The only soccer coach in De Smet history stayed on the job for 46 years.
Last spring, Greg Vitello retired after a storied career. As the Spartans coach, Vitello led the program to five state championships.
John Stewart, athletic director for De Smet Jesuit, hired Josh Klein, a 1997 De Smet Jesuit graduate to serve as the school’s new varsity soccer coach.
Following a legend is difficult especially the only coach the school ever had.
“I don’t know if we’ll see that sort of run in coaching anymore,” Klein said. “It was incredible. The hours you have to put in. The sacrifices you and hour family have to make. I can’t promise 46 years.
“Following in his footsteps will be challenging. No one can ever replace a man like coach Vitello. I intend to continue many of De Smet soccer’s qualities, while at the same time exploring some new directions to make us even more successful in the future.”
The Spartans take the field at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 26) to play at Francis Howell Central. De Smet will play at 6 p.m. Thursday at Eureka before opening at home at 11 a.m. Saturday against Timberland, who reached the Class 3 state championship game last fall.
“I haven’t thought much about home versus away to start the season,” Klein said. “Playing on the road might get some pressure off the team and the program. Hopefully, we work out the kinks and come into our home match in good shape. I think we’ll get the job done.
“Honestly, for the kids, I’m not sure it would matter. They’re ready. They’ve been going up and down the halls saying ‘Game day, coach.’ We’ve practiced 17 times. We could play in someone’s basement. We’re ready.”
Klein teaches psychology and advance placement psychology for 10 years.
After serving as junior varsity coach for six years, Klein has been the varsity assistant coach for the last four years, including the 2011 state championship team.
As a player for Vitello, he was a member of the 1995 state championship team his junior year and an all-conference selection his senior year.
Following high school, Klein played for nationally ranked Rhodes College, as a four-year all-conference and all-regional forward, appearing in two NCAA tournaments. He finished his career ranked third all-time in goals, assists, and points. Klein earned a B.A. in Psychology from Rhodes College and an MS. in Sport Psychology from Florida State University.
“It’s an incredible honor and privilege to take over a soccer program with such a rich tradition,” said Klein. “As a player for Coach Vitello, he taught me what it meant to work hard in and out of the classroom, to be a good person, and to hold myself accountable for all my actions.
“As his assistant coach and friend, he’s taught me how to consistently impact a student’s life both on and off the field. More importantly, he has served as an excellent model for how to become a successful teacher, husband, and most of all, a man of integrity.”
Now, Klein is in charge of the storied program. He is glad it’s time to play.
“I’ve been itching for it just like the boys,” Klein said. “We need to get out and play. That’s an understatement. I can’t even put into words sometimes how much of an honor it is to be put in charge of this program.
“I can’t imagine wanting to do much else. I love teaching, being in the classroom and coaching. This is what I like to do.”
Klein noted Vitello has been his mentor as a player and as a coach.
“Oh well, he’s been giving me advice for 10 years,” Klein said. “His best advice is the enjoy it and work hard at it but don’t take it too seriously. He was a family first kind of guy. I watched him closely. I saw his one-on-one conversations that he’d have with the coaches and players. He would carry it beyond the soccer field.
“I hope I can continue it here at well that mentorship. If you think about it, only a fraction of the kids will go to the next level and play but they will go to college and get jobs and be husbands and fathers. This is more than just soccer. We donate our time to community. We’re about building character.”
When he was a player, Vitello told Klein and others that “if we can’t count on our in the classroom, we can’t count on you in the field.’
Klein will carry that through in his program.
“I made sure I took care of my books and then played on the field. That was my priority.”
As a coach, Klein likes to play possession soccer.
“I like confidence on the ball,” Klein said. “That doesn’t mean we’re putting 11 guys who dribble all over the field. I like lots of two-touch possession-style play.”
He is hopeful about his first team. Klein believes the Spartans will “surprise” some people this season.
“I’m very happy so far. They kids have responded to the change in the coaching staff,” Klein said. “They haven’t let up one bit. There’s a new fresh energy these guys are demonstrating. They want to do something special.”
The Spartans home opener is a tough one. Timberland reached the state title game before falling 3-1 to perennial power Rockhurst.
“It will be our first time playing them,” Klein said about Timberland. We’ll see how we stand. I hope for a good turnout. It’s a weekend game. The school is trying to do things to get the student body out.
“The keys are can we get our 23-man roster to know their role. Can we come together as a team? They’ve all got talent, no question.”