In this Times file photo from Oct. 26, 2013, Barton men’s soccer coach Matt Akins watches the action during a match at Barton
Outdoor Athletic Complex. Akins announced Tuesday that he is leaving Barton after 10 seasons to become associate athletic
director at College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y.
By Paul Durham
After 10 years as the men’s soccer coach at Barton College, Matt Akins thought he and his family would be permanent fixtures in Wilson.
But when a chance to return to upstate New York, where he grew up, presented itself, Akins couldn’t say no. On Tuesday morning, the 38-year-old Akins, who has also been an assistant athletic director at Barton for the past two years, announced to his players and colleagues at Barton that we had accepted the job of associate athletic director at College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. His last day at Barton is June 5.
“It’s been an emotional day for me,” Akins said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
The decision to leave Wilson was not an easy one, he said, given that he and his wife, Bridgette, and their 8-year-old son, Jack, and 5-year-old daughter, Eva, consider it home.
“Early in my career, I thought it was going to be a quick stop,” Akins said. “The longer I stayed here, the more I enjoyed it. Bridgette and I are immersed here and our kids are as well. Truthfully, only one or two schools in the country would have been what it took for me to leave here.”
College of St. Rose is, like Barton, an NCAA Division II school located in the state capital, about 200 miles from Akins’ hometown of Lisbon, New York, which just inside the border from Canada. He won’t be coaching soccer anymore but the new job represents a step up the ladder in administration, in which Akins has been involved since he came to Barton in 2007.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Akins said of his reasons for taking the job. “It’s got a lot of appeal. Career advancement is a big part of it and it’s in a location that’s appealing from a standpoint that it’s close to my family and close to where I grew up.”
Akins’ first collegiate head coaching job was at Barton, where he succeeded longtime Bulldogs head coach Gary Hall. Akins came from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he was the men’s and women’s soccer assistant coach for two years. Prior to that, he served as a volunteer graduate assistant men’s soccer coach at the University of Kentucky for two seasons.
Akins was the athletics admission counselor at Barton from 2007 until he was named assistant AD and compliance director in 2015, when Hall stepped down as AD.
“Coach Matt Akins has been a loyal and dedicated employee at Barton College for the last 10 years,” Barton Director of Athletics Todd Wilkinson said in a release from the school. “His contributions as a coach, administrator and community member have been transforming. He has been a true professional, and his departure will leave a void throughout the Barton and Wilson community. Barton thanks him for his service, and we wish Matt and his family health and happiness as they move closer to family and engage in a new opportunity.”
Akins offered his gratitude towards Hall and Wilkinson for fostering his career both as a coach and an administrator.
“Guys like Todd Wilkinson and Gary Hall, who had entrusted me with leadership roles, and I’m forever grateful to them,” he said. “It was a very humbling experience that they placed that trust in me.”
Akins inherited a Bulldogs program that had struggled in the final year or two of Hall’s lengthy and successful run as head coach. The situation didn’t turn around immediately but Akins eventually found his footing and returned a measure of glory to Barton’s men’s soccer program. His 2014 team went 13-7 and became the first in school history to land an invitation to the NCAA Div. II tournament. Along the way, Akins coached one All-American, two Academic All-Americans and a host of all-conference and all-region players.
And leaving his current players, he said, was the hardest part, but he’s confident he has left the program in good shape.
“I think the indicator for me, at least, is that when I have to look these players in the eye and tell them I’m leaving, as hard as that is, if it wasn’t a good program with a solid foundation it would be easy to leave,” he said.
Leaving coaching is also going to be tough, he said.
“It’s hard because the name and the title “Coach” defines in a lot of ways, but I feel pretty comfortable that my career path is in administration,” he said.
Akins has been involved with Wilson Youth Soccer Association throughout his time in Wilson, even serving as the WYSA’s director of coaching for six years. That experience will be a boon as he continues to mentor Jack and Eva in their youth soccer careers.
So his coaching days aren’t exactly over.
“No, they’re just beginning!” he said. “I’ll always have that!”