Above: Preston Goldfarb, Birmingham-Southern men’s soccer coach, watches as others pay tribute to him in one of his final games before retirement. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)
The postgame soccer scoreboard would have prompted a double take by a passerby Sunday at Birmingham-Southern College’s Berylson Park. The final score appeared to be 33-33 with the clock frozen at 3:63.
Fans and former players who saw the Panthers men’s team blank Sewanee 1-0 knew the true message. The team had just handed head coach Preston Goldfarb win No. 363 in his 33rd and final year on the Hilltop.
Three seniors were recognized before this game, the last home contest of the regular season. But halftime and postgame tributes followed to recognize the man who built BSC soccer.
“I started the program from scratch,” recalled the coach for whom the field is named. “We didn’t have a field, we didn’t have a team. We had some goals out there that were broken and dilapidated from their club years. They had some players from their club team but we didn’t have anything.”
Joe Webb had played on those club teams. Now the Mountain Brook High boys soccer coach, he was a senior when Goldfarb arrived.
“I definitely got the sense that it had taken a turn for the better,” Webb said, recalling the two club coaches who preceded him. “I expected things to continue upward. I don’t know if anybody expected 33 years. I kept watching them get better and seeing how it became a real program as opposed to the humble beginnings we started with.”
Joe Dean Jr. arrived at BSC the same day as Goldfarb. The two were introduced at the same press conference – Goldfarb as soccer coach, Dean as the men’s basketball coach.
“It’s obviously emotional when you put your whole life into a job as Preston has done here at Birmingham-Southern,” said Dean, now the athletic director. “It’s got to be a little bittersweet for him to walk out after 33 years. But he set a remarkable standard of excellence for this program and has been an ambassador all these years for Birmingham-Southern College.”
Goldfarb had coached youth soccer and started the soccer program at the old Birmingham University School. He went on to finish law school and practiced law for a time before going to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in hospital administration.
Goldfarb was working at UAB when he got a call from then-BSC athletic director Rob Moxley. Goldfarb admits he almost didn’t stay after a frustrating first year.
“I saw it as a challenge to start an intercollegiate program from scratch and see if I could do something with it,” he said.
Goldfarb said he always wanted to be a coach. He thought he would coach basketball, which he played. But he fell in love with soccer while visiting Germany in 1972 with his brother.
“I started going back over there to learn the game from them,” he said. “This has been one of the greatest loves of my life, besides my wife and my children, to be able to coach. Now it’s time to move on.”
Under Goldfarb’s leadership, the men’s soccer program has had nearly 100 All-Conference selections, 38 All-Region selections, 35 All-Americans, five Conference Players of the Year, 11 Senior Bowl participants, two National Players of the Year and 12 BSC Sports Hall of Fame inductees. His teams have won 17 conference championships, three regional titles and have made five national tournament appearances, including two Final Fours and one national runner-up finish.
Since 2008, Goldfarb said he’s had seven or eight major surgeries and has beaten cancer, “I hope.”
“It’s been a tough time,” he said. “It’s time to turn it over to someone who is younger than I am. I still have a lot of energy. It’s just the bus rides are killing me.”
Goldfarb is handing the reins to former player and current BSC assistant coach Greg Vinson.
Sunday’s win improved the Panthers to 11-2-2. The first of two remaining regular season games is 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Emory. Birmingham-Southern could host a first-round game in the Southern Athletic Association tournament with a top-four finish in the league.