Long-time Boston University men’s soccer coach Neil Roberts announced his retirement from coaching at the end of the 2019 season, leaving the Terriers coaching job vacant for the first time since 1985.
The man filling Robert’s shoes will be former Florida International University head coach, Kevin Nylen, who was just four-years-old when Roberts first began at BU.
Nylen said when the opportunity arose to become the next head coach for BU, it was a “no-brainer.”
“You look at what a job Neil [Roberts] has done to build a program over the last 35 plus years and you just look at the overall dynamic within soccer, it’s a phenomenal job,” Nylen said. “When we had the opportunity and discussions evolved it was really a no-brainer from our side.”
Nylen highlighted the system Roberts built as well as BU’s academic prestige as reasons why he chose BU.
“There’s a reason why Neil was there for 35 years as a head coach,” Nylen continued. “I think that speaks for itself in terms of just how highly regarded a university and athletic department and program it is.”
Nylen started his career at the Division II level, playing for Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire before joining the professional ranks, spending time with the Wilmington Hammerheads and the Charleston Battery. Nylen retired as a player to become a coach for Amherst College in 2009.
Nylen joined the FIU soccer program in 2012 as an assistant coach, took one year off as the chief scout of Orlando City Soccer Club and was given the keys to FIU’s program for the 2017 season. Nylen led the Panthers to two seasons with more than 10 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance in his first season, where the Panthers lost in the second round to Duke University.
Despite seven years in total with FIU, Nylen said that it ultimately wasn’t a difficult choice to leave the program.
“When you leave a place, you’re leaving something you were a part of,” Nylen said. “I don’t know if I would say difficult, but I would say, what a great experience, and without that experience, it doesn’t allow this experience.”
Taking the BU head coach job was also a homecoming for Nylen, who grew up in Ipswich and also spent time as an assistant coach at Amherst College and Boston College.
While Nylen said a return to home played a factor in his decision, it wasn’t what made the BU head coaching offer so coveted in his eyes.
“Obviously it was a discussion point for my wife and our family, it was not the first factor,” Nylen said. “My wife’s from Maine, I’m from Massachusetts, [so] we have ties back to New England.”
Nylen is also one of the youngest college soccer coaches in the country at the age of 38, but Nylen said his age is far from a detriment to his coaching ability.
“Age is a number, I don’t really worry about whether I have less experience than somebody as regarded as, say coach [Dean] Koski at Lehigh, who has been there for years and done a phenomenal job,” Nylen said. “I’m pretty confident in what we are as a staff and who we are as people to be able to push the program forward.”
Nylen will take over a Terriers program that has struggled over the past few years, finishing under .500 the past three seasons. The Terriers also have failed to make the NCAA Tournament since 2015.
Last season was especially poor for the Terriers, finishing the season with a 4-12-1 record, their worst finish since 1984 when the Terriers went 4-14-2.
Nylen’s goal for the Terriers, however, isn’t to make the NCAA Tournament, but rather build a hard-working and competitive soccer program.
“Most people would say ‘I want to win this amount of games, I want to win the Patriot League, I want to be in the NCAA Tournament,’ [but] I’m not worried about that,” Nylen said. “I’m worried about [if] do we have a competitive spirit every day, do we have a will every day, do we have compassion. That all comes back to me on how we envision every day to happen.”
This goal is more difficult now than ever due to the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on athletes across the world. For the Terriers, their spring season was cut short, which is a huge blow for a coach working with his players for the first time.
While becoming a head coach of a program during these times has proven to be challenging, Nylen says that he is just focused on keeping the team connected right now.
“I would say probably the hardest thing for any of us is not being around one another, not having human interaction,” Nylen said. “We obviously have weekly calls, daily calls, group calls so we have interaction with them, but we all know Zoom is far different than sitting down and having a conversation face-to-face … I think the human element right now is missing.”
There’s been no news regarding the status of fall season collegiate sports, but despite this Nylen is trying to stay positive about the future.
“You got to hone in on good things right, hone in on what we can look forward to and what we can control,” Nylen said. “I can’t wait to be able to step foot back on campus and that goes for everybody. I don’t go to classes and I’m not sitting in for lectures, but I hope that everybody is excited to get back to what they’re missing out on.”