They’re a little too serious to be The Three Amigos, but not quite serious enough to be The Three Musketeers. Perhaps The Three Best Friends That Anyone Could Have is about as close an example as may easily come to mind.
Tom Anagnost is The Head Coach, capital letters intact, but all three of the men leading the charge to build Mississippi State’s soccer program into a national contender could be considered to have a similar title. They do, in fact, as Matt Kagan and Jason Hamilton are the Associate Head Coaches of the Bulldogs.
The trio first got together in south Florida when Anagnost was hired as the head coach of Miami’s soccer team. He quickly brought Kagan into the fold, having known him well from the recruiting trail and other previous interactions. Not long after arriving in Miami, they brought Hamilton in to help them run a camp for goalkeepers on the recommendation of another acquaintance, and they were so impressed with his work that they added him to the fold almost immediately.
Following the success he had as head coach at Central Michigan where he was two-time MAC Coach of the Year and led his team to two NCAA Tournaments, Anagnost had the Hurricanes in the NCAA Tournament in his very first year, and he and the new staff of assistants repeated the trick again in 2012, their second year with the program.
However, that season was fated to be their last in Coral Gables. But in their time together, the three had developed a strong bond of not just professional association, but as great friends. They kept up with each other almost daily, keeping a group message going over the years and deciding not long after leaving Florida that if ever one of them got a head coaching job at a major school again, the other two would come work for that person and the trio would be reunited.
“The plan was one of these guys get a big head job and then I just be their assistant,” Anagnost joked as the three sat in the coaches’ lounge of MSU’s team facility remembering the story that brought them together in Starkville.
Late in the fall of 2016, all three of the coaches were in Raleigh, North Carolina for a club soccer tournament. Anagnost was an assistant at North Carolina State and lived there, while Kagan was the associate head coach at Loyola Marymount and Hamilton was The Head Coach, capital letters, at Troy University. Hamilton, in addition to being a head coach, was also about to be a husband. And of course, Anagnost and Kagan were going to be a part of the festivities.
Their plan was to leave together from Raleigh after the tournament and head to the wedding, and that is what happened, but not before a little excitement got added to the situation. Early in the reunion, at the beginning of the tournament, news came that Anagnost was one of the top candidates for the open job at MSU. By Monday, a few days later, his status went from top candidate to preferred candidate. On Wednesday, the day they left for the wedding weekend, Anagnost was hired as Mississippi State’s new head coach.
“From Monday to Wednesday we were like, oh my gosh, please let it happen,” he recalled. “We were all together.”
For all the discussion they’d been having for over the last three years, all the hopes of getting back together and building a program into something great, now it was time for words to be followed by action. But there was one hiccup.
“We hadn’t told our wives,” the then husband-to-be Hamilton confessed.
“There was no way we were going to talk about it with his wife,” Kagan explained. “She’s got a wedding on her mind, let’s not throw that in the mix.”
They were quiet about things during the wedding weekend – Anagnost doing an excellent job of making calls to recruits, commits and current players while preparing to help one of his best friends get married – but with their dream in play, the three made quick work of things. On Saturday, Hamilton and his wife got married. On Sunday, everyone left town. By Tuesday, Anagnost was in Starkville. Kagan arrived on Thursday and Hamilton got to town on Friday. Finally, it was happening. They were together again.
Now, as they’ve begun their time at MSU, started practices and are ready to kick off their spring season this weekend, the three are reunited. Watching their practices, it’s easy to see how one might think MSU has three head coaches instead of just one. It’s even easier to see how a natural a trio they are, working together seamlessly without egos or frustrations. Each has their own strengths, their own areas of expertise they bring to the team.
Anagnost, who has had three assistants in his career go on to become head coaches at the D-I level, has shown an aptitude for making good hires and developing good coaches, allowing them to do what they do best.
“Who you hire is everything,” Anagnost said.
“Matt went to LMU and was good,” he continued. “They were 200 something, then they moved up to 50 and made the NCAA Tournament. A giant reason is because of Matt. I think Matt is one of the very best recruiters in the country, and he’s amazing with our players. He’s great at managing people. Plus, he’s one of my dearest friends.”
“[Jason] is an extraordinary goalkeeper coach,” Anagnost went on. “He’s tactically very advanced. Everything administratively, from a head coach perspective, he excels. Technologically, he’s off the charts. He’s just a do-er.”
Meanwhile, Anagnost himself is a more subdued observer, watching and thinking before acting and speaking, focusing on improvements in skill and stamina, as well as education and life experience.
“Tom teaches the game,” Hamilton said. “He teaches life to all of our players. They leave prepared for the real world. I think the best coaches in the world in all sports are also doing that for their staff. They’re challenging you.”
From here, the challenge begins. The three best friends have happily and enthusiastically taken on the challenge, each of them thoroughly convinced that something special can be done in Starkville, that Mississippi State can become a national contender.
Kagan and Hamilton acknowledge they left great jobs and situations to come together again, but all three of the new MSU coaches see the opportunity in Starkville as being even greater.
“We always said, if we could find a place where we thought we could be successful, we’d get back together,” Kagan said. “We’ve got great kids here. That’s first and foremost. We have an opportunity here to do something nobody’s ever done at Mississippi State.”
“You find me someone who doesn’t want to go to work and do what they love with two of their best friends,” Hamilton said, “then I’m going to call them a liar. Who wouldn’t want that? We’ve all left each other and been extremely successful. Now, you’re putting the three of us together in a room talking about one idea – it’s going to be hard for someone else to come up with a better idea.”
“You’ve got a school who’s got resources, got a facility,” Hamilton continued as he listed off the positives. “We’ve got everything you need to be successful. I don’t think it’ll take too long for us to get where we need to be.”