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PADECKY: Soccer coach places value on strong relationship

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.

It was 4 a.m. Friday, April 19. Jon Delano was somewhere over the Midwest, in his airplane seat, headed to Boston, trying to snooze.

“We have just been informed,” said the flight attendant over the public address system, “that downtown Boston has been locked down as law enforcement agencies are searching for Suspect No. 2 in the Boston Marathon bombings.”

Delano didn't need a cup of coffee to stay awake for the rest of the flight. His mind was going faster than the airplane. He had just accepted the job as assistant men's soccer coach at, um, excuse me, Harvard. Didn't help Delano had never been to Boston. Didn't help when he was told at Logan Airport that no cabs were going downtown.

This is his first day on the job and Delano, a 1999 Maria Carrillo graduate, didn't want to spend it blowing kisses to Harvard from the airport. Not that Harvard wouldn't have understood. But Harvard likes its people to think on their feet. So Delano started working a cabbie. Pleading at first with no luck. Then a cup of coffee to show the guy Delano was a good dude. An hour went by. Then two. Then three. Delano knows the art of gentle persuasion. OK, OK, the cabbie finally said. Let's go.

“It was surreal,” said Delano of his trip downtown. “Nothing was on the street except Army Humvees and police cars. I felt like I was in a movie. Like my friends tell me, I had a hell of an introduction to Boston.”

I hoped Delano tipped well.

“Gave him all the money I had in my wallet,” he said.

That relationship Delano struck up with the cabbie is a microcosm of how he arrived at Harvard, for it is relationships Delano values and it is relationships that put him to where he is today. When Delano was a sophomore at Carrillo, his soccer coach was Pieter Lehrer. Lehrer and Delano connected. Delano, 32, is not shy in admitting Lehrer had enormous influence on his success. Delano was Carrillo's Athlete of the Year as a junior, All-Empire and NBL Player of the Year as a senior.

Delano went to SRJC and became team captain as a freshman. Then went to Dominican University of California in San Rafael and got his degree in business management. Then spent the next 12 years at Dominican as the school's soccer coach. Lehrer was a member of UCLA's first national championship soccer team in 1985. He played professionally in Europe. He served as an assistant coach for an Olympic Development team, an assistant MLS coach, assistant coach at Stanford, assistant at University of Evansville and head coach at Cal.

Even though their paths seldom crossed after Carrillo, Delano and Lehrer remained in frequent contact, their relationship now 19 years old.

“It was an aspiration we both had, that one day we could work together,” Delano said.

Last December the head soccer coaching job at Harvard became available. Lehrer told Delano he had become a candidate, kept Delano informed along the way. On April 4, Harvard hired Lehrer. Delano received a call from Lehrer two weeks later. Come to work for me. Delano wasn't surprised. And didn't refuse.

“We aren't inventing the wheel here,” Delano said from his Harvard office. “Our philosophy works well everywhere (in sports). Accountability is at the core of everything we teach. It is a very clear vision we have of that. We create an environment in which the players hold each other accountable. They self-monitor themselves.”

In other words, take personal responsibility.

“The word 'excuse' doesn't exist in our vocabulary,” Delano said. “Excuses aren't tolerated by the coaches or the team.”

Ask any coach in any sport, high school, college or pro and they all will say the same thing: The quickest, easiest way for a team to implode and fall to ruin is to hear someone say, “Ain't my fault.” Blame someone else. Fail to accept responsibility. A coach lets that virus of immaturity spread and the season can be lost even before it is started.

It helps, of course, to have players who are smart enough to see the wisdom of that philosophy. Harvard doesn't enroll hamsters. School officials are attracted to brains that have been developed and matured by tough backgrounds. Such a combination produces a Pascal Mensah, a center-back for Harvard.

“Pascal came from Ghana,” Delano said. “He lived in a rain forest. When he came to the U.S. he had to be put back a year to get the pace of American education. Pascal's a senior at Harvard now and he is the most dynamic person I have ever met. He's an unbelievable individual.”

When asked if he ever experiences The Wow Factor walking among the Harvard campus buildings, Delano said he doesn't.

The Wow Factor, Delano said, comes to play when he meets and gets to know someone like Mensah.

Harvard's soccer players may feel the same amazement about Lehrer and Delano.

“We might be the only two people who work for Harvard who just have a bachelor's,” Delano joked.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com

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