Twelve seasons since the birth of the Michigan men’s soccer team, the program is going in a different direction.
Michigan coach Steve Burns announced his resignation on Wednesday after 12 seasons as head coach of the Wolverines — that number is misleading, though, since Burns was the Michigan club team’s head coach from 1992 until the program earned varsity status in 2000.
“As a Michigan alum, I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish within the soccer program,” Burns said in a statement released by the Athletic Department.
“I will forever cherish the relationships that I have developed over the past 12 years with players, assistant coaches, support staff and fellow coaches within the department. However, it’s time for a new direction in my life and leadership for Michigan soccer.”
The team was notified of Burns’s resignation in a team meeting on Wednesday.
“It’s tough to digest at first,” said redshirt junior goaltender Tim Bergsma. “You don’t really know how to take it. It was quiet as everybody just wrapped in their all the possibilities of everything going on.
“We appreciate all he’s done for Michigan soccer, and we all wish him the absolute best in all he does.”
Bergsma could not confirm whether Burns was at the meeting or if he told the team of his resignation.
Burns compiled a 122-98-22 overall record during his tenure, though the Wolverines were coming off a 5-14-1 season and first-round elimination in the Big Ten Tournament.
“Our record wasn’t what we want and this year didn’t go how we hoped it would,” Bergsma said. “But that being said, I can’t speak on his behalf or infer everything that went on behind the scenes. I know he loved this program and worked really hard to get it to where it was.”
Burns brought soccer to the forefront on campus in 2010 when his team, led by forwards Justin Meram and Soony Saad, christened the brand-new U-M Soccer Complex with a program-best 17-5-3 record, a Big Ten Tournament title and a trip to the NCAA College Cup.
But that season was only possible after Burns spearheaded a campaign to build a stadium to house both the men’s and women’s soccer teams in Ann Arbor. Once he got that in 2010, players came, fans came and so did the wins.
Burns was named the NCAA Division-I Coach of the Year by FieldTurf and was a finalist for the NSCAA National Coach of the Year in 2010.
The Wolverines’ downfall, though, was their inability to retain their star players. Meram graduated and was drafted in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft by the Columbus Crew. Saad — then only a freshman — left following the season and dabbled in European soccer before being drafted by the Sporting KC of the MLS. The final dagger was when stud goaltender Chris Blais transferred to South Florida before the 2011 season.
Expectations rose after the College Cup run, but the bench was depleted and Burns and Michigan were unable to sustain their success.
In total, Burns’s 12 teams produced 61 Academic All-Big Ten honorees, 11 All-Big Ten first-team nominations and 10 second-team all-conference honors. Three Wolverines — Saad, Michael Holody and Knox Cameron — were named NSCAA All-Americans. Burns also won back-to-back national championships with the club team in 1997-98.
“I’ve talked to a lot of alumni, and everybody’s all over the board with it,” Bergsma said. “Everybody has that same feeling that he’s done a lot for this program and we appreciate everything he’s done.”
According to the Athletic Department release, Michigan will begin a search for Burns’s replacement immediately.
“We appreciate Steve’s efforts on behalf of the University of Michigan,” said Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon in the team release. “Steve has been a valuable member of the men’s soccer program since its inception and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”