Loyola women’s soccer coach Barry Bimbi wasn’t always a women’s soccer coach. He made the switch from men’s soccer in 2007 and he said it has helped him cultivate relationships that have extended to his family.
Bimbi said it wasn’t right out of college that he made the jump to the other side of the sideline. Instead, he worked for a year at a cell phone company in Philadelphia. He said he quickly realized a desk job wasn’t for him.
“When you have the freedom in your time and life being a college kid and then go and sit behind a desk, you realize pretty quickly it’s not for you,” Bimbi, 47, said. “So I [tried] to explore different options. And, you know, thinking about how much [I] liked coaching and being part of the soccer camps, [I tried] to get there somehow.”
He accepted an assistant coaching position at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania — his alma mater. Bimbi said he also helped his former roommate and teammate open a branch of a soccer store to earn some extra cash.
After six years at St. Francis, Bimbi decided he was ready for the next step. After closing the store, he began to look for more promising coaching positions. He said it was “a little backwards and risky,” but it ended up working for him.
Bimbi accepted a position as an assistant coach for the men’s team at Marquette University in 2002. It was the last stepping stone before he made what he called the “best decision career-wise” — switching over to women’s soccer.
The switch from men’s to women’s soccer was an adjustment Bimbi was prepared for. He said he focused on building relationships with players, which is a key element for women’s soccer players specifically.
Bimbi said in his experience, men’s players often don’t depend on a relationship with their coach as much as women’s players do.
“They want to know if you care, can they trust you?” Bimbi said. “It’s a lot of them sitting in [the office] and building that relationship. It was after our end-of-the-year meetings this year, we talked a lot to the seniors and even juniors about how invested they were in everything. But they put the time into also building a relationship.”
In 2007, he signed on to be the assistant coach of the women’s soccer team at the University of Pittsburgh. He served as the program’s recruiting coordinator and was in charge of player development.
“One, [it] brought me and my wife, Melissa, back to Pittsburgh,” Bimbi said. “There’s more opportunity on the women’s side, just more Division I jobs on the women’s side. … So more opportunity. And it’s worked out.”
After his four years at Pittsburgh, Bimbi began his first head coaching position at Loyola in 2009. He’s been the head coach for nine years and has built up a successful tenure.
The Ramblers were Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) champions for back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019 — both regular season and tournament champions. He’s also led the team to two straight NCAA tournament berths and has helped a number of women reach accolades such a Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year.
He credits the deep relationships with players as a reason for much of the recent success. Bimbi said when things began to waver and the women became unsure of themselves, he often had a full office of players trying to get things back on track.
As Bimbi said, the relationship isn’t a one-way street. Senior defender Ari Banks said she spent a lot of time getting to a point of comfort with Bimbi. And because of the work spent getting to know him, she has a lifelong role model.
“One of the things I like most about Barry is he’s more than just a coach to us,” Banks said. “He’s someone we can all look up to. We can connect with him and joke around with him. He sees us as more than just student-athletes. He sees us as a well-rounded individual who has other goals. He cares about us being good people as well as being good soccer players.”
In addition to his closeness with his players, Bimbi said having his family around helps him get through the stress and challenges of the job. His wife, Melissa, has been around for the majority of his coaching career and his son Amadeo — or A.J. — was only one year-old when Bimbi started at Pittsburgh.
Now, his family can be seen on the sideline at almost every home game and even some of the away games, including the NCAA Tournament game in New York in November.
Bimbi said the Loyola players are even role models to his eight-year-old daughter, Lena. He said he’s grateful to be able to have strong women in his daughter’s life — but she said she benefits from her dad’s job, too.
“It’s fun to watch them play and to meet all the girls after,” Lena said. “It’s fun to hang out with them after the games. [I look up to them] to get better at soccer. I like Sister Jean, too.”