Panthers’ returning soccer coach says it’s good to be back

Eastern+midfielder+Chad+Hamler+tries+to+beat+two+opponents+to+the+ball+in+Easterns+match+against+Purdue+Fort+Wayne+on+Sept.+3+at+Lakeside+Field.+Eastern+lost+the+match+1-0.+

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern midfielder Chad Hamler tries to beat two opponents to the ball in Eastern’s match against Purdue Fort Wayne on Sept. 3 at Lakeside Field. Eastern lost the match 1-0.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

For the first time in 20 years, Lakeside Soccer Field will welcome home Josh Oakley, who will serve as the new head coach for Eastern’s men’s soccer team.  

Oakley is a Mattoon native, who previously served as an assistant coach for the Panthers from 2000-02. Oakley said that growing up around Panther soccer was special as a kid.  

“It was a treat to be a kid growing up in the area and have EIU soccer be right in the backyard,” Oakley said. “I saw so many talented collegiate players and Panther teams from the time I was six years old all the way to the point when I became an assistant coach here.” 

The decision to take the head coaching position was heavily influenced by Oakley’s roots in the Charleston area. Oakley said that reflecting on the top moments of his assistant coaching career here made the decision very easy.  

“Speaking of talented players, the year I became assistant was the same year we had a freshmen player, Jason Thompson, set the NCAA Division 1 season top scoring mark,” Oakley said. “Remembering those types of moments fondly makes me happy to return to coaching here.” 

Oakley had his fair share of coaching experience as he has spent 25 years in and out of various collegiate soccer leagues. Most recently, Oakley was the head coach of Lansing Common FC in the Midwest Premier League. Oakley said that finding success with EIU soccer in the Summit League will take a bit of time.  

“After more than 20 years coaching college soccer, I decided to step into something a little different to challenge myself. Working with Lansing Common and in the Midwest Premier League exposed me to even more talented players, and a community that embraces the game and enjoys their homegrown talent,” Oakley said. “I also got to build a semi-professional team from scratch, and we were very competitive instantly. EIU is special to me, and so is the chance to once again work with collegiate student-athletes. Some things about college sports are unique and much different than my experience at Lansing. Building EIU soccer will take time and very calculated moves to put us on course for future success in the Summit League.”

Recruiting is a large part of putting a team together under a new head coach. Oakley said that it will be a role that will take great effort.  

“Recruiting has changed so much in collegiate athletics, but it remains a massive point in yielding team and program success,” Oakley said. “It is another thing that will take time and great intellect as we put together future classes to join the current players.” 

Oakley is no stranger to being on the other side of the soccer ball as a player rather than a coach. Oakley said that by talking to the current players, he can tell that they want to face what is in front of them, and that is key to him. 

“I have talked to most of them at this point. The current players seem charged up and ready to work hard,” Oakley said. “There are great challenges ahead for all of us, but I feel a sense of the group wanting to face them with a good attitude and that is really important to me. I will tell them that our performances must always follow our attitudes and not the other way around.” 

Oakley’s message to the Eastern community is simple: he is ready to work hard.  

“I’m excited to be home and embrace all of the tough work ahead. No matter what, I will always be grateful to be the coach here,” Oakley said. 

Autumn Schulz is a junior sports media relations major. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 217-581-2812.