Fife girls soccer coach Tony Crudo is similar to most high school coaches in that he has a core philosophy in the way he directs his team, but most of the similarities between him and other coaches end there.
Most coaches don’t have nearly 40 years of experience in their sport helping to cultivate that philosophy. All those years lend credibility to a style most would call unconventional.
Crudo isn’t interested in wins, losses or state championships. His primary concern is being entertaining.
Make no mistake, Crudo is a winner. He’s in his third season coaching the Trojans’ girls soccer team and has just one loss this season. He also coaches Fife’s boys soccer team, which has made three appearances in the Class 2A state championship game in the past six seasons, including a victory over Cheney in 2012.
But when asked about winning state championships, Crudo holds true to the philosophy that he developed in his playing days.
“I don’t really care,” Crudo said. “All I want to do is play well. That’s all I care about. I want people to look at the team and go, ‘That looks like fun.’ ”
Crudo started playing soccer when he was 8 and saw early success. He said living in Seattle in the 1960s and ’70s was an advantage for him because there wasn’t a lot of soccer being played around the country, but this region was one of the few where the sport was flourishing.
“The key to being good back then was being in an area where there were enough good players to actually learn from each other,” he said.
Crudo signed his first professional contract the day after he graduated from high school, and he spent several seasons on the U.S. men’s national team, competing for the Olympic team and in World Cup qualifiers. Much of his time was spent traveling around the world playing soccer.
It was during those years Crudo realized something that has guided the rest of his life in the sport.
“It’s kind of like being in the circus,” Crudo said. “You go out and you play, and then you pack everything up and go off to another city and the next day you play again. You just travel around the world playing, so it’s kind of like being in the circus or a rock band or something like that.
“You very much realize that it’s an entertainment-type activity.”
Crudo made a living playing soccer through the 1982 season, and the original North American Soccer League folded two years later in 1984.
With his days as a professional over, Crudo returned to the Northwest. He played some amateur soccer, but his focus shifted to coaching and running his own business, which he did until he decided to take on a new endeavor in 2005.
Crudo became a special education teacher. He had his pick of several schools, but living in North Tacoma, he said he wanted to work somewhere he could ride his bike to school, which led him to Fife where he took a teaching job and was an assistant coach for the boys soccer team.
“Fife is a great place,” he said. “It looks like a not-so-great place from the freeway when you drive by because of all the car dealerships, but the truth is the people here are wonderful. The administration is outstanding. The kids are fantastic. It’s not what you would expect. It’s like a small town that time forgot in many ways. It’s just an amazing place.”
After two seasons as an assistant, Crudo took over as head coach of the boys team in 2007 — and he did it with the same philosophy he had as a player.
“All we ever work on is being fast, creative and skillful,” he said. “That’s my background. I always thought professional soccer is just entertainment really. It’s not war. It’s not a stand-in for battle. It’s not ‘Game of Thrones.’ It’s a game. Everybody works together — the referees and the other team. It’s an entertainment thing.”
There might not have been as many people watching as there were during his playing days, and they certainly weren’t paying the same amount of money to get in, but Crudo never wanted anyone to leave disappointed.
“One of the things I tell the team when I start coaching them is, ‘People are paying money to watch you play. You have to entertain them,’ ” Crudo said. “They know someone is going to win the game. There is going to be a winner and a loser. They know that is coming for $6, or whatever they’re paying to get in. You have to make them go, ‘That was a good $6 I just spent.’ ”
In his third season as the varsity girls coach, it appears his players have bought in.
“I have a lot more fun with him (coaching),” sophomore Taylor Goodpaster said. “I notice I play better when I’m around him. It’s just a positive atmosphere.”
Convincing high school players not to care about wins and losses isn’t easy, but Crudo’s success as both a player and a coach helps — even if the approach is unconventional.
“Some of the things he does might be kind of weird, and we’re like, ‘OK, this doesn’t make sense, and I don’t know why we’re doing it,’ ” senior Bella Robertson said. “Then we all remember who he is and what he’s done, and it’s like, ‘OK, if he’s telling us, then it must work.’ ”
And it has.
The Trojans have made the playoffs in each of Crudo’s first two seasons and have a chance to win their first league title with him as the head coach this season.
“Winning is usually a function of doing everything right,” Crudo said. “I always tell the girls and anybody I coach, ‘If you do everything right, you’re going to win 95 percent of the time.’ That’s a pretty darn good percentage.
“I’ll take that any day.”
Even with a league title on the line, you’ll never see Crudo coaching with a defensive mindset to preserve a win.
“I barely have a defense,” he said. “We run with one defender sometimes. Everybody is just supposed to dribble and be creative. I want to see tricks. We work on it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just random, but it’s got to be interesting.
“I want to see amazingness at all times.”