Joe Kirt brought an unusual item to Tennessee soccer’s offseason workout in April.
A carton of eggs.
It was the week between former coach Brian Pensky announcing his departure to take over the program at Florida State and UT announcing Kirt as the new coach. Players were grappling with feeling upset their coach was leaving but at the same time understanding the opportunity he pursued.
Senior goalkeeper Lindsey Romig said it was the most unnerving week of her life. But in the midst of the chaos and rollercoaster of emotions, Kirt and assistant Jonathan Morgan were there to support the players.
TEAM CELEBRATES NEW COACH: Tennessee soccer embraces Joe Kirt – literally and figuratively – as new coach
So Kirt brought eggs to the workout and the players had an egg toss competition to lighten the mood.
“When we were kind of uncertain about what was going to happen, he still found a way to make it fun for us,” Romig said. “He sat us down after and he said, ‘We don't know what's gonna happen in the next 24 hours. But no matter what, we're family.’ Him just sitting us down and saying that, just meant a lot and we all knew that he cared.”
When Kirt called Morgan and told him Tennessee offered him the position, he felt relieved. There was no disappointment that Kirt was chosen over him, only happiness for his coaching partner.
“I was super excited for Joe, because he's worked his tail off,” Morgan said. “He is a super humble guy, doesn't want any kind of praise or notoriety or any kind of attention towards him. He just wants to kind of grind through and do his work. But I thought this was a really cool opportunity for Joe, and I'm glad I'm gonna be a part of it and be able to help support him.”
Why the players trust Kirt to do the job
That care and the feel Kirt has for the team’s emotions has always been there in his 15 years with the program. It’s hard to describe unless you’re around him all the time, Morgan said, but it’s one of Kirt’s strengths as a coach.
“Joe can be firm with the kids, but then the next second, he can go put his arm around the kids,” said Morgan, who has been at UT for six seasons. “Joe can see a kid who, maybe her shoulders are down a little bit and (she’s) having little confidence lapse, and you just see Joe kind of casually go over and have a conversation with them ... So it allows him in his own kind of way to go over and let them know that he cares, and let them know that they're doing all right, and that he's there for them.”
Romig is part of the team’s leadership group, which met with Tennessee athletic director Danny White during the hiring process. When the team met initially, Romig said they realized they had exactly what they needed already. So they told White they were confident in either Kirt or Morgan to lead the program moving forward.
The video that showed Kirt walking in as the team’s new coach was a moment Romig said they’ll remember forever. For Kirt, it drove home that he fit what the team truly wanted and they cared for him the same way he cared for them.
“It’s really nice to have that feeling reciprocated,” Kirt said. “We’ve gotten to know them and they’ve let us into their lives and they don’t have to do that, and they have. You really never know how they feel and so, push comes to shove and you’re in a situation like this, are they willing to go to bat for us and what they want?
“It really does make you feel good, it makes you feel valued and appreciated. Knowing that they trust you ... at the end of the day, all these relationships are based on trust. And if we can trust one another that we're trying to do what's in the best interest of them, and they genuinely believe that we're going to do that, it means a lot. We can build on that and grow as a program together.”
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: How Joe Kirt showed Tennessee soccer players he was right for the job