You don’t need to look too far to find connections and similarities between the University of Denver and Wake Forest University. By now, it’s a pretty well-known fact that current DU head coach Jamie Franks went to Wake Forest and won the 2007 College Cup with the Deamon Deacons. Who was his predecessor at Denver, though? None other than current Wake Forest head coach Bobby Muuss.
These two programs are inextricably intertwined with tradition and relationships because of Franks and Muuss. It would be easy and probably correct to argue that neither program is at this stage of the 2016 NCAA Tournament without that relationship.
Nearly 10 years ago, Muuss was hired by DU to build a program from next to nothing. Prior to 2007, to say the Pioneers had very little tradition would be overselling the program. The only time the Pios ever made any national noise was in 1970 when they made it to the national quarterfinals, only to be toppled by UCLA.
2007 was an important year in the history of Denver men’s soccer. Muuss was hired and almost immediately he had the Pioneers on the right track. In 2008, the year after Muuss was hired, the Pios made their return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since, you guessed it, 1970.
Over the next six years, Muuss’ Pioneers made trips to the NCAA Tournament three more times as members of the Sun Belt Conference and the Summit League. When Wake Forest came calling after the 2014 season, though, it was an easy decision to go back to North Carolina and take the helm of the program he was an assistant with from 2001-2006.
Of course, you know the rest of the story, or at least the next part. Muuss left. Franks was hired/promoted. DU becomes a national force to be reckoned with. The best part about this story? The ending hasn’t been written.
Today’s College Cup matchup between Franks’ Pioneers and Muuss’ Demon Deacons is just another chapter in the forever intertwined stories of the two coaches and their programs.
As undeniable as the connection is between the two programs, neither coach is going to let it affect what’s at stake. No matter how intriguing the storylines are (and dammit, they ARE intriguing), Franks and Muuss both recognize that a berth in the National Championship is on the line.
What would it mean to Franks to beat his alma mater? What does it mean to Muuss to coach against the program that he essentially built from the ground up in the College Cup?
You’re going to have to ask them after the weekend. They have no interest in taking the spotlight from the student-athletes that got their programs to this stage.
“I love Wake Forest. I learned how to be a man there, I was pushed out of my comfort zone there socially, academically, and athletically, but at the end of the day, these are my boys,” Franks said referring to his players. “I’ve recruited these kids for five years. These are my kids and Wake Forest is standing in our way.”
Lest we forget and get too wrapped up in the stories off the pitch, we need to remember that this is about the growth of a program, about the growth of Denver into a national powerhouse. Wake Forest, as much history as they have and as good as they are this year, is simply another opponent for DU and Muuss also recognizes that.
“It makes no difference if we’re playing the University of Denver or Clemson or whoever else was in our bracket,” Muuss said when asked what this game means to him. “We prepare exactly the same way. There’s no hidden secrets.”
The storylines are for us. The storylines are for the fans. The storylines are there to make us become more invested in a game. Even though Franks and Muuss understandably don’t want to talk about them, they’re still there. The relationship between these two coaches and programs is the story of this weekend.
Today, it’s new vs old. It’s student vs teacher. It’s assistant vs head coach. But when it comes right down to it, it really is just Denver vs Wake Forest with a potential championship on the line. Embrace it. This is going to be a fun weekend.