For Paul McGinlay, life as a Division III soccer coach has always been a bit of a juggling act.
From recruiting players and managing his current roster to his daily pursuit of another national championship, a trophy Trinity University has not won in 16 years, and then taking care of his family, a wife and two kids, all while minding his health, there’s a lot resting on his 5-foot-6 frame.
In September, the 56-year-old Englishman recorded his 500th career win, reaching that milestone faster than any men’s soccer coach in NCAA history.
It was a feat that seemed unfathomable just six months ago as McGinlay lay in a Methodist Hospital bed, stitches running down his sternum.
He had suffered a nearly fatal heart attack on April 1, resulting in quadruple bypass surgery. But facing up to death gave McGinlay a newfound sense of clarity. Instead of trying to keep so many balls in the air, he’s learned to let some of them fall – and be OK with that.
“You think more about how much everyone is a short-timer,” he said. “No one’s long for this world.”
With McGinlay’s nearly 30 years of local contributions to the sport, his name has become synonymous with soccer in San Antonio, his players and coaching peers said.
In the early 2000s, he co-founded Classics Elite Soccer Academy, a club team that supports more than 1,000 players and has helped fuel the growth of youth soccer in San Antonio; he guided the Tigers to a national title in 2003; and Trinity’s soccer field is named for him.
McGinlay also has earned national recognition as a member of a national committee of coaches that identified and developed elite youth soccer players. As the head of the Southern region, which includes states from Florida to Texas, McGinlay coached the likes of Clint Dempsey, who is tied as the all-time top goal scorer for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and Jozy Altidore, the U.S. team’s active leading goal scorer.
“His impact on collegiate soccer and youth soccer has been felt all over the country,” said Jay Martin, who coaches soccer at Ohio Wesleyan University and wrote a recommendation letter urging Trinity to hire him in 1991.
Martin remembers telling the hiring committee they’d be making a mistake if they didn’t hire McGinlay. Though the Trinity program wasn’t exactly prestigious at the time, it was a head coaching opportunity McGinlay, then 26, saw as a stepping stone. He took the reins of the Tigers’ team in 1991, on a shoestring budget of $18,000 and with a roster mainly composed of players recruited inside the city limits, and never looked back.
On the day of his cardiac episode, McGinlay was driving home after dropping his son off for a sleepover. He had been feeling pain in his chest, which he initially chalked up to indigestion. But the pain grew progressively worse. He went to an urgent care facility – just to rule out the possibility of something serious.
But shortly after being examined, McGinlay was rushed to Methodist Hospital in an ambulance. Doctors told him if he hadn’t acted on his instinct to seek medical help, he likely would have died.
McGinlay was released just days after surgery. Even while in the hospital, he was talking about getting back on the field and winning another national title, Martin said.
“I told him before he can get back into coaching he’s got to focus on himself and focus on his health,” he said. “He was determined early on. During his rehab, that’s all he talked about was getting back. I told him, ‘You’re not going to be worth a damn if you’re not healthy.'”
Matt Cardone, a former star goalkeeper at Trinity who now coaches McGinlay’s goalkeepers, said McGinlay’s heart attack was a shock to the players. Cardone, who splits his time with Trinity and minding the net for minor-league San Antonio FC, said McGinlay’s dedication to the sport is apparent to anyone who observes him.
“He puts his all into it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little stressful for him, but it’s good to see him back doing what he loves.”
This season, the Tigers struggled, winning just one of their first five matches of the season.
Martin said he worried the slow start would put a strain on McGinlay.
“He puts a great deal of pressure on himself to be successful,” he said. “I was worried about how his body would respond to the pressure given the fact he had open-heart surgery.”
But since a 6-0 drubbing of the University of Dallas on Sept. 22, the Tigers have been on a tear, winning four straight by a combined score of 17-1. However, that streak ended Friday with a 1-0 loss to the University of St. Thomas.
Even if Trinity’s winning record collapses, the Tigers fail to make the postseason, and that second national championship eludes them yet again, breaking records and winning trophies are the rubber balls McGinlay should let bounce, his cardiologist and longtime friend Dr. Fernando Triana said.
“As I said to him, ‘At this point, you have to start really determining which one of these are your rubber balls, and which ones are your crystal balls,'” Triana said. “You cannot drop the crystal ball of taking care of your health.”