CONCORD – Veteran teacher and high school soccer coach Taylor Strode added a new job to his lengthy resume without having to change his commute, his classroom, or his coaching wardrobe.
Two weeks ago, the Concord High girls coach also became the Concord High boys coach, being named to the position left vacant by the departure of another successful veteran coach, Todd Tinsley, who went to West Cabarrus.
Despite a difficult 2023 season, Strode built the Spiders girls soccer program into a top-tier threat in the South Piedmont 3A Conference. Now, he takes over a boys team that has been one of the best in the state over the last five years.
“It was something I talked over with my family,” said Strode, the Spiders girls coach since 2012. “I have a 3-year old at home and two teenage boys. So I wanted to talk with my wife and make sure with the time commitment that me going back to coaching two seasons was something that was going to work for everyone in my household.
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“She was extremely supportive of me and said she thought it would be something I would be interested in potentially as well as something she thought I’d be happy doing.”
Concord athletics director Greg Liddle said he and Principal Adam Auerbach had a contingency plan for when Tinsley might leave, if ever, and that Strode was always at the top of potential candidates list to replace him.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Liddle. “We had the perfect person to take the spot right in the building in Coach Strode. He had success coaching at the girls level and had success coaching at the boys level at Salisbury (as an assistant). He was the perfect choice when it came to that. There really wasn’t much thought we had to put in to it. We’re glad he had the same interest.”
This isn’t the first time Strode is the head coach for both the boys and girls teams at his school. He led both teams at Alleghany High in the mountains from 2008 to 2012. Before coaching at the Sparta school, Strode was an assistant at Salisbury High for three years.
When Strode returned to the Piedmont and was hired to teach at Concord and coach the girls team, he also returned as a non-faculty assistant boys coach at Salisbury High. Tinsley was hired at Concord a year after Strode, and the two coaches became fast friends and provided support to each other’s programs.
The Salisbury Hornets were a perennial power in the 2A classification, and Strode remembers the one time his team faced Tinsley’s Spiders, in 2014, a 1-0 Concord victory.
The Concord girls team Strode inherited had been led by three different coaches in the three previous years. The Spiders finished 0-17 in Strode’s first season, but he built them into a solid conference contender in three years.
This spring, a season in which Concord was nearly devoid of seniors, the Spiders’ girls record plummeted to 1-19. Over the previous seven seasons, Strode’s teams compiled a record of 66-55-4. They advanced to the state playoffs a few of those years and won a first-round game in 2022.
What Strode is inheriting in the boys team is a program that has reached the state tournament eight times over the last nine years. The Spiders have won three of the last four South Piedmont 3A Conference championships.
In 2019 and 2021, Concord reached the state semifinals. Last season, the Spiders recorded their third 20-win season in four years and reached the state’s third round with a 21-2-3 mark.
“The No. 1 thing I know about them is the success they’ve had over the last couple years,” said Strode. “I’m looking forward to working with a solid base that has experienced that success. There’s a good contingency of returning players that I look forward to working with, not only in the capacity of their skill level but in their leadership levels.
“The hardest thing is going to be the reality that Todd has done such a wonderful job with the level he’s brought the program to that there’s going to be some pressure to maintain that level.”
Eleven players will return to next year’s boys team, including rising senior Zayne Martin, an all-conference and all-region center back.
The team will start training June 13 and embark on a summer sprinkled with two-a-day workouts. That includes a 9-on-9 summer league hosted by West Cabarrus. Summer prep lends itself to one of Strode’s main coaching philosophies: determination.
“You’ve got to want to be there in terms of work ethic and attitude,” he said. “Secondly, it has to be team-above-self. You can make up for a lack of skill based on how hard you work.”
Strode feels Cabarrus County School’s first day of classes being pushed up two weeks to Aug. 10 could possibly bring more athletes out to the team. Incoming freshmen and transfers who always started school after tryouts were held will now be more informed about the team’s schedule.
At least for the meantime, Strode will continue to lead both the boys and girls teams at Concord. He understands the different nuances of the two sports: the boys’ game tends to be faster and more physical while the girls’ style can be more technical.
Strode’s first game as boys coach will be at North Iredell on Aug. 14.
“Long-term (goals) are continuing to build a successful program, maintaining a JV team, and being able to pull JV players up to the varsity team so you that you have a consistent growth of player development,” said Strode.
“For this season, the goal is always postseason play. Obviously, finishing first in the conference is nice, but the priority is playing in November still.”