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Sky's the limit for new men's soccer coach Cedergren

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The 2012 season will be Johan Cedergren's first as head coach of UK men's soccer. (UK Athletics) The 2012 season will be Johan Cedergren's first as head coach of UK men's soccer. (UK Athletics)
New head coaches always have some type of plan for what they want their new team and program to be about. 

"I think the plan was to be somewhere where you could win a national championship and compete for national championships every year, and that's Kentucky."

No, those aren't the words of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari, but if it sounds like something he said at the beginning of his tenure, there's a reason for that. Coach Cal's philosophies, aspirations and goals are very similar to those of the man to whom that quote is attributes. Those are the words of new men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren, and he has big ideas and lofty goals for the UK men's soccer program even before his team has played its first real game under him.

Cedergren was named head coach back in December, and since day one, he has been trying to implement his plan and message to his players. 

"One of the first things I did, I think it was the second day of class, and we met," said Cedergren. "And at that point, my assistants weren't hired yet, so it was just me and the guys that were coming back. And I basically went through my philosophy of how I wanted to do things going forward."

He laid it all out there for his players in an attempt to connect and build the foundation for relationships with his new team. It's important to Cedergren to have close relationships with his players so that they always are on the same page. That did not happen immediately. But his open-door policy helped smooth things over right away.

"We had several guys that came in the spring," said Cedergren, "where in my mind I thought it was crystal clear what we wanted to do, but in their mind, not at all on the same page. So I think it's always important to keep an open door. And I think throughout the spring, they all got to know me and we know what to do going forward."

Kentucky had an uneven season in 2011 (9-9-2) by their standards, but there was plenty of talent on the roster. That is one thing that has Cedergren particularly excited about his first season at the helm. However, he also knows that there are some things already in place and old habits are hard to break. 

Cedergren also has an influx of freshman that he is ecstatic about despite the fact that he and his staff has only had three to four months to put a recruiting class together in their first season. One of the challenges he will encounter is making an early first impression on his freshmen, but also handling the returning players in a way that he's not completely retooling their games.

"Kentucky has been a very good soccer team in the past, and they started off really good early on, and they had some good results," said Cedergren. "They beat Brown 5-1, so there's a lot of ability already on the squad. So you don't want to take that away, but maybe you want to do things a little differently. So we try to take the best of what's already here and then bring some of the stuff that we're used to doing and change things up a little bit, and that took some time in the spring, but we definitely got pretty far."

The spring season was definitely encouraging for Cedergren and his staff. They defeated all five of their spring opponents and began laying the foundation for what their team will look like in 2012. Playing short in the spring season had players somewhat out of position and questioning what was going on, but with the results and the continued success, Cedergren noticed his players started to buy in to what he was selling. 

Now, as he and his family settle into their new Kentucky home, Cedergren is realizing that Lexington isn't quite Hanover, N.H. The former associate head coach at Dartmouth is now understanding what the Big Blue Nation is all about, and it's quite different than what he's used to.

Even in his first few weeks in the job, people were starting to recognize the new men's soccer coach at the University of Kentucky. The UK faithful, especially in Lexington, feel a strong sense of ownership in their athletic teams with no professional sports in the state. The notoriety is something that surprised Cedergren, but he happily embraces it.

"Anywhere you go, everyone's wearing blue," said Cedergren. "License plates, flags, it's everywhere. I've been surprised with how many people knew who I've been. I went to the (YMCA) when my wife signed up and the very first person there was like, 'Oh, you're the new soccer coach.' So I think that just being recognized out and about, and also the support from the institution is a big difference."

With that kind of support comes lofty expectations. That's where Cedergren's ambition come into play. 

The Kentucky men's soccer program has never won a national title, but that doesn't mean it can't. Cedergren sees his new job as a place where that can happen, and even in its infancy, his plan is right on track.

"I think you have all kinds of thoughts and ideas before you get here, and then you want to implement them," said Cedergren. "And I would say so far, everything is going according to plan. We've been able to bring in some high-profile recruits, scheduling has been no problem...I've been saying to (assistant coaches) Dave (Casper) and Erik (Imler) that there's got to be something really bad around the corner because so far it's been easy."

That "something around the corner" is the 2012 season, and that will likely be his biggest challenge to date as head coach at the University of Kentucky.  But the challenge is exactly why Cedergren, the 2010 National Soccer Coaches of America Assistant Coach of the Year under Dartmouth head coach John Cook, chose to come to Kentucky. The challenge is great, but the reward is much greater. If Cedergren has it his way, those rewards will come sooner rather than later.

"We have a very good returning team as far as a really good incoming class, so we're hoping to be good," said Cedergren. "But you never know until the fall, and you never know what's going to happen. A couple of bad results and all of a sudden things derail and you have to go back to the drawing board. We have some very high expectations within the staff, and we're hoping to make a splash."

But as a head coach, things do not always work out as planned. If he does not reach the successes he strives for in the early going, he will rely on some advice he received from Cook during his time at Dartmouth.

"The one thing he said over and over again was to be patient," said Cedergren. "It's O.K. It doesn't all have to happen in the first week, first month or first year. Whenever I've gotten frustrated with whatever it is, I've always kept that in mind to be patient, it doesn't all have to happen right now."

If it doesn't happen this year, it likely will in the near future. Though winning is very important and the primary way head coaches are measured, Cedergren's program will be about much more than that. Yes, he has big goals for what he hopes to see on the field one day, but he knows that there's more to life than soccer. 

Perhaps this is where Cedergren's philosophies are most like Calipari's. What he hopes to impress on his young team is to have the desire to win and to be the best they can.

"It is a lot of hard work, and it's something we talked a lot about in the spring. You may not want to do as much fitness, lifting or study hall hours, but in the end, anyone who comes into this program, we're going to make you the best you can be in all facets of life. Not only on the soccer field, but in the classroom, as a person in society in general. Those are the kinds of guys we want to have here, and the guys we have here are really, really buying into it."

If Cedergren can continue to hammer those concepts into his players, the results will come faster than even he could hope. Despite not having coached a single meaningful game in his tenure, Cedergren has already tasted a lot of success at UK. Expectations are high again for the UK men's soccer team and many feel that he is the man to get the job done.

A new voice and a bit of youthful enthusiasm may reinvigorate the program; much in the way Calipari has done for the basketball program. If Cedergren executes the plan he has in place, he will be raising banners of his own somewhere down the road.

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