Jose Lopez remembers the Panthers soccer team earning a national ranking for the first time in school history. He also recalls when the Lady Panthers scored a goal for the first time in a long time.
Those events took place in 2016, when Lopez was the assistant coach alongside former NCCC head soccer coach Rafael Simmons, who is now a director of coaching for the Tulsa Soccer Club. But as of June 15, Lopez is NCCC’s new head soccer coach. His official first day will be July 1.
The Dallas native is taking over the reins of a men’s program that went 12-7 after losing to Johnson County in the NJCAA Region VI playoffs last November. The women’s program was 5-10-2 a year ago and failed to reach the playoffs.
Lopez said he learned a lot from Simmons, as the former coach went 57-34-2 in five years and won the KJCCC East Conference in 2017 for the third time in the history of NCCC’s program. Lopez will use his knowledge and experience to make NCCC an even better program.
“I think what Simmons did at Neosho was tremendous. I think he did a really good job and what I’m going to continue to do and I actually learned that from him, is the attention to detail as far as getting the correct players here and continuing to better the program,” Lopez said. “For example, for a team that won conference and region, we set the level there. And the next recruiting class will be better than those players. That is a constant.”
Lopez and Simmons are close friends. The two often have conversations on a daily basis, and before Simmons took the job in Tulsa, they talked about his next possible move. Simmons took the opportunity in Tulsa and Lopez spotted the job posted online. Lopez immediately applied for the job and was interviewed three times in the span of three weeks from late May to June.
There is no reason to believe that Lopez won’t do a good job, Simmons said.
“I believe Jose will bring new energy to the program,” Simmons said. “He’s a very dedicated and hardworking person, very passionate about soccer and coaching. We’ve known each other for a very long time and worked together for a few years (2016-17). We have similar views and I think the transition will be very smooth.
“The whole COVID-19 will have an impact on the season as it will on programs across the country, so his first season might be different, but I know he’ll hit the ground running with both men’s and women’s soccer programs at Neosho.”
Lopez spelled out his goals in his interview process, and now that he is at the helm, it is time to act on the first steps towards those goals. One goal that is a challenge is recruiting women to play soccer. Lopez said he knows this challenge is apparent, but it is very doable. Lopez also has several other goals as he starts the new season, though the circumstances aren’t ideal due to the worldly pandemic.
“I think with the whole COVID situation, and on the guy’s side being mostly international, my first goal is to get everybody here, get everybody back on track and get everybody going,” Lopez said. “But realistically if we are talking about what the soccer goals are, is to continue the tradition of winning on the men’s side and getting another conference title. I think that’s important because that attracts more talent and better players. And it gives a great name for the school and a great name for Chanute as a community. On the women’s side, it’s just getting over the hump, because they are competitive and they are winning games. But now it’s just getting over the hump and winning more games than losing.”
On top of his NCCC soccer goals, Lopez has ambitions of growing the game of soccer in general in Chanute. With Chanute High School having soccer for only a couple of years, Lopez will organize and host Panther soccer camps in an effort to encourage the game in Chanute and nurture high school players. Simmons said having two exceptional soccer programs in the community will help provide even more service.
While Lopez’ head coaching job doesn’t officially begin until July, he has already prepared to hit the ground running. In men’s and women’s Zoom meetings, Lopez has introduced himself to players and has called every player individually. And of course, he has taken care of some administrative duties.
Lopez’ steadfast approach is from a long list of experience. He has played club soccer in Texas. He went on to play soccer at Dakota Wesleyan University, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. As a graduate assistant at Dakota Wesleyan, he coached the soccer team while achieving his Master’s in education and administration policies.
From there, Lopez was an assistant coach at Bethany College in Lindsborg for a year. In the summers, he was the interim coach for FC Wichita and the head coach for Ozark FC in Wichita before assistant coaching at NCCC in the 2016-17 year. He went back to Dakota Wesleyan and was the head coach there for the last three years.
“We are excited to have Coach Lopez return,” NCCC Athletic Director Riann Mullis said. “His experience and knowledge will continue to enhance the soccer programs both on and off the field.”