New coach Nate Lie sees high ceiling for KU soccer
photo by: Courtesy of Kansas Athletics
When new Kansas coach Nate Lie addressed his team for the first time Tuesday, he said, there was a moment where he hesitated and was wondering how to begin.
Lie had become thoroughly ingrained in the routines he had built over seven seasons coaching at Xavier. Now, after having spent so much of his life and career in Ohio that athletic director Travis Goff referred to him as “Mr. Ohio” during the search process, he has made a bold move to Kansas.
“Is it scary? Heck yeah, a little bit,” Lie said Wednesday at his introductory press conference. “It’s been a minute. It’s been a minute since we did this, and I was reminded of that yesterday, sitting in front of the team and almost for a second being like, ‘Where do we start?'”
But one of the reasons why he made the move to leave Xavier, he explained, was that he felt the need for “that next personal challenge.” By the time he left, he had already guided the program to four NCAA Tournament appearances and its four winningest seasons ever.
“The last thing I ever want in my career is any sort of complacency to hit,” Lie said, “and if I’m looking in the mirror, I don’t know if it happened at Xavier but it might have been getting close because … we had so many good people around us, everything was in such autopilot, they made my life very, very easy.”
That desire to seek out new frontiers, if Wednesday’s press conference at Hadl Auditorium is any indication, already aligns him well with the desires of Goff and the athletic department. Goff said that based on input from the soccer team, he was looking for, among other qualities, “somebody who was going to challenge him or herself, somebody who was going to challenge the young people in the program, and certainly for those of us on the inside, somebody that was going to challenge us.”
Goff said that as with his previous hires — football coach Lance Leipold, women’s golf coach Lindsay Kuhle and baseball coach Dan Fitzgerald — he expected Lie to push the athletic department to improve in various ways. He cited Lie’s work in diversity, equity and inclusion at Xavier as something that “impacted every student athlete at Xavier, impacted every staff person.”
On the field, Lie said that at Kansas — which struggled in 2023, but last made the tournament in 2019 and got to the third round — his team will “try to compete for Big 12 Championships sooner than later,” and “compete to get into the NCAA Tournament and then I want to do some damage in the tournament.”
“One of the reasons that I’m here today is I didn’t know exactly how much further we could take that at Xavier soccer, and I firmly believe that that is attainable here,” Lie said.
Lie announced Wednesday that he has brought along top assistant Tyler Smaha, his associate head coach at Xavier, to aid him in building the KU program. He called Smaha, who was in attendance at the introductory press conference, “an absolute stud on the recruiting trail.”
“(He) was in the middle of a head coaching search,” Lie said, “I’m guessing he could have been in the head coaching search for Xavier, and he decided he wanted to be part of this, so thanks, Tyler.”
He and Smaha have already begun combing through tape of their players.
“We were out on the road and neither of us could sleep, and there was Kansas 2023 fall soccer on in our Airbnb at like 5 in the morning,” Lie said. “So we both looked at each other and said, ‘This is a talented team. This is a team that has attributes that can translate right away.'”
In 2017, when Lie joined Xavier from Cincinnati, where he had been an assistant, he got hired in May and didn’t even meet with his team until the start of preseason in August. This time around, in his second head coaching gig, he has a full spring to get acquainted with the Jayhawks and play some exhibitions before they return to the field.
“We could build a foundation, a deep one as far as expectations on the field, playing model,” Lie said. “That first exhibition’s not going to go super well, I know it, but we have to just put our best foot forward, and when there are things we need to improve, let’s just concentrate on improving them.”
Beyond Mr. Ohio
Lie is a native of Cleveland who played soccer at Miami (Ohio) and, after some time working outside of sports, got his start as a coach there before going on to Cincinnati.
Goff and Lie both expressed confidence that the latter’s success in Ohio will transfer to the Kansas City area, which Lie called “the soccer capital of America,” and in other regional recruiting efforts.
“We didn’t have to have somebody that had in-depth, built-in relationships right here in this particular region, necessarily,” Goff said.
Added Lie: “I think character travels, I think hard work travels, I think attention to detail travels.”
Lie also said that he and Smaha will “go anywhere, we’ll talk to anyone. We’ll try to get the best players we can here but we are not in any way shape or form going to ignore this specific area, and we’re smart enough to know where our bread is buttered.”
photo by: Screenshot of Kansas Athletics video