The 2022 season will mark Sasho Cirovski’s 30th season as the head coach of the Maryland men’s soccer program. Cirovski has made 29 NCAA Tournament appearances at Hartford and Maryland, the most ever for a coach in Division I men’s soccer history. The Terps have made nine appearances in the College Cup and have taken home three national titles (2005, 2008 and 2018) under Cirovski.
Former Maryland players Scott Buete (1999-2003), Jake Pace (2009-2013) and Donovan Pines (2016-2018) spoke to PressBox’s Luke Jackson about what makes Cirovski so successful. Buete served as an assistant under Cirovski previously, while Pace is an assistant currently. Pines is a defender for D.C. United.
PressBox: What makes Cirovski special? Why has he been so successful at Maryland?
Jake Pace: A lot of coaching is shown in all the good moments. You win big games and you see all those, but what you don’t see is a lot of the behind-the-scenes tough moments and tough conversations. That’s where I think he really, really is elite. I haven’t been around anyone like him in those types of circumstances, how well he handles himself and his demeanor and his relationships. I think that’s why he has been so successful for so many consistent years and understands the quality of what he wants and the standard that he needs to uphold and doesn’t let that waver based on the quality of player that is there. If they have a big name attached, everyone’s held to the same standard.
Donovan Pines: Knowing Sasho all these years, he’s just such a players’ coach and just a great personal advocate for the players and always puts the players first. It comes from his understanding and knowledge about teamwork, team effort and what it takes to get to the next level, starting from Day One from preseason, understanding how to work together and developing a good relationship, a good bond between all the freshmen and senior players, creating a Terrapin tough mindset as we go through the season as soccer players for the University of Maryland.
PressBox: How has Cirovski stood the test of time throughout his career?
Scott Buete: I have to go back to creating a culture of winning and excellence on and off the field. He’s done just that. Once he kind of cemented that, the future success just kept coming. There’s a reason why people want to play for a coach that wants to win. They want to challenge themselves. I think that’s been a testament in time for Sash. Everybody wants a coach that’s going to challenge them, and that’s exactly what he’s done. But it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t build such a great culture within all the players and alumni. Everything he’s done just has been remarkable, from building an alumni base to donors to players, keeping relationships, he’s been so good at that.
Jake Pace: To continue the open door and open conversation that he has with a lot of guys has kind of stood that test of time. Even if everyone’s on their phone at all times, he’s very much a face-to-face, relationship type of person. To have guys who are not as used to that now because everybody does everything on their phones, he kind of tries to bring that part into, it’s not an interview process but almost having a sitdown and speaking through what’s going on in your personal life, your soccer, what are you looking to do, how have you been successful, what can we grow on, how do we do it, those kind of conversations that he’s done very well with.
PressBox: How did you develop such a special relationship with Cirovski?
Scott Buete: He appointed me as the three-year captain. We had our battles but we also had our great times. I just learned so much from him as a player, as a person and as a coach. I find myself with my kids saying stuff Sash has. I find myself laughing about it, but that’s how much of an impact he had on me. He doesn’t lose track of players. He’s always there for his players, even after soccer. That’s been a great relationship, and to be able to go back and coach with him was just a whole new level. It was awesome to win a championship with him. I think we should’ve won two for him when we were there.
Donovan Pines: He knew me coming in, that I was very vocal and I needed communication to help me do well, to help me get around. He was always calling, checking in, and he does that with all the players, but I made sure that I would have maybe a meeting with him once a week to see how I was doing with my classes, how I was transitioning going from freshman to sophomore [year]. He was just really passionate about what the players really needed to excel and get to where they needed to be on and off the field. For me, it was just big that he always knew what I needed. He knew that I wasn’t really good with yelling, direct constructive criticism. The criticism was there, but he had to do it a different way that would help me develop into the player I was.
PressBox: Is there a story involving you and Cirovski that resonates to this day?
Scott Buete: I remember him [talking] with me and I believe it was Seth Stammler and Abe Thompson [in 2001 or 2002] and he was like, “What do you guys need to win?” We said to him, “We would like more fans. We would like the name on the back of our jersey.” We were just saying this stuff, but within the next year he had that done and we were having record crowds at Ludwig. And then we had the name on the back of our jerseys, which no other school really [had]. I think it kind of started with us. I remember that. That just shows you what type of players’ coach he is and how he listens to his players.
Donovan Pines: I was struggling in some [biology] classes for my degree. The class that I struggled with, he understood what I needed. He would call me in and always check on me like I was one of his own kids. He would help me like, “Do you need a tutor? We could help you with that.” It would always just be sort of a father figure in a way that he wanted me of course to play on the field but succeed in the classroom as well. He did so much in that aspect of just creating a good headspace for me, knowing that I’ll get the job done, whether that’s getting a tutor or needing more time after training to do some studying for my labs and stuff. He’s very accommodating with so many things in my book.
PressBox: How has Cirovski helped you in life outside of Maryland?
Jake Pace: Sash has taught me a lot about family values and what he cares about. Obviously him having a successful relationship with his wife and [being] a successful father to his three daughters and being there for them, you see him throughout the day taking calls from his daughters and his wife because that’s No. 1, right? That’s what really matters. Obviously we’re going to get the work done and put the work in, but it comes back to how much he really values family. I try to emulate that with my life and my wife and now a new son. [That] is something I’m looking forward to trying to model.
Donovan Pines: Each and every day when I went to practice with him he always said, “Do your best and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” Each day I go to training for D.C. United, if I’m skeptical about something or if I’m not sure, I always ask questions, make sure that I understand things. [My] confidence in the game has gotten a lot better with his teaching and knowledge about the game. I couldn’t have gotten here without him. Because of him, I love the game a lot more and I understand the game a lot more. I don’t take it for granted because you never know when it’s going to be your last game.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics