Oakland Mills' makeover: new coach, new methods

Boys soccer: Mike Libber implements his own style in taking over for longtime Scorpions fixture Don Shea.

High schools


September 07, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

The storied Oakland Mills boys soccer program, winner of a record 12 state championships, has a new look, a new feel and a new coach.

Because 29-year coaching legend Don Shea declined to sign his yearly coaching contract after 18 seasons and eight state titles at Oakland Mills, Scorpions players now are adjusting to 28-year-old Mike Libber's ideas about running a successful soccer program.

The differences between the two coaches are pronounced.

Shea employed a direct North-South style that emphasized speed and defense; Libber teaches a more deliberate East-West style that emphasizes passing and offense.

Shea used psychology, head games and creative tension to get results; Libber is straightforward and stresses positive reinforcement.

Before the start of school, Shea ran three practices a day starting at 6 a.m.; Libber ran two practices starting at 9 a.m., but he started a week sooner than Shea.

Shea used four defenders, including a stopper and sweeper in a 4-4-2 formation; Libber plays with three defenders, no stopper and five midfielders in a 3-5-2.

Shea never cut players; Libber did.

Shea required players to juggle 500 times before they could play; Libber has no juggling requirement.

Shea allowed the girls team to practice with the boys team sometimes; Libber will not.

Even the physical appearance of the coaches is drastically different. Libber is 6 feet 3, barrel-chested and substantially above 200 pounds. Shea is 5-5 and 163 pounds.

"It's been hard to adjust, especially in your senior year," said Oakland Mills tri-captain Tim Murphy. "We're trying to do it the new coach's way, but we miss Shea a lot. Everyone will say that. It wasn't in our hands. We have no resentment toward Shea. We understand where he's coming from and still respect him."

Shea passed up the chance to renew his contract this summer in the wake of a football grade-changing scandal that resulted in his friend, former Oakland Mills football coach and athletic director Ken Hovet, being suspended from November through August and recommended for firing from his coaching, administrative and teaching positions. The school board finally exonerated Hovet in August based on an independent hearing examiner's report.

By the time Hovet was exonerated, however, the school already had filled its coaching positions.

Hovet, now teaching at River Hill, has accepted positions as the athletic director and football coach at a new Howard County high school, Marriott's Ridge, to open in 2005.

Shea, who remains at Oakland Mills as a social studies teacher, said repeatedly last spring and early summer that he intended to coach soccer at Oakland Mills under the right conditions.

"A precedent was being set with Hovet as far as what a coach did carried over into the classroom," said Shea. "Whatever you did on the field could jeopardize your teaching career. No one could guarantee me that the same thing that happened to Hovet could not happen to me. That's why I didn't sign the contract."

Shea said he intends to fill his spare time by watching his daughter, Molly, play for Atholton, and his son, Trevor, play for James Madison. He also coaches Molly's club team, the U-16 SAC Celtic.

He said he misses coaching the high school team.

"But it's not that bad knowing I intend to coach again next year," Shea said.

Libber, who runs his own business that organizes soccer tournaments, said he hasn't spoken with Shea.

"He was always successful and knew how to get victories and, hopefully, I'll pick up where he left off," said Libber. "The players haven't mentioned Shea to me. They've put it behind them. I've received great acceptance and have had no problems."

Oakland Mills tri-captain Steven Manis said: "I like Mike a lot. He's a good coach. But I had Shea the last three years and they have different styles. The program has changed - not for the worse. It's a mental change. It's not really as much about a different style of soccer as about a different way of running the program. We all respected Shea, and we all respect Mike, too."

Libber's credentials are impressive.

After starring at Archbishop Curley, where he was the The Sun's 1993 All-Metro Player of the Year as a senior, he played three years at UMBC, was junior varsity coach at Curley in 1996, assistant varsity coach at Kenwood in 1997, assistant coach at UMBC in 1999 and 2000 and then coached the U-23 Baltimore Bays to a national championship in 2002 and to the national semifinals in 2003.

He still plays on a men's league team.

Unlike his high school days when he played sweeper, he now plays forward. "I go into the game after the younger guys have worn down the other team, and I have wheels for about 15 minutes per half," he said with a laugh.

Like Shea, Libber has a booming voice; however, he doesn't use it as often as Shea, who kept up a running commentary during games.

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