NC State coach George Tarantini and Duke coach John Rennie in 1994 (Photo by Michael Lewis)

In October 1994, Michael Lewis, then the editor of Soccer Magazine, embarked on an eight-day sojourn in North Carolina to feature the various college soccer programs in the Tar Heel State. Lewis, now the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, profiled North Carolina State coach George Tarantini and Duke University coach John Rennie in the March 1995 issue of that publication. It was the first story of his trip to Carolina. In wake of Tarantini’s passing Wednesday, we are republishing the story.

By Michael Lewis

Long before it became fashionable for northeasterners to emigrate to North Carolina, John Rennie was a pioneer way back in 1979, when he came to Duke University.

He left a successful and fairly comfortable job as coach of Columbia University in New York City to take over the soccer program at the Atlantic Coast Conference school in Durham, N.C. It was quite a gamble because this was before the ACC became the ACC in soccer.

At that time, Clemson was the class of the conference. Virginia? Bruce Arena had just arrived a few years before and the Cavaliers were almost a decade away from becoming a national force.

Rennie has done his share to help shape the ACC, winning the NCAA Division I crown in 1986, reaching the final in 1982 and the semifinals in 1992. All told, the Blue Devils have earned an NCAA bid 10 times in 16 seasons under Rennie entering the 1994 season. During that span, an ACC school has taken home the NCAA Division I men’s championship trophy a remarkable seven times in the past 10 years before the 1994 season.

“I feel very good and somewhat ironic,” Rennie said. “We helped create a monster that devours you once in a while. It’s a nice problem to have.”

But the 49-year-old coach has had no regrets.

“It was an opportunity to go to a school and a league that had a different approach to athletics,” Rennie said. “I certainly was ready to leave Manhattan [where Columbia is based] after six years. That was enough.

“There also was an opportunity to run a camp. In New York, the sport wasn’t growing. I was a small fish in a big pond. College soccer hasn’t improved [there]. Here, the potential for growth was pretty obvious.”

Three years after Rennie settled down in the area that is known as the Triangle, another northeaster, George Tarantini, decided to take the plunge at the successful North Carolina State program in Raleigh, a long free kick from Durham. Tarantini joined State as an assistant to Larry Gross in 1982, taking on the head coaching reigns four years later. Tarantini directed Arlington High School to a sectional title, then was an assist coach at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and an Olympic Development Program coach with the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association.

While Tarantini and the Wolfpack have not won a national title, the team certainly has become a force to be reckoned with in the conference.

Rennie and Tarantini did know each other when they lived in New York but have become steadfast friends in Carolina.

“There is an American fallacy that the coaches have to be enemies,” Tarantini said. “You want to win. After 90 minutes you can be friends.”

The friendship started after Tarantini, then an assistant, and Ken Charles, an assistant under Rennie, became friends. “They were single, and they developed a remarkable kind of friendship,” Rennie said.

So did Rennie and Tarantini after the later was promoted to the top job. They can be seen talking — usually talking soccer — at game, conventions and other soccer gatherings.

“It’s not unusual for us to do that once in a while,” Rennie said. “We’re friends.”

On the field, however, it’s an entirely different story as Rennie and Tarantini are highly competitive, even though Tarantini did take time out in the second half of their Oct. 16 confrontation to talk to Rennie. “You guys are playing really well,” he told his friend.

But not good enough as Tarantini’s team upended Rennie’s squad, 1-0, on sophomore Carson White’s goal in the 77th minute at Method Road Soccer Stadium.

It was far from a masterpiece of a match, but State (4-1 league, 9-4 overall) managed to hold on as Kyle Campbell recorded his third consecutive shutout. He was helped tremendously when Duke’s normally reliable Jason Kreis, the team’s leading scorer, missed a penalty kick, shooting wide left with 23 seconds remaining in the first half after NC defender Kevin Scott was called for a hand ball in the penalty area. Matt Shattuck of Duke (2-3, 7-5-1) hit the right post about 15 minutes into the second half.

“Maybe that’s the way it should be,” Rennie said. “It’s the kind of game that the home team usually wins. You can’t win zero to anything. … We had more than enough chances to score goals.”

“It’s disappointing not to score. We got through their defense enough to score goals and we didn’t. That’s our fault.”

Afterwards, Tarantini reiterated his sentiments to Rennie to the media. “I thought Duke played very well,” he said. “The dominated play in the first half. I felt that the first team that score the first goal would win the game.”

In the waning minutes of the match, David Little and Cory Kirspel provided some off-the-field entertainment for the fans. Little had suffered a bloody nose in a collision at midfield and was ordered off by the referee to change his jersey and get his face cleaned. Kirspel gave his friend his jersey. But that wasn’t good enough for the officials, who wanted Little to change his shorts, which had blood on them as well. So, LIttle went back to the bench for some help from Kirspel. Both players took their shorts off and traded them as they were partially shielded by their teammates. Little eventually returned to the fray.

After all, what are friends for?

Just ask John Rennie and George Tarantini.

And here’s another story you might be interested in:

GOODBYE, GEORGE: Ex-NC State men’s coach Tarantini dies