Coming off the “three-peat” of its third consecutive Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship, a time before the reign of the Loyola women’s soccer team may seem like a distant memory. But when current head coach Barry Bimbi first arrived in Chicago, it would be another five years before the Ramblers became a winning team.
Now in his 11th season at the helm of the Ramblers squad, Bimbi has fostered a culture of trust with his players through the years on his way to becoming the winningest coach in Loyola women’s soccer history. Over his decade at Loyola, he’s tallied 93 wins and coached 51 all-conference selections.
Bimbi came to Loyola from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 where he had worked as the women’s soccer assistant coach from 2007-2010. Before that, he had spent his coaching career on the men’s soccer side, working at St. Francis University and then Marquette University.
Once he got to Rogers Park, Bimbi got to work. After leading the team through its transfer from the Horizon League to the MVC in 2013, he led the Loyola to its fourth winning season in program history in 2015, finishing with a 9-5-7 record.
After suffering one more losing season in 2016, the rest was history. Loyola made it to the MVC Semifinals in 2017 and then proceeded to win the MVC Championship in 2018. This sent the Ramblers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years and created what became one of Bimbi’s favorite memories as a coach.
When it comes to his coaching strategy, Bimbi said it’s changed a bit through the years as he’s gotten more experience. He said what’s important to him overall as a coach is keeping his athletes happy and building relationships with them as a coach.
“You can push them in different ways and challenge them in different ways, but without the relationship, that’s much harder to do,” he said.
The team’s momentum didn’t let up even after falling to No. 1-seeded Florida State University 1-0 in the first round of the 2018 tournament — the Ramblers went on to win the MVC Championship in the following two seasons, with a perfect conference record in 2019. The reigning champions are currently No. 1 in the MVC so far this season with an 8-2-1 overall and a 4-0 record in conference play.
Bimbi said the people he gets to work with are what makes his job at Loyola worth it to him, all the way from Athletic Director Steve Watson to his players. Through those on his coaching staff, he also said he hopes he can foster a culture of trust with players knowing they always have someone they can go to.
“I come to work with a smile on my face every day,” he said. “The people [I] work with and the players [I] get to coach every day, they make it easy to come to work. I think it just makes Loyola just a unique and special place.”
One of the people he works with, women’s soccer assistant coach Chris Brown, said their relationship is defined by “a lot of trust.” Brown worked as a volunteer assistant with the Ramblers in 2018 before serving as assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women’s soccer team for one year in 2019. He returned to Loyola as the Ramblers’ assistant coach in 2020.
Brown said Bimbi’s experience has helped guide the rest of the coaching staff and therefore the team. He said the way Bimbi focuses on details other head coaches might not — such as interpersonal trust and honesty between athletes and coaches — has set him apart.
“The way he builds the program to have an open-door policy for his players to come up and build relationships, for the group to understand that it’s not a one-way street,” Brown said. “I think he does that so well that it just builds into a love and positivity that his players have for him and the program.”
Senior midfielder Abby Swanson said she has enjoyed having Bimbi as her head coach throughout her time at Loyola, and she feels he’s made it a priority to treat his players as “people first before soccer players.”
However the trust between the players and him also exists on the pitch during game days, which Swanson said she believes helps the team succeed.
“I think a lot of head coaches like to really be involved with the girls and try to control how we play in a game,” Swanson, 21, said. “Barry’s really good about trusting us and trusting his players and letting us kind of take the game as it comes. It doesn’t feel like he has to plan out every single play in every scenario, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
Looking ahead to his future with the team, Bimbi said his goals are based around pushing the Ramblers to succeed further with each season. His current vision — getting Loyola to a place where it can regularly compete in the second or third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bimbi said the biggest lesson he’s learned through his 10 years coaching at Loyola is that focusing on the good things with the team is what’s important. He said he and his coaching staff use the phrase “catch them being good” to point out the right things their players are doing instead of the negatives.
“I think as you’re in it longer you kind of focus on the positive,” he said. “Build up the players that want to be there and are willing to put the work in. I think it’s really made a difference.”