Rob Klatte is more than a head coach. To some he is a friend, and to others he is a mentor and career counselor. But to the Purdue Athletics Department, the 10-year skipper is the founding father and architect of its nationally recognized soccer program.
Klatte was hired in 1997 to build a team from scratch, a full year before the team's first game and two years prior to the completion of its home pitch - The Varsity Soccer Complex. Without a facility to show off for potential student-athletes and a history to revel about, Klatte hit the recruiting trail selling only his excitement and passion for Boilermaker soccer.
Klatte's enthusiastic persona is still winning over recruits over a decade later. When looking over responses from incoming freshmen as to why they chose Purdue, they consistently mention Klatte's positive outlook and overall attitude as being a motivating factor.
And why not? The always personable Klatte can talk about almost anything to anyone whether it's soccer, cycling, I-Pods or exercise. In a job where the coach keeps getting older, while student-athletes remain the same age, it's mandatory for Klatte to converse with an 18-year-old of today as easily when he first began coaching in 1990.
Not everything has come easily for Klatte and the Boilermakers. As expected, the first few years were challenging as the team went 12-25-0 in 1998 and 1999, but the team rebounded in 2000 with a 12-6-1 record and qualified for its first of seven-straight Big Ten Tournament appearances. In 2002, the Boilermakers advanced to their first of four NCAA Tournaments and are expected to qualify once again in 2007.
Klatte is most impressed with his team's play since 2000. The Boilermakers have played above a .600 winning percentage in six of the past seven seasons with the lone exception of 2004's rebuilding year, which ended with a respectable 10-10 record. Beginning with the 2000 season, Purdue has produced a win-loss record of 84-46-16 and a winning percentage of .630.
The Boilermakers' record against Big Ten opponents during this time frame is 38-24-8 (.600) as they have finished with a winning conference mark in every season but two (2000 and 2004) and have averaged a fourth-place finish. Despite being the youngest member of the Big Ten, Purdue has won 16 more conference games than Iowa (24-65-9) and three more than 13-year charter member Northwestern (37-72-10). The Boilermakers' all-time conference winning percentage of .550 is better than that of seven schools: Wisconsin (.516), Minnesota (.470), Ohio State (.466), Indiana (.442), Michigan State (.419), Northwestern (.353) and Iowa (.290).
Purdue's seven-year run of Big Ten Tournament appearances is behind only league founders Penn State and Michigan, which have advanced to the postseason every year since 1994, and Illinois, whose streak has reached nine years, dating to 1998.
For Klatte, success on the field is only half the equation, as he demands an equal effort given to education. His team's proficient work in the classroom was extended to a ninth-year in 2006, as 13 of his student-athletes earned Academic All-Big Ten certificates. Klatte's crew has consistently posted a team grade-point average well over 3.00.
Klatte is convinced the program will continue its national rise provided student-athletes maintain their focus on four things they can control.
1.) A Standard of Academic Excellence
2006-07 was another stellar academic year for the Boilermakers. In addition to 13 players being named to the Academic All-Big Ten team, three individuals received recognition from the College Sports Information Directors of America. Senior Kristin Hetzel was named first-team academic all-district V and Lauren Mason and Jessica Okoroafo were tabbed to the all-district second team.
Mason went on to receive a spot on the National Soccer Coaches/adidas College Women Scholar All-Central Region second team while Hetzel, Christy Riggle, Rebecca Robison, Jill Sarbaugh and Shauna Stapleton were tabbed to the honorable mention list. The number of this past year's academic honorees was the most for Purdue since 2003. Six different Boilermakers have been honored academically by NSCAA/adidas since 2000, including three-time honoree Elise Berry.
"Academic success - especially as it requires rigorous effort here at Purdue - will assist you by forcing you to learn to time-manage, study, problem solve, and prioritize," says Klatte. "You must pass to play. Our team goal is a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Carrying thirty student-athletes, a 3.0 is not the easiest goal to attain, but I believe that if I continue to make it a priority for my athletes, then they are more likely to be successful."
