New coach has same old drive

Indoor soccer: More than 20 years after joining the Blast, Timmy Wittman can't wait to make his debut as the team's coach.

Pro Soccer

October 10, 2003|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Timmy Wittman is getting antsy.

There's another challenge right smack in front of him, exactly where he likes them, and tomorrow night can't come soon enough.

That's when the hometown guy makes his head coaching debut for the Blast team on which he was a mainstay during the original Major Indoor Soccer League's heyday in the 1980s.

The Blast, defending MISL champ, will get a visit from the Philadelphia KiXX tomorrow night, and for Wittman, who still looks fit enough to play at 40, it's about time.

"My biggest problem is sitting back and waiting," Wittman said. "As a player, two days before a game I was always nervous. But then once the day of the game came, I could care less because it was there. That's how I am with everything - let's just get it on."

After his 15-year playing career ended in 1995, Wittman was able to completely dive into real estate, buy and operate a health club in Canton, become a black belt in a number of martial arts, and enjoy time with his wife, Cindy, and their two children - Tiger, 8, and Remmington, 4.

Last season, Wittman also found room for coaching.

He helped right the Blast ship as an assistant coach to Bobby McAvan in the second half of the season, and now he's looking to maintain that success as the man in charge.

"It was apparent that Timmy had the respect of all the players last year," said Blast owner Ed Hale Sr., who promoted Wittman over the summer when he couldn't reach a new contract agreement with McAvan. "He did a lot of directing in practice and was also instrumental in a lot of the strategies during the games. Timmy was a tough, hard-nosed competitor when he played, and he's a very intelligent guy. There's not a lot of mystery and magic with him. He just goes at things directly and gets them done."

Free-spirited as a player, Wittman as a coach encourages the same from his players: Be creative, don't be afraid to try new things, and anticipate rather than react to stay a step ahead instead of a step behind. Hard work always comes first.

"He gives you confidence and lets us do what we do best, so there are no limits," said Blast midfielder Denison Cabral. "And that's a very positive mentality."

Growing up in the Herring Run area of Baltimore, it was always soccer for Wittman. And after an illustrious career at Calvert Hall under legendary coach Bill Karpovich, he was 17 years old with three options: Join the hometown Blast, play outdoors with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League, or play in college.

"I went to three Blast games the year before to see if I could play and believed I could. From that point on, I knew that's what I wanted to do," Wittman said.

The arenas were often filled to capacity back in those days, the top players in the world were competing, and there was the kid from Baltimore working hard to make his mark. Still living with his parents, he bought his first new car, a Camaro, a week before practice, but it sat in front of the house awhile until he got his driver's license.

It wasn't easy early on, trying to crack a spot in a talented and experienced lineup. But when given the chance, Wittman ran with it.

Goalkeeper and close friend Keith Van Eron remembers a "tough, street-kid persona" from Wittman, who wouldn't back down from anyone.

"He was unfazed by the magnitude of it all," said former Blast coach Kenny Cooper, who tried to persuade Wittman to first go to college. "It was just, `Hey this is why I'm here, I've come to play,' and you could see that. He had a great work rate and a huge heart. So what can you say? The boy was born to play soccer, and you can't take that away from him. He proved he made the right decision."

When McAvan was hired to fix the Blast's woes last December, the team was 4-9, and he knew he needed a strong character beside him to help dig out. He turned to Wittman, a longtime teammate who played with him during the Blast's 1983-1984 championship season.

"I was looking for a guy that wouldn't be scared to come on board at that difficult juncture. We needed a proven winner who wouldn't be afraid to put in the work to turn things around. That's Timmy - he just has a positive way about him," McAvan said.

Wittman's resume warrants respect: He had 198 goals and 107 assists in 10 years with the Blast, earning the team Most Valuable Player award for the 1987-1988 season, with another league title coming with the San Diego Sockers in 1991-1992. Having played defense, midfield and the forward line, and gaining experience as an assistant, he is confident he can be a good head coach.

One thing's for sure: Players will always know exactly where they stand with Wittman.

"If a guy is not doing his job, you have to tell him," he said. "And I'll try to take that another step further and tell him why he's not doing a good job and try to show him a better way. I think that's the advantage of having played every position - I can go to so-and-so and say, `Try this,' show them, and when it works, then you've got him."

Blast opener

Matchup: Philadelphia KiXX (1-0) vs. Blast (0-0)

Site: 1st Mariner Arena

When: Tomorrow, 7:35 p.m.

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Pre-game: Celebration of the Blast's 2002-2003 Major Indoor Soccer League title.

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