Before Erik Hoops was the Loyola men’s golf coach, he was the captain of the team.
He played as a Rambler and became enamored with college sports. The camaraderie of it. The spirit of it. That one fan at every basketball game? That was Hoops in college. Every soccer game? Hoops was there. Hoops still makes it a point to go to as many games as possible.
He said if he didn’t go into coaching he thinks he’d still be involved in the industry in some capacity.
“I just I love the whole collegiate athletics atmosphere,” Hoops said. “I think that intercollegiate athletics is absolutely phenomenal. What these kids are able to do athletically, while balancing academics and creating these future leaders of industries, whether it’s on the court, off the court, on course, off the course and everything.”
Hoops, 29, got his start in intercollegiate athletics as a golfer at Loyola from 2008-12. He played all four years and walked away with many successes, including a career 77.0 stroke average and 12 top-10 finishes. He also helped Loyola to its first ever Horizon League Championship and an NCAA Regional berth in 2012.
He was the only senior on the team during his final season and at the time, the golf coach was a part-time position. Hoops often had to be the bridge between the coach and the players due to his seniority on the team.
“I kind of already started to be a player-coach when I was here,” Hoops said.
He said he didn’t picture himself as working a nine-to-five job. His introduction to coaching as a senior piqued his interest. After attending the NCAA Career and Sports Forum, he decided to focus more of his efforts into being a coach. Graduation was quickly approaching, and he said he hoped to get a spot as a graduate assistant.
Opportunities were limited, especially for golf programs, but he managed to score a job as an assistant coach at the University of Toledo. Hoops said he wanted to make his Master of Business Administration (MBA) something he could apply to coaching where he met a professor at Toledo who helped him design his course load to what Hoops called a “master in coaching.”
He catered every assignment to coaching. He said his papers focused on coaching, his business plans touched on building a good team atmosphere and instead of how he’d hire people, he focused on how to recruit for teams.
“I was really kind of happy that I kind of structured it that way,” Hoops said. “That it really kind of worked out that I was able to kind of make that MBA into almost like a coaching two-year crash course.”
After finishing his MBA, he accepted his first collegiate head coaching job at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York. The Bonnies could only offer him $1,000 per month and a room in a residence halls.
It’s also where he made an important connection in his journey — Watson, who was St. Bonaventure’s athletic director (AD) at the time.
Hoops said the program only had a small financial backing, but he wanted to prove he could turn the team into a successful one.
“If I can make the most of this opportunity here and make a good golf team in western New York where there’s a ski resort 20 minutes from campus,” Hoops said. “If I can prove I can make a decent golf team at St. Bonaventure University, I think that’s going to open up another good opportunity for me.
During his first season with the Bonnies, Hoops guided the team to a third-place finish at the Colgate Invitational and a sixth-place finish at the Cape Fear National Intercollegiate.
He said he placed a specific focus on bonds with the team. The day he told his team he was leaving for Loyola was difficult.
“I remember I held it together through the meeting and as soon as I left I went in my office and I cried for like 30 minutes straight,” Hoops said. “I was taught [at] Loyola about loyalty and finishing what you started and really making the most of it.”
Hoops accepted the Loyola job in 2016, one year after his time in New York. Watson mentioned he knew he wanted Hoops as soon as the athletics department began searching.
Watson hired Hoops knowing what he could bring to the table. Watson said it was an easy decision to make due to Hoops’s passion not only for the sport, but Loyola as well.
“It’s easy when you can hire somebody, somebody you’re familiar with and know is going to do a great job,” Watson said. “The way you would want them to do things.”
He took on the title of director of golf and oversaw both the men’s and women’s teams until 2017. Now he just stands as the men’s golf coach.
Hoops jumped at the opportunity to coach at his alma mater. He said he wanted to be able to bring the joy he experienced when he was in college. His first year, he focused on the foundation — getting permanent practice venues and structured practices.
“I had this hybrid coaching model of having limited resources and facilities that we had here at Loyola,” Hoops said. “But also making the most of every minute that we had. I was there once, and I just like being in a school like Loyola.”
This season is the first he’s had an entire roster of golfers he’s recruited, and it’s the team’s best season since his inception.
The two top golfers on the team — sophomore Nate Vance and junior Devin Johnson — both have lows under 70. Additionally, everyone on the roster has a stroke average under 80 except for one player.
Hoops stressed the importance of building relationships with his players, which translated to trust and therefore more success. Johnson said Hoops was instrumental in making his time at Loyola as good as it’s been.
“Coming in I didn’t really know what to expect for my first year,” Johnson said. “He made it as easy as a transition as it could be. He was there during practice if I ever needed anything just to work on. He’d give me drills or even just little pointers.”