Since Purdue became eligible to nominate its players for Academic All-Big Ten in 1999, an average of 12 Boilermakers have been named to this team each year. In 2003, the year Purdue advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, a record 17 members on Klatte's crew were named Academic All-Big Ten. Senior Kate Mills was one of the conference's top honorees in 2006 as she maintained a perfect cumulative grade-point average.
2.) A Reliance on Informed Decision-Making and Personal Responsibility
The Rob Klatte-coached team is one of many different personalities and backgrounds. Some players carry strength, others bring speed, while others are recognized more for their intelligence and/or work ethic; however, all 30+ student-athletes fall onto the same page once they don the Old Gold and Black.
Klatte's teams are not always considered the most talented or graceful, but the student-athletes he carries on the roster never leave the bench without knowing exactly what needs to be done on the pitch. Practices at Purdue not only incorporate ball-handling drills, mini-games and skills competitions, but detailed instructions regarding formation shapes and the directives of each player's position. Being in the right place is never enough, Klatte wants his players to know why they're their and which way they're going to be headed if the ball moves forwards, backwards, left, right or diagonal.
"I believe that a player should be provided the opportunity to make decisions, both good and bad," says Klatte. It would be much easier to demand specific actions from players at specific times or situations - I know there would be fewer costly errors. But playing in that manner would also negate the opportunity for the spectacular or wisp of creative flair that makes the game of soccer so special."
The amount of preparation the Boilermakers put into each match has enabled them to win 10 or more matches the last seven years, a statistic that has coincided with Purdue's seven-year appearance streak at the Big Ten Tournament - one of the longest among all conference schools.
"I try to provide my players with situational recommendations, but insist that they make decisions," says Klatte. "It is my job to analyze their results and provide feedback and try to assist them in learning from their past experiences so that in the future they might make the best decisions available to them."
In addition to its regular postseason appearance at the conference tournament, Purdue also has been a four-time invitee to the NCAA Tournament in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. Klatte's 2003 club was the most successful in program history as it placed second in the conference at 6-2-2, advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The 2006 Boilermakers drew many comparisons to the 2003 squad as they matched their predecessors .674 winning percentage with a 14-6-3 record. Parrissa Eyorokon, Jessica Okoroafo and Sylvia Forbes paced the offense with 51 points on 20 goals and 11 assists. Eyorokon also contributed a league-best five-game winning goals en route to receiving a spot on the All-Big Ten first team.
Purdue's troop of defensive backs and goalkeepers dubbed themselves the `Department of Defense' in the midst of a program-record 10-match unbeaten streak and seven-match shutout streak. The Boilermakers, led by senior netminder Lauren Mason, finished 2006 with a program-best 12 shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.72. Mason left Purdue as its varsity record holder in nearly all goalkeeping categories, including saves (324), wins (42), shutouts (23.5), minutes (6756), games started in goal (78) and games played in goal (85).
3.) Subscription to Dedication and Industriousness that Foster Self-Confidence
Klatte and his student-athletes are no strangers to receiving awards for their hard work on and off the field of play. In fact, Eyorokon was only one of a handful of players in 2006 to receive postseason accolades; Mason joined her teammate on the All-Big Ten first team, Jordyn Shaffer was tabbed to the All-Big Ten second team, and Hetzel was chosen as Purdue soccer's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award nominee.
Eyorokon and Shaffer also were recognized last postseason by Soccer Buzz Magazine, being named to its Great Lakes Region second and third teams, respectively.
Over the past 10 years, Klatte's kids have garnered a total of 17 conference awards, 19 certificates from Soccer Buzz Magazine and over 20 citations from NSCAA/adidas. Annette Kent was honored as Purdue's first All-American in 2003, being named to the NSCAA/adidas All-America second team. Kent, along with Elise Berry, Lauren Sesselmann (twice), Meghan Dybvig, Mason and Eyorokon are recognized as Purdue's six All-Big Ten first team selections. In 2005, Jessica Okoroafo was voted Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the conference coaches - she is first Boilermaker to received this esteemed honor.
