It's been nearly 30 years since Brian Harvey first stepped on the field as the soccer coach of the Oklahoma City University Stars (formerly Chiefs). It was 1986 and the program was only a men's team. A women's team would be added in 1994, but that was still a few years away. Harvey was finishing a stint as coach of a professional team called the Oklahoma City Slickers. He would build OCU's program from scratch.
At the time he told The Oklahoman, "It's always difficult the first year. The up side is you get to play and are the start of something new and it is a challenge. The down side is there is no tradition at the school. But with a lot of hard work and a lot of hard recruiting I think we will challenge in two or three years' time."
Today, it's safe to say a tradition has been built. As this season gets underway, his men's and women's team's race toward reaching milestone wins for their coach.
The men are only five wins away from the 375 mark and the women have only one more to go to reach the 300 line. Harvey is the NAIA's wins leader among active women's soccer coaches and is 7th on the NAIA all-time men's soccer coaching wins list.
The program's success is no surprise to former men's player Chris Harrison, who has gone on to fame as the host of the TV show the Bachelor. Harrison played for Harvey from 1989 to 1993. Harrison says he's proud to be a part of the program from the beginning and is excited to see what it has done.
"To hear of the success of the program and how well it's done over the years and you think back to where it all started. I was there in its fourth year. It's amazing that not only did Brian Harvey get that program started but then the success it's had. So it's great and I'm kind of proud to be a little bit a part of that. We had a few of those (375) wins."
Harrison says Harvey's charm is what drew him to OCU. He recalls meeting the coach for the first time as a teen playing with his club team at the Dallas Cup, a large youth tournament in Dallas that draws players from around the world. He says the Englishman walked up to him, introduced himself, and told him he would like to talk to him about OCU.
It was the first time Harrison had heard of the school but he says something about Harvey sparked his interest. Harrison eventually came up for a visit and says Harvey treated him to breakfast at Denny's. While the choice in dining was under whelming, Harrison said he liked what he heard about the school and what Harvey said he was trying to build with its soccer program. He signed on to play at OCU with a scholarship.
It's the lessons he learned from Harvey off the field that Harrison says he remembers the most. One time as a freshman Harrison says he was late to practice. Harvey sent him a message, sat him down, and explained to him that he would not be traveling with the team to the next game. It was a tough lesson to learn at the time Harrison says, but it's one he will never forget.
Harrison's name is one of hundreds on the Harvey roster of successful alumni. Many are famous pro players, doctors, lawyers, and coaches. Some went on to take the national stage like Harrison (who started his career at KWTV-9 as a sportscaster), and others went on to find success in the pro leagues like Richard Benigno who played in Germany.
Still others took after their mentor and followed Harvey into the world of coaching. One of them is four time all-American and 2011 OCU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Sally Cole Schmidt. Schmidt is the head coach at Bishop McGuiness High School where her girls took state in 2008.
Harvey's knack at turning young players into confident competitors is a quality she says sets him apart.
"I learned so much from him on and off the field about how to compete at that level and be successful. He believed in my abilities as a player when hardly anyone else did," said Schmidt. "I tore both of my ACL's my junior year of high school, one in February and the other in August. He never once doubted my ability to recover from those injuries and that has meant more to me than just about anything."
Harrison also remembers the role Harvey played in his life.
"Brian Harvey was much more than a soccer coach to all of us. He meant a lot. He was a bit of a father figure, a friend. He was a little bit of everything to us. And he was also a great soccer coach. He's been around the game his whole life. He loves the game," Harrison said. "But again more importantly, I think he loves us. And there's probably not one kid that wouldn't go back and give him a hug and say it was one of the best times of his life. And I'm among those."
Harvey's ability to connect with players is unique because it keeps ties to the program strong. But he also approaches recruiting differently than a lot of college coaches and this is probably one of the strongest reasons the program at OCU continues to develop.
While a lot of programs spend time looking for talent overseas, Harvey looks right here in the Sooner State. Some, like Harrison come from Dallas, but today many of Harvey's players come from the metro and surrounding areas. Harvey says Oklahoma soccer has really developed over the last 20 years and knowledge of the game has grown.
Today, players have grown up playing the sport and have played competitively before entering college. A lot of them are also coached by people who grew up playing themselves.
"We have several generations that have grown up in the sport, their children are playing and there's a lot more emphasis going into the facilities," said Harvey. "Look at the facilities out in Edmond, Norman, and in Yukon; the high schools have better facilities and youth soccer (has grown). It all bodes well to produce better players and to go on to play college soccer."
While this is true, it's also true that Harvey's role in the advancement of youth soccer in the state is significant. For the last 25 years, he has trained area club teams and has also been a coach in youth development programs, including Oklahoma's Olympic Development Program.
His summer camps on the OCU campus annually draw hundreds of kids where they work on footwork, develop their speed, and learn goal keeper skills. Many of the kids in these programs grow up to sign for OCU and have ended up turning into the conference and division's most honored stars.
As a coach, Harvey's experience as a player is something that gives him credibility in the eyes of his players. The Liverpool native originally came to the United States in the 1970's to play pro ball. As a midfielder, he played for the Dallas Tornadoes in the North American Soccer League.
During that time he traveled the world and played against the top players of the time including the legendary Pele'. He made his way to Oklahoma to take a professional coaching job. He led the OKC Slickers to the 1982 Soccer Bowl where the team played before 42,000 fans in Detroit's Silverdome. He also took the Oklahoma City Spirit to the 1990 Lone Star Soccer Alliance championship.
Harvey's got experience and charm, but there's something else in his arsenal that he credits to the school. The OCU soccer facilities are among the best in the state. A high school player takes one look at Stars Field and knows the university takes soccer seriously.
The university has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the facility that boasts a well-manicured pitch, a field house, concession stand, and bleachers that have recorded crowds up to 600. It's right on campus and has TV quality lights that give night games an exciting energy. Harvey says they're also working to develop dugouts and locker rooms.
The milestone wins may put Harvey in the record books, but that's not why the coach says it's an important goal for the teams to reach. It's acknowledgement for the players and alumni that their hard work, time and energy has gone into a program that's built a tradition of success. Harvey says the pool of OCU alumni is the backbone that keeps the program going. Many come out on a regular basis to cheer on the Stars and give it the support it needs to keep growing.
As the program moves forward, Harvey, 65, says he still has a few more years in him before he retires. He says he's not sure what he's going to do after that, but one thing he plans on doing is coming out to home games and cheering on the Stars.
Brian Harvey is a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Soccer Association Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma City University Athletics Hall of Fame.
OCU has reached the 2001 NAIA women's national championship match, the 1999 and 2000 NAIA women's semifinals and the 1991 NAIA men's championships and the 2008 NAIA men's semifinals.
OCU's 1999 women's team went 24-2, and the men recorded a 23-2-1 season in 2001. OCU has won the Sooner Athletic Conference nine times in men's play and eight times in women's play.