After two decades coaching in Chicago, Tim Lenahan is returning home to New Jersey to coach his last regular season game at Northwestern on what promises to be an emotional Easter Sunday for the retiring coach.
The self-described “IT guy from New Jersey” is retiring after his 20th season in the Big 10 and will get a send-off from plenty of friends and family mixed in with the home Rutgers crowd.
“I have a full group that will be there and obviously a big big family with nieces and nephews,” Lenahan said in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s going to be an emotional day and, you know, I hope that we play well.”
An Overbrook High School, Camden County College and Stockton University grad, Lenahan has stayed true to his roots to the Garden State in his years in Chicago, keeping close tabs on his old program at Stockton and coming back regularly on preseason team trips. Though he last coached in the area in 2000 it feels in some ways like he never completely left.
“I’m a D3 player who was a full time IT guy so I’ve never forgotten that,” Lenahan said. “So, anytime at the conventions in Philadelphia you know I’m hanging out with all my South Jersey buddies that I played with. I’m not hanging out with the Big 10 or ACC coaches, I’m hanging out with my guys.”
Many of Lenahan’s “guys” are former players he played with and against in the summer South Jersey men’s soccer league for many seasons. Others are players he coached at Stockton and during a three-year stint at Lafayette College.
He’s looking forward to seeing some of those people near and dear to his heart and history in New Jersey in the stands at Yurcak Field on Sunday (1 p.m. kickoff Big Ten Network+).
“To walk off the field, and then have the people you care about for the last 35-40 years out there waiting for you,” Lenahan said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Lenahan announced his retirement in November after what would’ve been his 20th season if not for Covid-19 pushing the Big 10 season to the spring. There’s been a lot written and posted online about some of the highlights across his lengthy career and the coaching tree he has nurtured and the tributes and thank yous he’s received from around the soccer world.
“We won back-to-back (Big 10) championships, we went to two Elite Eights, four sweet 16s,” he said. “All these things and then the coaching tree is just amazing.”
Current Red Bull Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch is the biggest name on the lengthy list of former Lenahan assistants. He was a volunteer assistant on Lenahan’s staff while playing for the Chicago Fire. Current Villanova head coach Tom Carlin served on Lenahan’s staff for a season in 2006 and countless others with head coaching positions like Xavier head coach Andy Fleming and Erik Ronning at Colgate have stints at Northwestern on their resumes.
Lenahan is also known as the guy who coached current Club América head coach Santiago Solari for a season at Stockton and was part of a televised Messi and Friends game at Soldier Field in 2013 that ended up inspiring the 2018 documentary he executive produced called Messi and Me, which chronicles the journey of former Northwestern star Matt Elliason after scoring a bicycle kick in the game with Messi.
Along the way, Lenahan has stuck to a “nice guys finish first” philosophy, building relationships and connections across the country. He’s also had plenty of laughs along the way. Just in the last week, he’s shown up to training dressed as “Tim” Lasso and orchestrated an April Fool’s Day prank where he pretended to kick out a player (who was in on the joke).
“I’m really gonna miss the players and the other coaches,” he said. “We fought hard for soccer and for the respect. We had a lot of fun along the way too.”