Men's College Soccer

'He was such a strong human being': Mackenzie's legacy is much more than soccer success

H-W File Photo/Michael Kipley
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 1, 2018 10:55 pm Updated: Dec. 2, 2018 2:35 pm

QUINCY -- The man respectfully called "Coach" until his dying day was so much more than that.

Those who played for Jack Mackenzie during his legendary career as the Quincy University men's soccer coach attest to that.

"No truer words were spoken when you talk about Jack," said Eric Delabar, an All-American goalkeeper who graduated from QU in 1979 who later spent 19 seasons as the head women's soccer coach at Maryville University. "He was a great coach, a legendary soccer coach, but he cared about his players even more.

"He cared about their families. He cared about the community. He cared about Quincy College. He cared about his family more than anything. That transcended and had an impact on all his players. It was the perspectives on life that he taught us. He showed us he loved us."

They reciprocated his love before he passed away.

Mackenzie, the architect of the Hawks' dynasty that culminated with nine NAIA national championships during his reign, died Wednesday. He was 77.

In the final hours Mackenzie spent in Blessing Hospital, countless former players reached out to Mike Carpenter, the current QU coach who succeeded Mackenzie in 2012. He held his phone to Mackenzie's ear so they could tell him goodbye.

"I startwed crying as soon as I started speaking," said Emilio John, a 1978 QU graduate and an All-American forward. "I loved him that much."

They all did.

"It was so remarkable watching those guys express their love and care for him and their appreciation," Carpenter said. "Until my last day, that's what I will remember most about those final hours. It was watching people respond and make sure that when he passed he knew how much he meant to them.

"Honestly, if we are all so lucky to impact a fraction of the number of people he has in a positive way, than we will all be fantastic human beings. He was such a strong human being."

The most common refrain expressed by his players has been he was as legendary as a person as he was a coach.

"He's the most complete person I have ever met, and I've met a lot of people," said Dave Musso, who played for Mackenzie in the early 2000s and then had the office next door to him while after becoming the QU women's soccer coach in 2006. "Finding him and getting to go play for him at the college level is something special that is hard to explain.

"He allowed me to be myself and play with confidence and find out who I wanted to be as a person off the field, too. He helped me mature and become the kind of person and coach that I hope impacts lives in a way that makes him proud."

How Mackenzie judged success had little to do with championships, but more to do with impact.

That may sound odd knowing how much Mackenzie's team won.

In 43 seasons coaching at Quincy, Mackenzie compiled a 516-258-76 overall record with nine national championships between 1971 and 1981. His 516 victories rank 10th in NCAA history, regardless of division. He's third on the NCAA Division II all-time victories list.

A St. Louis native, Mackenzie was named the NAIA Coach of the Year four times and was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Players Hall of Fame and the QU Hall of Fame.

"He expected high standards from everybody," said Brian Belobradic, a 1980 QU graduate. "When you look back, you get where he and (assistant coach Frank Longo) were coming from. It was good discipline, sticking by your guns, all the basic things you parents teach you. Having good character and good values were important.

"He never preached to you about it, but you knew where he was coming from. At the end of the day, you had discipline and did the right thing. That was Jack."

Not one single description sums up his impact.

"You would talk to 10 different people and you'd probably get 10 different answers," said Matt Longo, a 1981 QU graduate who became a Hall of Fame boys soccer coach at Quincy High School. "He touched your life in so many different ways. He touched your life as a coach. He touched your life as a friend. He touched your life as a religious person. Every person he met, he touched in a significant way.

"So many people know him from soccer, but he was so much more than just about soccer. All the accolades he had thanks to the game, there were so many others things that meant more. Seeing one of his players become a doctor or a teacher or becoming a coach in the community they live meant so much to him."

Their stature didn't matter. Mackenzie treated them all the same.

"He was unique," said Francis Slay, a 1977 QU graduate who served as the mayor of St. Louis from 2001-17. "What was most important to me as a player and as a young man was we had a coach who cared about us, not just as players but as individuals. And we knew it. He let us know it, that he cared about us individually.

"He was respectful of us, and we respected him. He was not only a great coach, but he was a role model for us."

Mackenzie never let his players forget they were part of his family.

"He didn't forget about us after we graduated," Slay said. "He continued to keep in communication with us, and I assume all of us, but I know it was a whole heck of a lot of us. He maintained a relationship with us long after graduation."

Some relationships were fostered long before that.

Dev Reeves, a Quincy native and 1989 QU graduate who played soccer professionally, played on the Kiwanis Celtics youth team Mackenzie coached through eighth grade and developed into a highly sought after player during a Hall of Fame career at Quincy High School.

Mackenzie told Reeves and his parents he would recruit him just as he would any other player. So he made an appointment with the family and sat in their living room like any other coach would.

"Here sat a man, who spent endless hours, year after year teaching me how to play the game, and molding me into the person I am today and he never took a dime for any it," Reeves said. "After that visit, there was no way I was going to be anything but a Hawk. To this day it was the best decision I ever made."

Reeves wasn't the only one. Mackenzie tapped into the local talent pipeline time and time again.

Every one of those players benefitted immensely by staying close to home.

"He would coach and coach and coach and expose you to so many things during practice," said Tom Bower, a QHS product and 1993 QU graduate. "He would watch film endlessly, and he had us watch Soccer Made in Germany, the Bundesliga and the Premier League. He just loved the game.

"Once you got on the field, Coach sat back and really let you play your game and allowed you to be your own player. He always talked about being creative. He wanted you to be creative on the field. He let you go out there and play the game and be creative. I loved that about him."

He gave Bower the same freedom when he served as an assistant coach as well.

"I feel fortunate that I got to spend so much time with him," Bower said. "He didn't just want you to be a good player. He taught you to be a good person.

"He was a coach not only for the game of soccer, but also a coach in the game of life. That's what I took away from Coach."

Simply put, he made all of their lives better.

"He was instrumental for my existence for the last 44 years," said John, who came from Nigeria to play for Mackenzie. "It's tough for me to put into words the excellence and the professional way he did things. We knew he was doing things right."

Emulating that is one of the highest compliments anyone can give their coach.

"I think in everybody he has coached you would see people say, 'There is a lot of Jack Mackenzie in them and the way they go about their life,'" Longo said. "It's about being sincere, being humble and being honest in everything you do. That's Jack."