By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– He started work at the University of Virginia on Feb. 12, joining the staff of head men’s soccer coach George Gelnovatch. A month later, Adam Perron was told to stop coming to the office.
He wasn’t the only one, of course. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every area of the University, the athletics department included.
“As you can imagine, I was so excited a couple months ago to get here and train the guys,” Perron said, “and then all of the sudden everything gets shut down and we’re stuck at home.”
This situation is less than ideal for a coach learning a new system in new surroundings, “but I think Adam got acclimated and pretty comfortable,” Gelnovatch said. “I think he got just enough time to establish himself with the team and build a rapport with the guys and us in the office, just enough to get some traction. I think we got a really, really good one in Adam.”
The veterans on Gelnovatch’s staff are associate head coach Matt Chulis, operations assistant Carl Carpenter and undergraduate assistant Jordan Allen. Perron, 35, filled the vacancy that opened when Ryan Hopkins left in January to become head coach at San Diego State, which competes in the Pac-12 Conference in men’s soccer.
Hopkins spent two seasons at UVA after taking over for Terry Boss, who left in December 2017 to become head coach at Oregon State.
“We’ve become the feeder for the Pac-12,” Gelnovatch said, laughing.
Hopkins and Boss oversaw the Cavaliers’ goalkeepers, and that’s Perron’s primary responsibility, too. But Boss and Hopkins contributed to the program in other ways, too, and the same is expected of Perron, who spent the 2018 and ’19 seasons at James Madison University. JMU reached the NCAA tournament in each of those seasons and in 2018 advanced to the quarterfinals.
“George said, ‘You’re a soccer coach here. You’re not just a goalkeeper coach,’ ” Perron recalled.
Many college programs, Gelnovatch said, “bring in a goalkeeper coach and say, ‘Listen, you just work with the goalkeepers,’ and that’s kind of it. I like to bring in guys that have a broader sense of the game. You have to immerse yourself in all aspects of the game, and that helped Terry get the job that he got and helped Ryan get the job that he got.”
When Hopkins left for San Diego State, Perron did not immediately come to mind for Gelnovatch as a potential replacement.
“I didn’t know Adam from Adam,” Gelnovatch said. But he was familiar with the recent success of JMU, whose recruiting efforts also impressed the Cavaliers’ longtime coach.
“And when I got started digging around a little bit, I found that Adam was one of the guys that was a big driver in that aspect of things,” Gelnovatch said.
Perron, who played professionally, was the recruiting coordinator at JMU. That remains one of his favorite parts of the job.
“I think I’m pretty good at developing relationships with people,” said Perron, who has strong international connections. “I’ve coached at a lot of different places for about eight or 10 years now, so I’ve developed a lot of different contacts throughout the world. Recruiting is an area I really enjoy, and I hope that I can add a lot to the program here to help keep us fighting for championships.”
The Wahoos are coming off a season, their 24th under Gelnovatch, in which they advanced to the College Cup’s championship game. Seeking the program’s eighth NCAA title, the Hoos fell to Georgetown in a penalty-kick shootout in Cary, N.C.
Many of the standouts from that UVA team––Daryl Dike, Joe Bell, Henry Kessler and Daniel Steedman among them––are now pursuing professional careers. But the Cavaliers’ returning players include goalkeeper Colin Shutler, a first-team All-American in 2019.
“I’ve only gotten a chance to work with Colin for a short while, but he’s a very sharp goalkeeper, in terms of his training habits, his preparation, how he approaches the game,” Perron said. “I could tell he’s very competitive. He’s very mature. If I wanted to make a goalkeeping video, with his technical attributes you could use him as the demo guy for a lot of things. His feet are very good, so playing out of the back, he fits very well into Virginia’s style.”
Perron, who was an assistant coach at Ohio State in 2016, said he’s pushing Shutler to become more “aggressive in his angles and closing down the ball and closing down would-be attackers when they get into the box and just making himself bigger. I think he relies greatly on his reaction and that technical instinct, but sometimes that might mean he’s giving up more of the goal or he’s not coming off his line to really challenge somebody at their feet. That’s one area I hope that I hope I can help him improve. But he’s a very, very solid goalkeeper.”
Virginia had six matches scheduled this spring. The Cavaliers played two, beating JMU 1-0 on Feb. 29 and tying Virginia Tech 3-3 on March 6, before the University sent students home and switched to online classes.
“We were pretty fortunate,” Gelnovatch said. “Most teams don’t play their first game until after spring break, and we played two games before spring break.”
Perron, who grew up in western Massachusetts, has a bachelor’s degree from Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, where he was a four-year starter at goalkeeper, and a master’s from Utica College in New York.
He’s long been aware of UVA’s storied history in the sport and the prominent role many former Cavaliers played in the early years of Major League Soccer.
“I know that Virginia has always been a great program that produces pros and competes for championships every year,” Perron said. “That was really what enticed me to come here, along with learning from George and Matt and their great experience.
“it’s been a really easy transition. They’re easy to work with. And it’s a great group of guys. Really high character. They seem to work really hard, so it’s a very professional training environment.
“I could sense that from the outside, when I was at JMU, that Virginia would have that type of environment, just because of the standard of all of its athletic programs, but actually getting in here and immersing myself into it, I see they’re very professional on the field. But they’re also good kids, very respectful, even from the first time I met them. They come up and shake my hand and introduce themselves.”
Perron and his girlfriend found a place to live in Charlottesville soon after he was hired, so he didn’t have to commute from Harrisonburg to his new job for long. He wishes he’d had more time to familiarize himself with the University before employees started working remotely, but “I did get to a couple of basketball games [at John Paul Jones Arena], so that was pretty sweet.”
He hasn’t lost perspective during the pandemic. “You can’t always control what life throws at you,” Perron said, “and I’m grateful to have a job and to work at a great place like the University of Virginia, when there are so many individuals out there that are fighting for employment and to provide for their families.
“We just to have deal with this, as any other kind of crisis, and try to stay positive and optimistic. I’m excited to get back into the office. I can’t wait to get back onto Grounds.”