World Cup Coach

Michael ‘Mick’ McDermott ’96 is one of the coaches of the Iran National Football Team, which is competing this week at the 21st FIFA World Cup in Russia. The Belfast, Ireland native was the first foreign recruit of URI’s Coach Ed Bradley, and was chosen to rebuild URI’s soccer program, which won an A-10 Championship during McDermott’s tenure. 

Endurance under pressure is key, not only for athletes engaged in world-class competition, but also for their coaches, says McDermott, a graduate of URI’s health and physical education program, now part of the College of Health Sciences.

How did you come to be assistant coach of the Iran National Football Team?
I coached in the US A-League as an assistant with the Connecticut Wolves and then moved into the college game with Oregon State. An opportunity opened up in Abu Dhabi, and I moved there in 2006. In 2011, I joined Iran for their 2014 World Cup qualification. I worked with Iran through 2012. Then, I worked for two clubs in UAE between 2012 and 2017 and then a club in Tehran for 2017. In early 2018, I rejoined the Iran National Team staff for this 2018 World Cup.

How do you prepare a team for World Cup competition?
We have 24 players in training camp and a full-time staff of more than 25.  Work days are approximately 18-to-20 hours long, typically from 8:30 or 9 a.m. to 3 or 4 a.m. the next day! Preparing for an event of this magnitude is immense! This is at the high end of the pressure scale.

Working with elite players, you need to be highly prepared to keep them engaged. And we have the most demanding head coach in world football in Carlos Queiroz. He constantly pushes each of us and that creates both an intense and uncomfortable environment where continual improvement is demanded and expected. All the training incorporates aspects of the physical as well as brain training. Players are asked to make the best decisions under the stress of opponents, fatigue, pressure, etc. Both the brain and the body adapt to these high-pressure situations: that’s what they will face at the World Cup.

You’ve made a career of what you love. What are the rewards for you? What are the pitfalls?
I am very grateful to “football” for the career I have had. This sport has given me a lot! It takes a lot, too. There’s been 20 years of sacrifice, of travel, of time away from family, of 20-hour days, coaching courses, wins and losses, firings, changing cities and countries, etc. That is a price to pay!

Pressure is an expected and necessary part of any high-end field of work. It drives us to do better, to do more, to strive to succeed. Everyone should experience it. Accept pressure as a part of your job, but don’t let it turn to stress! The reality is for us we are always one game, 90 minutes, away from the unemployment line.  So, if people want a career in this field, they’d better prepare for that.

Some of the world’s best football players play in your group, Group B. What unique challenge does that pose?
Group B is considered the hardest in the tournament. We know what we will face, and we are preparing as best we can. We will enter each game with a detailed plan. The only thing you can do in this business (and in life) is to control your own preparation and performance. Do that and you always have a chance! We can’t control the scoreboard, but if each one of us prepares well and performs on the day, then the scoreboard may favor us when the 90 minutes ends. 

If a student is interested in a career path similar to yours, what advice would you give them on how to proceed?
It’s a career like any other. If you want to be successful it takes sacrifice, work, and some talent.  Get involved in coaching; whether you work with young kids or pro athletes, it can be a fulfilling and enjoyable profession.  For stability, stay away from professional sports; the business of pro sports is week to week and month to month.

What advice most resonates with you?
Learn to endure. Many young people want success now. Be prepared to stay the course.

You met your wife at URI. How did you meet?
My wife Karla (Bragg) McDermott ’98 was a scholarship volleyball athlete from 1994 to 1998—the volleyball program under Coach Bob Scheck was A-10 champion at that time.  Karla and I met in the Athletic Department, and we got married in 1996. I had just graduated and she was a junior! People told us we were crazy. “It won’t last” was a common comment.  After 22 years of marriage and four kids, I can say they were wrong. She’s the reason I am sane in this crazy world of football!