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Tyler Miller rolls the ball. The current LA Galaxy goalie was mentored by Neil Jones during his illustrious Northwestern career.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Almost ten years ago, coach Tim Lenahan heard about a high school goalkeeper who was allegedly “pretty good.” But instead of flying to Potomac, Maryland to see him for himself, Lenahan sent his top assistant, Neil Jones.

“That goalie turned out to be Tyler Miller,” Jones says now. “I was very impressed.”

After Jones and the rest of Northwestern’s coaching staff convinced Miller to play for them, the goalie from New Jersey became a four-year starter. Now, he plays for the LA Galaxy and the U.S. National Team.

It was Jones’ biggest get on the recruiting circuit.

Jones was such a successful right-hand man that he left NU after three seasons to coach Loyola’s men’s soccer team. He’ll bring the Ramblers (5-3-1, 2-1-1 MVC) to Evanston to face the Cats (5-5-1, 1-2-1 Big Ten) and his former mentor Wednesday. Jones said Lenahan showed him how to coach an NCAA team.

“I’ll never forget he said to me after my first season in 2010 when we weren’t that successful, that, ‘You’re doing a very good job with the on-field coaching,” Jones said. “‘But they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’”

Jones’ response?

“You’re 100 percent right.”

When NU hired Jones in 2010, he said he experienced a little culture shock. His former program, UC Santa Barbara, consistently developed pros and competed for national championships. Since almost all of his players had MLS aspirations, Jones’ biggest responsibility was bringing the most out of star talent.

But Jones said Lenahan and the Cats had a different philosophy. In addition to being a high-level soccer program, the players had more unique interests off the field and pursued careers outside of soccer. Lenahan wanted Jones to know all of the players’ hobbies and aspirations.

“It’s a different student athlete (at Northwestern),” Jones said. “I didn’t do a good enough job connecting with our student athletes. I was very soccer-oriented at first.”

Since that conversation in 2010, Jones prioritized building more meaningful relationships with the players on his roster. It worked with Miller, who grew into one of the best players in the Cats’ history. In 2012, Jones left NU to become the head coach at Loyola, and he said he took Lenahan’s lessons with him.

The Ramblers have more in common with the Cats than USBC in producing pros. Miller has been the exception rather than the rule for the Cats, and Loyola is in a similar situation. But further south in Chicago, Jones has turned around the Loyola program.

The Ramblers won an MVC title in 2016 and have become one of the best teams in the conference. Jones knows none of this would have happened if Lenahan hadn’t changed his perspective on coaching college soccer.

“We both want our players to play hard and play well, but also play for something bigger than themselves,” he said. “He taught me a lot and made me realize it’s not all about coaching.”

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Twitter: @2021_Charlie