After five straight losing seasons, the Nova Southeastern University men’s soccer program has a new coach, and he’s coming in with a proven ability to turn things around quickly.
The former coach — Italian native Giuseppe “Joe” DePalo — left NSU on Nov. 25 and is No. 1 on the Sharks’ list for career wins (155 in 17 seasons).
But after a combined record of 24-46-7 the past five seasons, the Sharks have turned to Matt Watts, a 29-year-old native of London.
Watts, who arrives on campus next month, comes to NSU from Alabama-Huntsville, where he inherited a one-win team in January of 2013 and won 10 games that first season. In three years there, he posted a record of 33-16-3.
“I feel like the ceiling is higher at Nova,” Watts said when asked why he left one NCAA Division II program for another. “The recruiting base in Florida is not good — it’s great.
“We were successful at Huntsville. But I feel we can be really successful nationally at Nova.”
Watts promises to recruit locally a bit more than NSU has recently, and the numbers seem to support that vow.
At Huntsville last season, he had 13 players from Alabama and 11 internationals. Of the latter, five were from Iceland and three from England.
In contrast, NSU last season had 16 internationals and just seven Floridians.
Watts, who said he respects the job DePalo did at NSU, wants his roster to have roughly a 50-50 split between Floridians and internationals.
“It makes no sense to always have to go to Europe when you have the players right here,” said Watts, who added that Division II soccer coaches have 9.1 scholarships to divide between 25 to 28 players.
“Video is great for recruiting. But I’m not a lazy recruiter. You need to see kids multiple times.
“I don’t want to make a mistake on a player. There are always kids who have a lot of talent, but we have to make sure they have the right character.”
Watts has experience in Florida. He played for one year at Lynn University, where he met his fiancée Kathleen Smith — they are set to wed next year.
In addition, he was an assistant coach at West Florida for two years.
He got his first head-coaching job at age 23 at Delta State in Cleveland, Mississippi. Although he was the youngest head coach in Division II at the time, he was a quick study.
In his second and final year there, he was named the Gulf South Conference Coach of the Year, taking the team to the league playoffs for the first time in program history.
Watts said there is more local talent in NSU’s backyard than there was at either of his previous stops, and South Florida can also more easily draw recruits from Latin America, given its location and the appeal of the Greater Miami area.
In addition, the Miami Hurricanes don’t have men’s soccer, eliminating one major potential rival in the competition for local talent.
One roadblock for Watts, however, is NSU’s conference. Watts believes the Sunshine State Conference is the best men’s soccer league in Division II.
“I don’t think it will be as easy for me as it’s been in the past necessarily,” Watts said. “It might take a couple of years to get the program exactly where I want. But this is a long-term thing for me.”
Watts said he’s thrilled with how much soccer there is in South Florida, from NASL pro teams such as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Miami FC to the expansion MLS team David Beckham has promised to bring.
In addition, national teams and club sides from the U.S. and overseas often use South Florida as a training site.
“I was in Sunrise [in early January for a coaching course], and there was the Florida Cup and an MLS combine and an NASL combine — all going on at the same time,” Watts said. “It’s incredible to see all that soccer in the area.”