I Love My Job: Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin
The sports leader, who recently landed a multi-year contract extension, on making the transition from player to coach and his goals for the rest of the season.
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin has his team sitting at second place in the Eastern Conference, and the team is poised to make a deep postseason run. BizPhilly talked to Curtin about when he feels major pressure, his goals for the remainder of the season, and that one time he choked his own goalie.
I grew up in… Oreland, Pennsylvania. Now I live in Queen Village.
When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be… a veterinarian. But as I got older, I realized that actually required doing surgery on animals and I’m a wimp when it comes to needles, so I wanted to be a professional athlete for my entire life like a lot of kids. I was able to fulfill that goal.
One important lesson I’ve learned is… surround yourself with good people, empower them to reach their full potential and also have the self-awareness to recognize that I don’t have all the answers. As a leader of a club, those are some ideals and things I’ve learned over the years.
I can be better at… confrontation. It comes up a lot in professional sports, and it’s something that you can always improve on.
I fell in love with soccer when… I took a trip to England when I was 10 years old and was able to see and train with some teams over there. I also saw Tottenham Hotspur play at White Hart Lane. I fell in love with soccer then and knew I wanted it to be a big part of my life.
I feel pressure… before games when our team is out warming up. I’m alone by myself in our locker room, and it’s a lonely time. It’s usually when I begin to feel pressure, and the nerves really kick in before I walk out of the tunnel and into our stadium. It’s an emotional time.
Coaching the Union is… my dream job.
Union fans are… passionate, faithful to the end. They are the life and blood of the Philadelphia Union.
My team is… fearless.
This season will be a failure if… we don’t host a playoff game in front of our fans in Talen Energy Stadium.
My favorite part about coaching this team is… watching players improve. At the end of the day coaches are teachers. I’ve worked in our youth academy; I started out there with eight-year-olds and worked my way up to the first team. Seeing them get better each and every day is something that really excites me and is something that inspires me every day.
My favorite part about the game of soccer is… it brings people together from all over the world. A great example is our team. We have 16-year-olds all the way up to 35-year-olds, players from 12 different countries, and some players who don’t speak English. Soccer has a way of being one language and bringing people together despite any cultural differences.
I prepare for opponents by… watching hours and hours of game film and lots of analytics.
My most memorable game coaching was… my first professional win. It was 3-1 against New England, and it just stays in my mind. I was nervous and the youngest coach in the league at the time. It reassured me that I knew what the heck I was doing.
The most stressful part of coaching is… always having to be “on.” Constantly having to sell the vision and philosophy of the club, whether I’m walking down the street in Philadelphia, at a coffee shop, in a restaurant, or in Sea Isle City with my family. People may come up to me and ask about the team, say some positive things about the team, say some negative things, but I always feel like I have to be on and really selling what we believe in as a club and representing the Union at all times. You have to deal with agents, 30 different players and keeping them going in the same direction. It’s a non-stop thing. That’s the most stressful part.
The hardest part about switching from player to coach is… the hours. Looking back, as a professional soccer player, which I was for ten years, you’re very individually focused. It’s a selfish way of going about things. You’re just worried about your body and your performances. Obviously, you want the team to succeed, but it’s very individual whereas now I’m responsible for 30 guys, keeping them all going and pulling them in the same direction and the hours that takes is a lot harder. Once the weekly preparation concludes, your big test is on the weekends and how the team performs over the 90 minutes. It’s a helpless feeling because I can’t help them once that whistle blows. I can’t go out there and change anything.
When I am not coaching I… spend time with my wife Jen and my three kids, Miles, Avery and Ryan, exploring Philly, traveling as much as we can and spending as much time together as possible.
In ten years I will be… continuing to grow the game of soccer in Philadelphia, one way or another. Philadelphia is home for me. I obviously want to be involved with the Philadelphia Union for as long as possible, but I also want to continue to grow soccer in this country. It’s grown more than I ever thought it would in my lifetime in the United States, and I want to see it continue to grow here in Philly.
Another sport that I’m good at is… basketball. Not a lot of people know I played all the way through my junior year of high school, and I played baseball as well. I was a pretty good basketball player; some smaller division one schools recruited me. I don’t get to play as much as I’d like now.
Something people don’t know about me is… A positive one is I married my high school sweetheart. Another one is I once got a red card at Villanova for choking my own goalkeeper.
If I never played soccer I would probably… I went to Villanova for finance and even the thought of pursuing that makes me bored, so I don’t even like to think about it
I am most afraid of…Letting people down. Not living up to expectations.
I’m inspired by… the work ethic and mentality of my dad, also Jim Curtin.
My goal this season is… to win MLS Cup and give Philadelphia our first piece of hardware.
I love my job because… it has everything. I have interactions every day with people, with great kids. It has emotional highs and lows. It has worldwide travel. Every single day is completely different, so it’s really special and unique. To work in pro sports is a dream, and if I play my cards right, I’ll never actually have to work a real job in my life. I’m very fortunate.