While Cleveland Lady Raider head coach Andy Byrd has seen his share of draws in the past 10 years with the program, he has also racked up an impressive number in the win column, breaking the 100-win mark during the girls’ 2012 season.
“It’s great to get to that plateau of 100. I have to give so much credit to my family. They are the ones who have to live with all this. It’s a huge amount of sacrifice. I have to give a lot of credit to my old coaches; Peppy Fernandez at Maryville College had a huge impact on me, as well as a number of other coaches all throughout my playing career,” expressed Byrd.
Byrd got into soccer the same way he got interested in coaching, citing his high school football background at Alcoa High School — where he started playing soccer to stay in shape during the pigskin offseason.
Overall, Cleveland’s Lady Raider soccer coach carries a record of 102-68-39 in his 10 seasons with the program, and he cities a multitude of friends, family and players who helped him grow Lady Raider soccer to where it is today.
“It’s a process of always learning, and I’m surrounded day in and day out by some of the best coaches at the high school level in a ton of different sports. People just don’t luck into things like that very often. And, being surrounded with resumes like that keeps pushing you to be the best coach you can be. So now, I have my sights set on win 200,” said Byrd, a former Region 3-AAA coach of the year.
“In addition to my wife and daughter, my parents and brother have been a huge support system for me. So many of our parents have done so much along the way. I’ve learned a lot from them. They have been a huge reason things have grown the way they have, and our players themselves have taught me more than I could ever teach them.”
Byrd started with the team in 1999 under then head coach Rick Adolph who now coaches both the Ooltewah boys and girls soccer teams.
“People like Rick have really inspired me and influenced my coaching philosophy quite a bit,” he expressed.
He went on to say that the first couple seasons as an assistant were rough. When he first joined the CHS soccer program, the girls would get ready for their matches in one of the school’s bathrooms. Now, the team uses what he describes as “a locker room that is comparable to some of the best in the state.”
With the transition that incorporated the old Cleveland Middle School into the high school, a pair of locker rooms were left vacant.
“I went in and it was an old middle school PE room. The lockers were in pretty bad shape. But, we got to work. We hauled out about 80 lockers, and just had a bunch of volunteers in here with sledgehammers and hardhats getting stuff squared away and cleaned up. We have an office with furniture now. I don’t know if there are many soccer coaches in the area that can say that they have an office with nice furniture and a locker room that is outfitted the way ours is,” Byrd stated.
That was just one of the examples cited about the kind of support that Cleveland High School has shown the soccer programs over the years.
“When you get that first assistant’s job and start getting paid to coach, you have to ask yourself if this is what I really want to be doing. I think that the support I had from the staff when I came here to Cleveland really helped me make up my mind that it was something that I wanted to pursue.”
Byrd, who got his start in coaching during his playing career at Maryville College, began with an Olympic Development Program and did volunteer coaching all four seasons he played college soccer. He would go in the offseason to local high schools and help out. He even coached during his time student teaching. After five season acting as the Lady Raider assistant coach, Byrd made the move to head coach.
“The coaches here at Cleveland have been fantastic. There were a lot of us that were around the same age range, and we all decided we were going to take these programs and run with them.”
And run they have. Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the soccer program to happen during Byrd’s time with the team has been the relocation to the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex on Mouse Creek Road.
“Some of the facility changes for us have been phenomenal while I’ve been here. When I came in, we were playing on the field back behind the high school. That field is actually having some irrigation work done to it. It was a pretty tough field to play on. Then, about five years ago we moved out to the complex. That was a massive project out there on Mouse Creek. It took the city working with the school system, working with the booster club, working with some very involved parents to make that possible for us, and that project is actually still in its infancy. We just have the bleachers out there right now, and I hope that’s not all that’s out there when I leave,” Byrd said.
The changes to the field are big, but bigger are the changes made to those who have played soccer for Cleveland.
Lady Raider soccer has had girls go on to play collegian soccer at universities and colleges like Lee, Belmont, Tennessee Wesleyan, Bryan and Tennessee Tech.
Byrd has also had a number of his players go on mission trips to Honduras and Haiti in soccer-related missions.
Despite the rapid growth, Byrd said he feels the program is still just now entering its adolescent years in the growing process.
“There are a lot of the bigger programs, wrestling, football, baseball and basketball that have been around a lot longer and have reached more of a mature state. Our boys and girls soccer programs are still growing.”
Another major building block in the maturation process has been the institution of the Cleveland Classic Soccer Tournament that takes place during both the girls and boys seasons.
Some of the top teams around the state travel to Cleveland to participate in a tournament that is quickly gaining both steam and popularity.
“I want our facilities and program to be something people in other states talk about and the Classic is a good first step down that path. I would love to have a place that the National Soccer Coaches Association wants to come here and host a tournament. We have the climate; we have the support, and we have the field. We are just lacking a few key things to make that happen,” stated Byrd.
“I’m always aiming high. If I land somewhere in the middle, so be it. But, I’ll work to try and make that better.
“Soccer is a great sport. It has provided me with a ton of life lessons. The sport and the kids have taught me so much. It’s a very difficult sport to play and coach, but it teaches so much and promotes creativity and individual thinking all wrapped up in a team dynamic.”
In addition to being the girls’ head coach, Byrd also acts as an assistant coach for the boys’ squad with head coach John Brose.