Athletic profile: Coach Joe Cleary

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Photo courtesy of Wayne State Athletics

Wayne State Soccer. Photo by Bob Berry

Brady Metz and David Becker

Wayne State College Women’s Soccer head coach, Joe Cleary, is more than just a ginger-colored beard attached to a face. He is the living embodiment of what every coach should be.

Cleary was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but spent most of his life in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Cleary played every sport possible.

“Except for hockey,” he said. “There was just too much money that had to be invested into that sport and I didn’t want my parents to have to do that.”

He even remembers being a big fan of sports such as bowling and curling, in which he participated in as well.

“I was terrible at tackle football though,” said Cleary.

He chuckled as he went on and on naming many more activities he was involved in as a youth. Cleary’s best sport was actually baseball, but he enjoyed playing soccer the most because all of his childhood friends played soccer as well. He remembers his high school soccer coach especially.

“He was super old school,” said Cleary. “I’m still friends with him today. He just had such a huge impact on not only my athletic career, but my coaching career as well.”

When college finally came around the corner, Cleary chose Creighton University in Omaha. He only attended the university for a year as he explained that it was just too far away from home. Cleary went back home to Bismarck and transferred to North Dakota State University, where he spent six years there as an undergraduate.

Cleary’s first high school coaching job was a volunteer position. He took his U14 soccer team to regionals in Dayton, Ohio, and he recalls playing against “incredible” competition. His next coaching position was as a student assistant for the University of Mary soccer team. After the head coach at the University of Mary took a job at Wyoming University, he was left without a job. A couple weeks later, the same head coach contacted Cleary and offered him a volunteer assistant coaching position for the soccer team in Laramie.

Since his position at Laramie was only volunteer, Cleary’s only income was working soccer camps. He also donated plasma weekly in which he would make around $100 a week and up to $400 a month.

“I paid rent that way,” he said.

Cleary also found work at a vet clinic to walk dogs early in the morning. He also began tutoring athletes at Wyoming.

“I tutored track athletes, even some current NFL players and basketball players who are currently playing professional overseas,” said Cleary.

Cleary actually got a raise while tutoring for his success in helping three football players pass classes and keeping them eligible to play.

Cleary clearly had a work ethic. He was willing to do whatever he had to do to make money, and keep his dream of being a coach alive.

Over the course of his coaching career, Cleary had the chance to travel to Portland, Las Vegas and pretty much the whole west side of the United States. He also worked with Canadian Youth National Team soccer players.

After years of trying to become a graduate assistant for the University of Mary, he finally received a phone call from the head coach asking him to come join the staff. Cleary took the job and also worked at a hospital as a physical therapy assistant.

Cleary had his eyes set on Wayne State College and applied for the assistant coaching job. He was asked to come to Wayne, America for an interview and was offered the full-time job. When he arrived to Wayne, there wasn’t much living space available. He stayed in a guest room in Morey Hall for about two weeks until he found an apartment downtown.

After the conclusion of Cleary’s third year as an assistant at Wayne State, the head coach at the time had told Joe that he was taking the coaching job at Division I, Northern Iowa. He also informed Cleary that he would not be taking him with as an assistant.

Cleary decided that he wanted to compete for the head coaching position at WSC, which he recalls being the longest two months of his life. Cleary finally received word that he would become the next head coach of Wayne State’s women’s soccer team. He just finished his first season as head coach this past fall.

Cleary said that even though his road getting to Wayne State College was not the easiest, he loves what he is doing today. He loves Wayne and the people who live in this community.