Ian Gordona is in a relationship. Actually, he’s in more than one, and for the Ohio State men’s soccer team’s assistant coach, that’s how he operates.
More than 10 years after being cut from the Buckeyes’ roster, Gordona is building bonds with the coaches who once released him and players who might never want to let him go.
“This isn’t about wins and losses to me, and I know that’s important,” Gordona said. “It’s really about building relationships.”
After unsuccessfully trying to walk on with the Buckeyes in 2002, Gordona joined OSU as the team’s recruiting director and assistant coach in May, following years of assessing talent at the collegiate and national levels.
In his 18th season with the Buckeyes, OSU coach John Bluem now relies upon the man he didn’t used to need.
“When he came to our tryouts (in 2002), it was just, for me, another guy trying out for the team,” Bluem said. “We didn’t think that he could help us, so we didn’t keep him.”
Gordona graduated from OSU in 2003 and began his career as a coach. In time, he came to understand Bluem’s point of view.
“Having the experience of being a coach … I understand those types of decisions,” Gordona said. “There’s no bitterness, no ill will. I get it.”
Following four years of coaching Columbus Crew Soccer Academy teams, including the U-18 squad he coached with current OSU associate coach Frank Speth, Gordona crossed Bluem’s mind again in 2012.
OSU offered Gordona a volunteer assistant’s role for the 2012 season, but without a full-time position to accept, Gordona took a job as an assistant at the University of Michigan, Bluem said.
Two years later, when he grew tired of his commute from Ohio to Michigan, Gordona elected to leave the Wolverines.
“I had about 30 schools reach out to me when I left up at Michigan with the No. 7 and No. 2 recruiting classes in the country,” Gordona said.
Speth, who spent multiple years coaching alongside Gordona, vouched for his former assistant when OSU began to consider making coaching changes, he said.
“Ian had a lot of pluses in his corner and so that made the decision a lot easier,” Speth said.
After joining the team as a volunteer assistant last winter, Gordona filled former assistant Taly Goode’s position in the offseason, Speth said.
Much as Gordona’s relationship with Speth helped him land a job in Columbus, his relationship with players has helped him have success as one of college soccer’s top recruiters.
While recruiting for Manchester Community College, a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, Gordona attracted seven players who jumped from his team to the professional ranks, he said. His selling points were slim, as he had no scholarships to offer.
Gordona said his recruiting mentality has not changed since making the jump to Division I. He is still gratified by the bonds he makes with players.
“I can say to (recruits) that I’ve had all these pros, all these All-Americans, all these national team kids,” Gordona said. “The number that’s important to me is 26 and that’s the number of (my players’) weddings I’ve been invited to.”
While Gordona didn’t help recruit the Buckeyes’ 2014 freshman class, Bluem said he has already started recruiting next season’s first-years.
“He’s been working hard, he’s identifying a lot of people,” Bluem said. “We think that we’re shaping a pretty good group.”
For Gordona, forming a solid freshman class involves looking beyond the prospects’ on-field performances. He said he often selects players based on whether he believes he can spend the next four years of his life with them and vice versa.
During the recruiting process, the assistant coach establishes a special bond with those players who have an interest in the arts. Gordona, who considers writing his hobby, said a recruit’s choice of artistic or literary expression gives him a new way of understanding them.
“It’s one of those things where you have something that you can build off of relationship-wise that has nothing to do with soccer,” Gordona said.
Developing relationships is an aspect of the job Gordona handles on a daily basis. Because he’s the Buckeyes’ youngest coach, he can be a one-man response team for the players’ problems, Bluem said.
“He’s very much a player’s coach,” junior midfielder and co-captain Zach Mason said. “He constantly reminds us that he’s here for us and it’s not about him.”
Mason, who played under Gordona at Crew Soccer Academy, said Gordona often opens and closes his training sessions with a reminder that he’s pushing the players for their improvement.
“(The players) have confidence in him as a coach,” Bluem said. “They also have confidence in somebody that they can share with and talk about their issues.”
As the players talk, Gordona listens. It’s a responsibility mandated less by his job than by his personal mantra: people come first.