Of all the descriptions given to the late Sigi Schmid, his memory continues on because of what he gave to others.
Schmid, who will be inducted into the Crew’s Circle of Honor on June 29, is the third person to be etched into the upper fascia of MAPFRE Stadium, though his impact is more ubiquitous than any stadium sign could convey.
“The thing I learned the most from Sigi is that at the end of the day soccer comes and goes and it is the personal relationships that you build with those people that will last an eternity,” said Mike Lapper, a former assistant coach under Schmid in Columbus.
“He cared about what you did on the field, but he probably cared more so about how you were off the field; how you were doing in school; how your parents were; how your siblings were,” Lapper said. “He knew all the time what was going on in your life. Those were the little details that mean so much when you establish a relationship like Sigi and I had.”
Along with his sincerity off the field, Schmid provided the inner spark to Gino Padula for everything on it.
“When I met Sigi, he was one of the coaches that brought passion to the game for me. It was something I lost when I played in France,” Padula recalled.
“I didn’t want to play soccer anymore. He gave me an extra three-four years of soccer,” Padula said. “When I moved to Columbus, I was 31-32 and as soon as I arrived in Columbus, I couldn’t wait to train the next day. This is something very important for me.”
A disciplined planner with a knack for pulling the right strings, Schmid extended the career of another aging player at the time, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and provided conciseness to an already accomplished player.
“When I came here to play in Columbus, I was 34. I was very old for a soccer player, but the relationship was like he was my father,” Schelotto said. “He never tried to teach me something about soccer. He showed me the MLS league, the rules, the problems the teams have. I learned a lot.”
As far as how Schmid’s coaching style and personality intertwined, Schelotto said Schmid “lived like he tried to play – he was very clear.”
That directness and clarity with not just players but their parents and families – the real ones a college coach has to win over – and that was a large reason so many felt a connection with Schmid.
“If you are a kid growing up in California and Sigi Schmid, [then the head coach at UCLA], gave you a phone call, that was probably one of the best moments of your life,” said fellow Circle of Honor inductee Frankie Hejduk.
“And if you are a soccer parent growing up and you heard that phone call from Sigi, maybe on the other line (laughs), that was a great moment for them,” Hejduk added.
Looking back, Schmid’s impact often came through in otherwise banal situations, like a routine phone call.
“When I got that phone call, it was the moment of my life,” Hejduk said. “The moment of my parents’ lives. It was also kind of a lesson to be learned.”
Speaking of phone calls, Brian Carroll, a member of the ’08 championship team, first spoke with Sigi via phone before the 2008 season as the Crew looked to trade for Carroll.
“From that phone call to our first in-person meeting to our first training, he was most concerned with me as a person and my family and making sure that I was comfortable,” Carroll said. “It just allowed our relationship to grow and blossom from there. It allowed me to do my job on the field, one for my teammates, two for the coaching staff, and for my fans and the city of Columbus.”
Like any form of energy, the comfort Schmid provided from his relationships with players did not start at point A and end at point B. Rather, it transformed into lasting influences on those around him and created a sense of camaraderie that does not come standard to all professional teams.
“We all came together for the Columbus Crew and that was his finest job as a coach, was putting together a combination of guys in which the pieces didn’t quite match elsewhere but they all matched perfectly within the locker room of the Columbus Crew,” said former Crew player Alejandro Moreno.
“We ended up winning that title in 2008 and that was a culmination of what ended being an extremely successful season.”
Former goalkeeper on the ’08 championship team, William Hesmer, truly saw Schmid as a father-figure after rooming with Schmid’s son, Kurt, at Wake Forest as a freshman.
“Ironically, Kurt was my freshman year roommate at Wake Forrest. Sigi and I had a special relationship. I knew him more as a person, as a dad than I did as a coach,” Hesmer said. “He was a very patient, humble person. However, when he put his coaching hat on, the intensity and fire was always there.”
Not that there is any debate on his lasting impact, but there is a variety on the reasons for it.
One that resonated with everyone was buy-in.
“I’ll be honest, there are certain players and coaches, you think, maybe you don’t give as much effort. It wasn’t me but I’ve seen players do it,” said Hejduk, “and I think you can go on that ’08 team and say ‘Did [Sigi] ever make you feel like he didn’t want you to play for him?’ Man, I guarantee that every one of those guys would say ‘No chance, he always gave us a chance,’ or ‘He always made us feel that we were together.’”
A fellow teammate on the '08 team, Pat Noonan, followed suit with his sentiments.
“He surrounded himself with players that he trusted. That he believed in. That he gave a chance to, as well as staff members,” Noonan said.
“From that, you can see the cohesion on the field, the relationships, the strength of the group, the 11 players that were competing on the weekends…I was really impressed when I came in that he built a culture so strong. It is no coincidence that that 2008 season ended in an MLS Cup Championship,” Noonan continued.
Piece-by-piece, Schmid facilitated a group that, as Moreno alluded to, was greater than the sum of its parts.
“The way he brought together a bunch of misfits. It was a reclamation project with the Columbus Crew guys who had been in different places and for whatever reason, things hadn’t worked out,” Moreno said.
And most importantly, Schmid gave the players, the staff, and the community of Columbus the belief that this team and this city can win.
“He was one of the more important coaches that the Columbus Crew have had. He taught them the mentality that you can win,” Schelotto said.
Celebrations for Schmid’s Circle of Honor induction include a free commemorative scarf giveaway to the first 7,500 fans in attendance on June 29.
Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. Fans can tune-in on FOX Sports Ohio or 97.1 FM The Fan, or stream the match on FOX Sports GO as well as stream the audio on www.ColumbusCrewSC.com.