VIRGINIA BEACH -- A search for a new head men's soccer coach at Virginia Wesleyan College scanned the country, but when it was all over the search ended right back where it started, in Virginia Beach.
Chris Mills, who spend the 2012 season as VWC's Associate Head Coach, and five years as an assistant before that, has been selected to take over the nationally prominent program. He becomes the 11th head coach in the history of the men's program, which begins its 45th year in 2013.
We're excited for Chris," said VWC Associate Athletic Director and women's head soccer coach Jeff Bowers. "He's got a great philosophy and vision for the program. We were looking to find a coach who is capable of returning the program to the national prominence it enjoyed for many years and Chris can do that. "
Bowers, who had the demanding responsibility serving as head coach for both the men's and women's soccer programs in 2012, worked closely with Mills during the past season. Together they guided VWC to an 8-10-1 record, highlighted by a 3-0 victory over then-defending national champion Ohio Wesleyan University in the beginning of the season and a runner-up finish in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship tournament to end the season.
"I've seen him grow through the past season as a coach, a leader and a mentor," said Bowers. "We wanted someone who will continually develop a program that has been one of the best in the nation. Chris has been part of that national prominence and he understands what it takes to achieve that kind of success."
Mills, who earned a degree in recreation and leisure studies in 2006, was an outstanding defensive player for the Marlins from 2002 through 2005. He was a three-time All-ODAC honoree and a two-time All-Virginia honoree, helping guide VWC to an overall 57-17-5 record and an 27-7-2 ODAC mark. VWC finished No. 1 in the conference's regular season standings three times in those four years, and won the tournament title and NCAA tournament berth in 2003 and 2005.
A Virginia Beach native and graduate of Salem High School, Mills becomes the second former VWC player to take over the coaching reins at his alma mater. Three-time All-American Mike McFarland coached from 2007 through 2011.
"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be the head coach at my alma mater," said Mills. "I want to thank the college administration for believing in me and giving me this amazing opportunity. The tradition that has been built within the men's soccer program over the years speaks for itself. There have been guys who have come through this program and have achieved a lot of success both on the field as well as off the field. We have a very talented team returning and we are looking forward to the opportunity to restore that tradition. "
Tradition is also a key word for the women's program, which is established as a perennial national power under the guidance of Bowers, who owns a remarkable 202-51-28 record in 13 seasons. His lone season with the men in 2012 finished strong as the Marlins were 5-3-1 in the final nine games, including ODAC tournament wins over No. 3 seed Lynchburg College and No. 2 seed Washington and Lee University before a 1-0 double-overtime loss to No. 1 Roanoke College in the title game.
It was a learning process for Mills from start to finish.
"Working with Jeff Bowers this year really helped me grow as a coach," said Mills. "He is a great mentor and I look forward to adding some fresh ideas to the ones he has shared with me over this past year. "
Mills is not wasting any time getting his own era as head coach underway.
"We have already started to make some changes as a program," said Mills. "We want to develop a culture where men represent Virginia Wesleyan and the soccer program in a positive manor. We have high expectations as a team in everything that we do."
Impressive results have been a standard for the Virginia Wesleyan program, which has produced a 463-258-66 record in 44 years. Marlin teams are 230-73-21 in conference competition in that span. VWC won the former Dixie Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title three times and is a nine-time champion in the ODAC. Virginia Wesleyan has advanced to the NCAA Division IIII championship tournament 16 times, the last time in 2009.