When you ask Florida Gulf Coast University men’s head soccer coach Jesse Cormier for a first impression of his new workplace, he reacts much like your typical Southwest Florida transplant who just took the plunge into permanent residency.
But in Cormier’s case, it isn’t a retirement lifestyle that motivated moving his family to the subtropics. It’s the call of a different competitive challenge at a newer university that’s growing into a mid-major NCAA athletics power. Still, the environmental part of his relocation isn’t lost on the coach, who pronounces his last name “Cor-me-AIR” (“Unless I’m in Montreal,” he jokes, switching to the French Canadian alternative, “Cor-me-EH”).
“It’s amazing here, really different,” said Cormier, a native of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., near the Vermont border. “Coming from Vermont, where there’s a lot of history and older architecture … here, I see palm trees, and everything looks new. It’s warm. It’s a special place.”
The Vermont that Cormier left behind was his longtime job as head men’s soccer coach at the University of Vermont, an excellent school where he first achieved notoriety as a soccer star of All-New England caliber and team MVP while earning a degree in history before graduating in 1995. Cormier would go on to assistant coaching jobs at Bradley, West Virginia and Oregon State before returning to Vermont as head coach for 13 seasons. Competing in the America East Conference — ranked third nationally for soccer strength in 2016 behind the Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 — Cormier’s Catamount teams made five AEC title games and won two, claimed a regular-season crown and advanced to three NCAA Tournaments.
“I left familiarity and lots of friends. The move was very emotional for me on a personal and professional level,” he said. “But it gets to a point where you just sort of know it’s time for something else, to take on new challenges. To come down here and have it all be such a polar-opposite experience, it’s exactly what I needed.”
And so Cormier has followed the sun to FGCU, where in late January he succeeded founding program coach Bob Butehorn, who departed in December for the University of South Florida. It’s a job Butehorn left in excellent shape coming off a 14-win season, second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament and fourth Atlantic Sun Conference championship.
“There’s great energy here,” Cormier said. “People are behind the student athletes on this team, and there’s a reason for that. Their approach is very professional, very success-driven, very passionate. These guys want to be good, and the people at the university and in the community realize that.”
Add that legacy to the beautiful soccer facility Cormier sees basking in the sun when he looks outside the window of his second-floor office in the Outdoor Sports Complex, and it’s apparent why he envisions FGCU men’s soccer continuing the perennial success that’s getting contagious with all sports at the university.
“I haven’t worked this hard the first three weeks on anything in my life,” Cormier said. “It’s about the challenge of thinking of ways to improve a team that already has a lot of talent. They’re challenging me to be creative and help them get to a new level. And you’ve got to spend the time to build relationships inside and outside the program.
“When I came here for the interview, I was blown away by the student athletes, how clear they were on where they are and what they need to do,” he said. “That was such a selling point for me. And as long as they want to improve, it’s a good situation. That’s the case for me as well. As a coach, as a dad, as a husband, there are always ways you can be better. You don’t stop growing, you don’t stop improving.”
Jim DeRose, head men’s soccer coach at Bradley University when Cormier was an assistant working on a master’s degree in leadership and human services (and where FGCU Athletics Director Ken Kavanagh held the AD job at the time), said the Eagles “got one of the brightest young coaches in the game.”
“He’s great at communicating his vision, and is a terrific tactician and organizer,” DeRose said. “Everyone at FGCU will be impressed with the passion he has for student athletes. He has a tremendous respect for their growth not only as players, but as young men.”
Cormier says his wife, Amy, and three children – a son and daughter who are teenagers and an 11-year-old daughter – are excited to be in the Sunshine State, and he knows of at least several hundred other young men who want to join them. “When you open up your email and you have 300 kids reaching out who want to come here, you know the situation is different,” he said. “I don’t think I had 300 kids total contact me in all my years in Vermont.”
Some will be fortunate enough to catch Cormier’s eye and become Eagles. “I look for players who excite me, and I don’t care if they’re a defender, midfielder, forward or goalkeeper,” he said. “If I’m excited about that player, the team’s going to be excited, and the fans will get excited.”
Most importantly, those players will leave FGCU as future professionals, and not necessarily on the soccer pitch. Every player who competed for four years under Cormier at Vermont graduated.
“Ken (Kavanagh) makes it a big priority to have the right student athlete here. I get that, and I’m excited about that,” Cormier said. “This place does everything to help its student athletes be successful, and that’s important. Three percent of college soccer players go on to the pro level, so the other 97 percent better have good degrees and know how to use them.”