Giving Back to the Game
Men's soccer great Robin Chan talks leadership, legacy and leaps of faith.
By Jerry Durney and Christina Hardman
If you were to ask someone, “Who is among the most important people in Florida Tech men’s soccer history?” the name Robin Chan ’91, ’93 MBA, would come up almost immediately. Between his time first, as a player and now, as head coach, Chan has been an active part of the Panther soccer program for 21 years.
Over 30 years after helping put Florida Tech on the map as a national soccer power through his play on the field, Chan has helped bring the Panthers back to contention once again, this time, from the sidelines.
That fact and the résumé he has continued to craft in this time frame, however, cannot do justice to the path that Chan took to get where he is now.
Today, people can do a simple internet search to find what they need to know about a school. Chan did not have that luxury while living in his childhood home of Walton-on-Thames, England, in summer 1987.
“It was a particularly late process—like, a really late process—in terms of my getting here for that first season,” Chan says. “It was in the summertime that I was being recruited; Chris Payne [’91], as well. I think it was maybe three, four weeks that we were deciding that we’re going to go and get on the plane.”
After arriving in Melbourne on what he describes as “a leap of faith,” Chan immediately fit in as a Panther. He finished his collegiate career as a three-time First Team All-Sunshine State Conference (SSC) selection and earned a Second Team All-American nod in his senior season in 1990.
He helped the crimson and gray earn back-to-back SSC Regular Season Championships in 1988 and 1989. To this day, he remains in the program’s career top 10 for goals, assists and points. He was inducted into the Florida Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the SSC Hall of Fame in 2008.
His crowning achievement in a Panther uniform came during his sophomore season in 1988, as he scored in Florida Tech’s 3-2 victory at California State University, Northridge, to secure the university’s first national championship.
After concluding his professional playing career, the game brought him back to Babcock Street, as he became head coach at Melbourne Central Catholic High School, where he led the Hustlers to two state championships and five final four appearances between 1998 and 2005.
That’s when his alma mater came calling, hoping that one of the men who had helped elevate the program to such heights nearly two decades before could bring the Panthers back to that place after some down years following the retirement of legendary coach Rick Stottler.
Starting his first season in fall 2005, Chan realized that it was essential to build something that could be sustainable for the program’s long-term success as opposed to an immediate winner.
“It wasn’t all about winning right away. It was about trying to build, and it starts with building little blocks,” he says. “I think we first had that in the first couple of bigger classes that came with players like Dean Faithfull [’11], Ryan Moon [’11, ’14 MBA,] and Nick Robinson [’12, ’13 MBA]. When those guys stuck in the program, they recognized that they had a responsibility at that point. We were investing in them to come in and help us build the program back, and I think that they really bought into that.”
Since the start of the 2010 season, the Panthers have finished inside the top four of the SSC six times, have received three NCAA Tournament berths and have been ranked inside the nation’s top 25 at some point in six of the past seven seasons, reaching the top 10 in three of those seasons. Thirty players have been named to the All-SSC team, including 12 on the First Team. Chan has been named Coach of The Year twice, and in the 2022 season, he and assistants Robinson, Chris Callaghan and Martin Peat ’98 were named Coaching Staff of The Year.
The 2022 season saw, what is to this point, the high-water mark of Chan’s tenure, with the team going unbeaten during the regular season, ranking inside the nation’s top 10 for seven weeks and, on Nov. 6, 2022, earning the program’s first SSC Tournament championship title, with a resounding 4-1 victory at Barry University in the final. The team earned the No. 1 seed for Super Region 2 in the NCAA Tournament and, ultimately, reached the Sweet 16. Four players were named to the All-SSC team, and goalkeeper Luis Tovar Romero was named the conference’s Defensive Player of The Year.
If you ask those who have played for and coached alongside Chan, his biggest strengths are his man-management skills and his genuine care for his players that goes well beyond the pitch.
“As a player, you may think that it was a quick decision in the game or for a starting lineup. But the reality is, it’s a talk. It goes on a lot, back and forth and thinking about how it’s going to affect everyone’s mentality,” says Panther women’s soccer head coach Moon, who played for Chan and later served alongside as an assistant coach. “I learned that from Robin when I moved into the coaching role. I think seeing his management of players and his availability to talk and listen mostly to players gave them that feeling of trust that I had for him when I was a player. I saw how he cultivated those relationships with players from the other side.”
“It was more than what I could ask for,” says Sam Sawyer ’17, who also went on to serve as an assistant for Chan after becoming the first Panther to win SSC Defensive Player of The Year in 2016. “He was always there for me if I needed something to talk about. Or if it was, ‘Sam, we need to talk,’ he would always take the time to come and have a chat. The door was always open, and if there were any issues that you had, you were always able to move on from there. He would always look after you.”
Moon and Sawyer aren’t the only Panthers who were inspired by Chan to get into the coaching side after their careers at Florida Tech. Joe Barber ’14 was recently named Appalachian Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in his first season at Milligan University. Gary Ogilvie ’13 serves as assistant coach at the University of Charleston, which also made the NCAA Tournament this season. Robinson has served as the top assistant at Florida Tech for each of the past two seasons.
This isn’t just a sign of the influence that Chan had on his players, but it’s something he had hoped for, as well—a way of paying forward the game that helped give him the life he lives today.
“I think it’s really rewarding. I think it’s important for players to feel like they should give back to the game. Whether it’s youth coaching or whatever,” he says. “I think college is another step that shows your dedication to wanting to be a coach after that. I think that motivation was there for me when I finished playing and was feeling like I had responsibility to give back to the game.”
The bonds and the culture that Chan helped build both on and off the pitch have manifested themselves in truly poetic ways.
As the Panthers hosted Lander University in a thrilling second-round NCAA Tournament matchup that Florida Tech ultimately won on penalty kicks, several of Chan’s former players were among the crowd at Rick Stottler Field and eager to celebrate with their former gaffer afterward. When you talk with them about their coach, it becomes very evident as to why.
“I think that was the main thing that Channy installed in you: It was, ‘You’re a family at the end of the day—whoever played before you, whoever played after you,’” Sawyer says. “At the end of the day, Channy has so much time for anyone. No one has a bad word to say about him, and everyone wants to see him do well. And that’s why people stay around and support the team as much as they do. It’s mainly because of Channy.”
Now married with two sons, Chan talks with contentment and relief about the decision he made to choose Florida Tech that summer, despite having received offers from Division I schools.
Sometimes, a leap of faith can benefit many.
This piece was featured in the winter 2023 edition of Florida Tech Magazine.