Purdue's award collection is a direct result of individuals believing they are the best student-athlete they possibly can be.
"When push comes to shove, when you are truly tested against someone who is either your equal or superior, you must honestly know that you deserve to win - know that you trained harder, longer, endured more hardship, risked more of your heart," says Klatte. "I believe this feeling will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror after a loss and say that there was nothing else that you could have done. The time and effort required to achieve such mental strength is immense."
Klatte collected three coaching awards following the 2002 campaign as he was named Coach of the Year in the Big Ten and was selected by both Soccer Buzz Magazine and NSCAA/adidas as their Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year. Klatte's 2002 crew was the first to advance to the NCAA Tournament, finishing the season at 13-5-4 and 6-3-1 in the Big Ten.
4.) Maximizing Potential Through Competition
The goal for Purdue soccer, year after year, is to win the NCAA Championship. This may sound like a lofty goal for a program that's yet to win at the conference level, but what's the point of all the blood, sweat and tears if the end result is anything less than a run at the national collegiate title.
Preparation for the 2007 season began in November of 2006. Tri-Captains were elected, a tough spring schedule including Duke, Wisconsin and Michigan was arranged, and practices and fitness itineraries were drawn up.
"As a team, we chart everything we do," says Klatte. "Every fitness activity and every small-sided match are charted, every goal noted, every win-loss-tie recorded. I want players to train in an environment that's demanding - an environment that replicates the game. Games are competitive, practice must be as well."
Klatte revised the team's schedule last year with the elimination of all August exhibition contests. Purdue had been a featured attraction at the IPFW Soccer Showcase for several seasons before Klatte decided that if the team is limited to 20 fall matches then they should all count towards reaching the NCAA Tournament. Where's the joy in playing Oklahoma in Ft. Wayne when it counts for nothing?
Klatte used those two open dates and added a pair of regular season games, both of which helped boost Purdue's win total to 14 and earned them an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
There are no exhibitions scheduled for 2007 as Klatte has a devised a slate of matches that will certainly challenge the Boilermakers en route to more postseason appearances. The 14-match home schedule includes Louisville and Kentucky for the four-team Boilermaker Challenge Cup, plus Bowling Green, Oregon and Western Michigan. Purdue's lone non-conference road trip this season is to Seattle for games against Washington and Portland.
Before the Boilermakers even think about hitting the field, they are required to pass a multitude of fitness tests in the spring and when they return again in August for mini-camp. A sport that requires its competitors to run for 90 minutes demands nothing less than athletes who are prepared to go 90+ two or three days per week.
Klatte and his coaching staff monitor each student-athlete as she sprints for distance and for endurance. The Boilermakers are not only expected to play competitively during their summers for local clubs, but also remain engaged in their fitness regimen.
Prior to Purdue
Klatte came to West Lafayette with a wealth of soccer coaching experience. He was the head coach at Wright State from 1994 to 1996, where he took over a struggling program and built it to a third-place Metro Collegiate Conference finisher with an 11-10 record in his final season. It marked the Raiders' best record and first winning campaign since 1991. In 1992 and 1993, Klatte was an assistant coach at Cincinnati. Before that, he served as head coach at Baylor, his alma mater, in 1990 and 1991, guiding the Bears to the 1991 Texas Intercollegiate Soccer Championship.
Klatte is also involved with the Olympic Development Program in Region II as a staff coach. He was the 1986 ODP Region II head coach for two seasons before mentoring the 1988 ODP Region II squad in 2002 and the 1987 team in 2003. Klatte has handled the reins of the 1989 ODP Region II club every summer since 2004. A native of Fallbrook, Calif., Klatte holds an NSCAA National Diploma, a U.S. Soccer "A" license and was a member of the NCAA Division I Women's Regional Ranking Committee for two seasons. He earned a B.A. in business and history in 1989 and an M.A. in history in 1992 from Baylor.