The UP caught up with FAU men’s soccer head coach Kos Donev, who is in his 25th season in charge of the program, to get his thoughts on his personal life, soccer career and how the school has changed since when he was a student.
Q: What was life like growing up in Macedonia?
A: At the time it was the Republic of Macedonia and was part of Yugoslavia. It was definitely different than a kid growing up in this country even back in those days. Majority of the people don’t have the necessities, luxuries and conveniences that you have in this country. From television to radio, a lot of places don’t have that. We primarily grew up in villages or farms. It was a basic lifestyle, but it was fun. If we weren’t doing school work or chores we were playing soccer.
Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: I speak Macedonian, Bulgarian, several dialects of Croatian, and of course English.
Q: How was your time as a player at South Plantation High School?
A: My brother [Miljce Donev] is actually credited as starting the boys soccer program there as they didn’t have one. But he kicked for the football team and one day in PE he was kicking a soccer ball and one of the coaches on the team decided to start a men’s soccer team. High school soccer was not that well developed as sometimes only one other player really knew how to play. But it was definitely the most enjoyable time I had as an athlete just because the friends you made and how students looked at you.
Q: You graduated from FAU in the class of ‘87, what was your major?
A: I graduated at the College of Business in marketing.
Q: What made you want to come to play at FAU?
A: At the time freshmen were not necessarily accepted at FAU. It was only made up of graduate students and upperclassmen. Only a few hundred students were freshmen so I started my collegiate career at Flagler University. I transferred back to FAU when I was a junior though to be close to family.
Q: Was is difficult to balance school and playing for the soccer team?
A: I had my focus on soccer to try and get to the next level. So it wasn’t that it was difficult, it’s just my focus was primarily on soccer and not school.
Q: What are your best memories playing for FAU?
A: Anytime you play in college regardless of what the outcome of the game or season is, the best memories always will be the time you had with your friends and the camaraderie you have with your team. Players that I played with I still keep in contact, and nowadays their kids are being recruited by me.
Q: How different is soccer in America compared to Europe?
A: In Europe the game is more skilled and more tactically played from an awareness standpoint. One of the main differences here is that in the youth level, America is focused on trophies, whereas in Europe they are more focused on the development of players. Also, the players in Europe are more exposed to the game at an early age. To give perspective, when you go to hospitals in Argentina, even when they’re born they have soccer jerseys draped on the hospital door to signify what team their family roots for. Soccer is very serious over there.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to become a head coach?
A: It’s not that I realized it. Like everyone else I wanted to play at the next level. I was playing at the amateur level here and one day they came to me and asked if I wanted to become a player coach. But once I started I got hooked on it. When head coach Christopher Holloway at FAU resigned, I was asked at the age of 24 to become the interim head coach and ever since, I been here.
Q: Did you learn anything from your previous head coaches as a player?
A: Absolutely! I looked back at what did my coaches do in trainings and what could I use in my trainings. I always thought: What did they talk about? What did they emphasize on? How did they get players to become a team player?
Q: What was campus life like back in the ‘80s when you were roaming the campus?
A: First it was about 50 percent smaller than this. The dorms you see where Indian River Towers and Glades Towers are currently at were all like Algonquin. Very small dorms with about a few thousand people living on campus. The development of the university since then has been tremendous.
Q: Favorite memories as the FAU head coach?
A: Whenever you have a winning season or get a conference championship its always a great memory. Beating Duke and FIU when they were considered soccer powers was also great, but its the player-coach relationships that I’ve built that are fondest.
Q: Could you discuss the role in getting the two fields that were added in 1996 and 1999 where the men’s and women’s team currently play?
A: After we declared the soccer field was not playable I asked the city of Boca Raton to help financially get a new field. The city didn’t want to help, so I asked then Athletic Director Jack Mehl who was able to help. Those two fields actually hosted the first ever MLS combine. I also took part in the architecture of the field which is why it always drains well whenever it starts to rain.
Q: How pivotal was if for FAU to become a Division I-A program?
A: The decision was made by the president and AD. It was one of those moves where since everyone was doing it why not us. FIU also just made the leap so we may have felt some internal pressure to do so. Financially, I didn’t think we were ready, but it definitely improved the perception of the school and thus recruiting was easier.
Q: Have you ever considered taking another job and moving on?
A: There has been thought and consideration into moving but establishing myself in soccer with this community in South Florida helped me stay here. In order for me to move it would have to be an extraordinary opportunity. Besides each and every year FAU has made progress which is one reason why I stayed. The future is bright and with the new AD [Patrick Chun] on board I feel very comfortable with the foundation of this school into taking the next step.