Meet Soccer’s Coach George Kuntz

When covering sports here at UC Irvine, there is a lot of emphasis on the student athletes, their backgrounds, their skill, and their hopes and dreams.  But what about the person on the sideline, holding a clipboard or chewing nervously on a dry erase marker? He’s the one who is just as passionate about the sport off the field as his players are on the field. He is the coach.

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

Our men’s soccer team has made headlines and been a dominant competitor in the Big West Conference the past five years. A huge part of their success is head coach, George Kuntz. Coach Kuntz has been coaching soccer for 25 years, and  the Anteaters for 19 of those years. Throughout his years of experience, he has learned to adjust his coaching style and prioritize his life in order to maintain a proper balance.

“I was old-school at the beginning,” Coach Kuntz said. “It was my way or the highway when I started. If you didn’t like something, get out. I think my communication is a lot better now — I’m better at explaining things, more sensitive to feelings now that I have my own children. I will never stop learning.”

This “old-school” method of coaching that Coach Kuntz described was his style back when he was the women’s head coach at Pepperdine University. He would be the type of  coach who would get upset when the team would go for chocolate shakes after a loss, or sit a player out if she was not performing up to his standards. He laughed as he stated that his former players would think he is a “cupcake” now.

Although he admits coaching women is different than coaching men, there are habits that he has acquired from coaching women that have carried over into coaching men; habits that have contributed to his success. He realized the importance of communication and the value of letting your players know that you care.

Coach Kuntz admitted that his players back at Pepperdine used to think he was “stone-faced,” never showing much emotion. There was a lot more dissection and analysis that came with coaching women, making sure that there was a unified understanding of the goals and ensuring that each player felt involved.

“You want them to learn the right things, say the right things, be good people in the community,” Coach Kuntz said. “And this transfers over to your kids. My kids have taught me more than a college education has. I wish I could put a requirement on coaches that they have to have kids before they coach.”

In talking about his kids, Coach Kuntz just lit up; his tone, his face, everything, just turned to proud parent  mode. Being a single father, Coach Kuntz has made it clear to his staff and his players that his kids come first; they are his number one priority. And he has transferred this to his team and staff as well, making sure that they tend to family matters above all. As soon as the team finishes practice at 3:30, Coach Kuntz sprints to his car to go pick up his kids; then he’s making pasta, watching Disney Channel, helping his kids do their homework, and having sundae contests.

“It has been such a great diversion for me,” Coach Kuntz said. “You go from walking into Riverside, battling a tough match to making chocolate chip smiley face pancakes. I love being a dad. If I could have 10 kids, I would.”

But as Coach Kuntz revealed, the game never stops in his mind. There are nights where he is up until three or four in the morning thinking about the game earlier that night.

In the back of his mind, he is always thinking about the Anteaters’ upcoming opponent and what his team has to do to prepare. Between his kids and his Anteaters, it’s a constant reel as he describes; a reel with two very different channels that he is learning to balance.

Being a Division 1 collegiate coach is time consuming, but as time has gone on, Coach Kuntz has learned when to say no and how to devote as much time with his kids as possible.

Years ago when UC Irvine’s men’s soccer program really catapulted, the media, different schools and seminars wanted to pick apart Coach Kuntz’s brain or have him come look at a possible recruit. They wanted to know his secret to success, his methods and his mentality. At first, Coach Kuntz believed that if he didn’t appear at these various recruiting events or speak at conference talks, he would be missing out on something. He felt as though he was “owned by the soccer community here in Orange County.” There was this sense of obligation that Coach Kuntz felt because he wanted to help everyone, but soon realized that he had taken on too much.

“What I’ve learned is to trust the infrastructure, trust your networks, calling people and doing your homework before you drive out Bell Gardens because I have a family now,” Coach Kuntz said.

Although Kuntz has a distinguished soccer background, neither of his children plays in an organized soccer league as of now. His 12-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter play tennis, a sport that is new to Kuntz, but one that he is excited to embrace with his children. But this does not stop 12-year-old Jonah from playing soccer at school.

“I kind of just watch, but he calls me over,” Coach Kuntz said. “He goes ‘Me, my dad against all of you guys!’ So I beat a few guys and pass the ball to Jonah so he can score. Then we say ‘Alright, thanks guys, we’re out of here’ as I limp off the field,” he laughs.

After sharing this soccer story, Coach Kuntz pulled out his phone to show off his kids’ homemade sundaes with a proud smile stuck to his face.

“My daughter always wins ‘cause she’s so dog-gone cute,” he said. “My son always thinks he will win by putting more candy on his sundae.”

A successful coach and a dedicated dad — was this the career path that Coach Kuntz always wanted?

In fact, Coach Kuntz had dreamed of going to medical school. But with soccer being such a prominent role his entire life, it  just fit. After a knee injury when he was in his 20s, he picked up a voluntary coaching job which eventually led to a job offer at Cal Lutheran, then Pepperdine, and finally,  UC Irvine. After 25 years in the business, Coach Kuntz has never doubted what he does for a living.

Coach Kuntz holds a legacy in his name and what he has accomplished here at UC Irvine.“I tell my team to leave a legacy,” he added.