It started almost as a joke, a sort of throwaway “what if” scenario. What if Bulut “Turk” Ozturk, who has coached the Eagan High School girls soccer team to three big-school state championships in the last four years, also was head coach of the Wildcats boys team?
“Last year we talked about it during the season with Turk and we kind of laughed about it, saying no way would any coach ever do that,” said senior girls team captain Brooke Peplinksi after the first practice of the season ended Monday. Once the girls finished their workout the boys team took the field, but the head coach remained the same.
Yes, Ozturk is taking on duties that are extremely rare in soccer … coaching both varsity teams. Coaches in sports such as cross-country and track and field frequently coach girls and boys teams at the same time, but soccer is more akin to basketball, with one coach directing two teams simultaneously nearly unheard of.
“I am not aware of any high school coach doing this,” Ozturk said. “Parents, coaches, other people have come up to me and said, ‘Are you crazy?’ ”
Ozturk is at the forefront of a new wave of coaches. Rather than working as a teacher or other type of school employee, he is a full-time, year-round soccer coach who holds a degree in psychology and master’s degrees in sports management and sports coaching. His non-school coaching jobs include the Minnesota Thunder Academy in the Elite Club National League and the Minnesota TwinStars semipro team, a club of college-age players in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.
“This is my life, soccer 24-7,” Ozturk said. “I coach full time. I’m always working with two, three or four teams at a time. It’s not anything new for me.”
He coached the Lakeville North girls soccer team to three consecutive state tournament appearances before moving to Eagan in 2014. His previous coaching jobs included college stints as an assistant at Hamline University and Concordia University in St. Paul.
When the Eagan boys coaching job opened after last season’s 9-8 finish, the “what if” question started becoming real. Ozturk applied for the job.
“I know this is something I was interested in even a while back,” he said. “Talking to the boys and past player who have graduated, and hearing from some of the girls players, they thought it would be a unique opportunity. I know the boys are wanting to work hard and wanting to achieve some of the goals the girls have been able to achieve.”
Hunter Goff, a senior captain on the boys team, said when the news came out that Ozturk would coach the boys, there was some confusion at first.
“I was like, ‘Wow, does that mean he’s going to stop coaching the girls? There’s no way he’s going to be done coaching the girls.’ Then we found out he was going to be coaching both programs, and it was like wow. It’s going to be a totally different environment this year.
“There’s a lot more pressure, I think. When you see three state titles in four years for the girls and the boys last went to state four years ago, there’s a lot of pressure on us to show up and work hard every day. We’re practicing longer, harder, there’s more fitness, it’s more serious this year and we have to show up to every game.”
The Wildcats girls team has routinely held two-hour-plus practices under Ozturk, while the boys’ past workouts have been more in the 90-minute timeframe. The two-sport head coach will have lots of long days such as Monday, when the girls practiced from noon to 2 p.m. and the boys from 2 until 4 p.m.
Ozturk is relying heavily on his assistant coaches. His brother, Umut, is involved with both teams but mainly assigned to the girls, John Obarski is an assistant with the girls and David Juarez is working with the boys. Student managers also play a major role in keeping things organized and running smoothly. That was apparent Monday near the end of the girls’ practice, as managers holding clipboards assigned practice jerseys to the boys, tracking the numbers on paper.
“The student managers play a very important role,” Ozturk said. “They help me with spreadsheets, they make sure all the coaches have their clipboards and everything is running smoothly. I delegate a lot. It takes a village to have a successful program. It doesn’t just come from me; once these players and parents feel a part of it, they’ll do anything to help. I can’t ever take all the credit for what goes on. It’s a family environment.”
Megan Plaschko, goalkeeper and senior girls captain, said, “There’s a lot of order and responsibility. I think the boys captains will quickly learn that us three (with fellow captains Peplinski and Abigail McKenzie) do so much behind the scenes, and our parents. I think that’s the biggest transition for them; they aren’t used to having so many rules, so many responsibilities and all this stuff that comes with making it work.”
An early issue with game schedules has been ironed out; when Ozturk took the job there were three dates when the girls and boys teams had games scheduled against teams from different schools, but rescheduling eliminated that problem. The focus now is on preparing for the 16-game regular season and, hopefully, deep postseason runs. The Wildcats girls won Class 2A state titles in 2014, 2016 and last year, and the boys hope to have similar success.
“You have to have strong leadership from the kids,” Ozturk said. “They have to have that ownership and accountability. That’s where we really create our championship culture and our winning mentality, it comes from those leaders, those captains. Once we train them in and have that established, it makes life a lot easier.”
The girls captains realized Ozturk was seriously considering taking on the dual role when he asked them how they felt about it during the offseason. Peplinski chuckled as she talked about last season’s “what if” chatter.
“We said, ‘no way would any coach ever do that,’ ” Peplinski said “But when he told us he was actually considering it, at first I was nervous. He kept talking to us about it, and before he even decided to coach the guys he talked to us about the practice times, how it would work. The fact that he was so organized and knew exactly how it would work made us more confident.”
Jake Kolehmainen, another senior captain on the boys side, said, “At first I was kind of surprised, I didn’t know how he was going to do it, kind of like everyone else. How was this going to work, two practices in one day? It didn’t make a lot of sense. Then he showed us everything, the practice plan, and I was really excited for the season.”
Senior captain Ryan Erickson added, “He’s showed us the way he’s going to do it and I know it’s going to be a whole different environment. I know it’s going to be way more hard work but I think it’s going to pay off in the long run.”
That is the ultimate goal: Hard work, dedication, learning and, hopefully, on-field success.
“After we won state last year two guys on the team texted me and said, ‘We want Turk,’ ” McKenzie said. “They’re all really excited.”Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn