Knowing the other’s thoughts and habits and finishing each others’ sentences are just some of the qualities assistant coach Frank Speth said are present in his relationship with coach John Bluem. The two have been coaching together longer than some of their current players have been alive.
Bluem is in his 17th year as head coach for the Ohio State men’s soccer team and Speth has been his assistant for 14 of those years. While at OSU, the two have accounted for all eight of the program’s NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the College Cup in 2007 and the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships in 2009.
Prior to coming to OSU, Bluem was the head coach at Fresno State University, with Speth serving as assistant during his three seasons with the Bulldogs. All three seasons ended with the Bulldogs finishing in first place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference, including the 1994 season, in which the Bulldogs finished the season ranked No. 3 overall.
Bluem said since they’ve known each other, their relationship has transcended their work on the field.
“I’d say we are good friends and that we do socialize off the field quite a bit,” he said. “We socialize with Cindy (Speth) and Bethany (Bluem) (their wives) and the four of us do things together. So over the last 20 years, it’s even longer that we’ve known each other because I knew Frank for about three years before he became my assistant out there, so we’ve known each other and shared a lot over the last 20, 25 years.”
Speth said he views himself and Bluem as a “yin and yang” and that such a long relationship has allowed them to be largely on the same page.
“It goes between all the years on the field and recruiting and then socially you get to know each other and you obviously develop a very good friendship,” Speth said. “Just the memories and experiences that you shared together and a lot of the same thoughts and a lot of the same philosophies, so it’s just probably the biggest thing is the friendship off the field as well.”
Speth said that off-field relationship and other shared ideals help the two work together with players.
“Just like with any other relationship, the honor system sort of (speaks) where you feel a lot more free to voice your opinion because you’ve been together for so long, so I’m not worried or afraid to tell him what I think about this player or that player just like he’s not (afraid to either),” Speth said. “So we really get into some conversations concerning players, both pros and cons, but I think because of the relationship and friendship, I think it’s easier to put it all on the table and just say this is how I see this guy based on past experience and what I’ve seen.”
The Buckeyes are off to a slow start to the 2013-14 season and have an overall record of 2-6-4 and have yet to record any Big Ten wins, going 0-2-1 record in conference play. Bluem said Speth’s training sessions with the team help the players immensely.
“He’s a no-nonsense guy. He’s hard on (the players) and he’s fair, and they know that and respect him for that,” Bluem said. “One of the things that I like about Frank the most is that he makes the training sessions good, they are conducive to improving the players — and they’re fun.”
Buckeye senior defender Sage Gardner has started all four seasons since coming to OSU and has been the team captain for the last two. Gardner said he has always had a good relationship with both of the coaches.
“All four years it’s been positive, and I knew Frank a little bit coming in so I’ve always felt comfortable coming here,” he said. “I think it has definitely grown over the years, I think we’re a little more comfortable with each other, coach Bluem and I, and I think he’s good at handing over some of the responsibility and team leadership to me over the past four years, so it’s definitely been a positive relationship that’s evolved.”
Another player who has gotten to know both coaches in the last four years is redshirt-senior defender Ben Killian, who said he has the “utmost respect” for his coaches.
“I’m pretty close with both of them. They are great guys, great guys to talk to,” he said. “They know the game, they’ve been around it for many years and national title finalists, so when it comes to soccer they know it. They know the game inside and out. Every day I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”
Bluem also mentioned how the long-lasting relationship has led to great respect and admiration for Speth.
“Obviously, we have a very good relationship,” Bluem said. “To be honest with you, I think we coach the team together. I’m the head coach in name and he is the associate head coach in name, but when we work together I feel like he has as much to say with what’s going on with the program as I do. I respect his opinion completely and he’s an incredible, valuable associate to have.”