Todd Bretz the constant in Dunbar’s soccer success
BY MIKE FIELDS
Todd Bretz was only 24 when he signed on to coach boys’ soccer at Paul Laurence Dunbar when it opened in 1990.
Jon Akers, Dunbar’s first principal, had to find more than a dozen head coaches to staff the sports programs at the new high school, and he remembers that Bretz was “by far” his youngest and most inexperienced hire.
But Akers saw something in him.
“I could tell right away Todd had a passion for soccer,” Akers recalled recently. “But what I liked about him more than anything, he was going to discipline his players to work hard and be sportsmen.”
Akers’ new coaches also included Mike Meighan (football), Frank Watson (boys’ basketball) and Jud Brown (girls’ basketball). “They were all quality people who loved kids, but they had a tough love to make sure the kids behaved themselves and worked as a team, not as individuals.
“That’s what I saw in Todd, and the proof is in the pudding. Look at what he’s done.”
Look at what he’s done, indeed.
Bretz, now in his 27th season at Dunbar, is the state’s all-time winningest coach with 450 victories (450-157-33), including four state titles (1992, 2001, 2005, 2013) and two state runner-up finishes (1993, 2012).
That’s a stunning list of accomplishments for a guy who never considered coaching until after he graduated from college.
Bretz showed a special aptitude for the game as a player.
He was part of Lexington Catholic’s state title teams in 1982 and 1983 (he assisted on both of Sam Walton’s goals in Lexington Catholic’s 2-1 victory over DeSales in the ’83 finals). Bretz was a key player as the Knights put together a 36-match unbeaten streak.
“Winning a state championship is the dream of every high school athlete,” he said. “The first time we won it was a really big deal for such a small school. Then coming back to win it again the next year was huge.”
Bretz said he learned, and later adopted as his own, a lot from Knights’ coaches Jim Lankster and Paul Sprague.
“Both were masters of organization. Every practice was planned. Everything had a purpose and a rhythm.
“Coach Lankster was a master motivator, too.”
Bretz went on to play college soccer at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne before transferring back home to play at Transylvania.
Even then, he had no intention of pursuing a career in coaching.
“It never crossed my mind,” he said. “I was going into finance, majoring in business.”
But when he graduated in the late 1980s, the job market was bad and he wound up teaching fitness classes while working on his MBA at the University of Kentucky.
Then came a life-defining moment. Looking to make a few extra bucks, he started coaching a youth club soccer team, the Kentucky Kickers.
“We didn’t win a game that first year,” he remembered. “But you could see the team was getting better by the end of the season, and that was rewarding.”
He was hooked, and a coach was born.
Bretz changed gears and pursued an education degree at UK so he could teach and coach. Paris High School offered him a full-time job, which was tempting. Dunbar offered a position as a long-term substitute, with a promise to make him full time.
Bretz chose Dunbar, and the rest is history.
“That first freshman class we had was really, really talented, probably as good as any we’ve ever had here,” Bretz said.
Three seasons later, the Bulldogs won the state championship. They made it back to the title match the next year before losing.
“I was thinking we’d be able to do this (reach the finals) every year,” Bretz said. “But then came a stretch where we didn’t, and you realize how lucky you were. You’ve gotta have breaks, and everybody’s gotta be healthy. Soccer can be a cruel game. You can out-play somebody and still not come out on top.”
Dunbar has never had a losing season, and Akers points to Bretz as the common denominator: “Todd can take excellent players and make them even better, and he can take good players and make them excellent.”
Bretz isn’t comfortable being the focal point of the Bulldogs’ rich tradition. He credits the players first and foremost.
“Soccer is a players’ game,” he said. “The players win the games. I’ve been part of it, but the players on the field are the one who’ve done the winning.
“We’ve been very blessed to have had a lot of really good players here.”
That talent has included such stars as Tom Morgan, Sean Kelley, Brian O’Leary and Zach Byrd.
Bretz credits his support staff, too. John O’Hara, a teammate at Transy, has been his top assistant for 23 of the program’s 27-year history. Former Dunbar players Jeff Stone and Brian Lawless also serve as assistants.
“Having those connections makes it special,” Bretz said.
Bretz still has a passion for soccer. He’s still a fan of the game, watches it on TV, goes to clinics and club matches. Up until last year he played in an indoor league, but he had to curb his enthusiasm for that action because of family responsibilities.
He and his wife Christina have three soccer-playing daughters — Mary Elizabeth, Olivia and Isabella.
A signpost that shows just how long Bretz has been coaching Dunbar now: His oldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, is an eighth-grader playing soccer for the Bulldogs, whose girls’ soccer coach is Tom Morgan, who played on Bretz’s 1992 state title team.
Over the years, Bretz has had offers from other schools, but he’s stayed put for a reason.
“We’ve had great players, fantastic parents, great support from the administration and everybody involved,” he said. “Dunbar’s always been a special place.”
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