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The University of Idaho soccer coach whose team lobbied the State Board of Education to save the program from budget cuts has left the Vandals.
Coach Derek Pittman was named the new women's soccer coach at UTSA in San Antonio on Monday.
The State Board agreed last month to give Idaho an extension on the deadline to reconcile its athletics deficit, which prevented the immediate termination of the soccer program. But the program remains in peril long term while the university tries to convince the State Board to change the way it accounts for athletics spending.
"I won't lie. It was definitely a factor and a piece of our decision," Pittman said. "But it was just a piece of it. We're very excited about the opportunity at UTSA. ... It gets us closer to family."
Pittman, who is from Oklahoma, led the Vandals for four seasons. They won Big Sky regular-season championships in 2015 and 2016 and he was the 2015 Big Sky Coach of the Year.
The Vandals are loaded going into 2018, he said. The full-time assistant position already was open, so they'll have a new staff.
"Probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do is telling this team and these players that have invested so much in our program that we were stepping down and moving on," Pittman said. "I feel the team is in a great place with our leadership and our seniors that are going to be leading the team next year — that they're going to be fine without us. At the same time, these players have gone through a lot. It made it very, very difficult for my wife and I to say goodbye to them."
Pittman learned during the first week of April that the Vandals soccer program was in danger — along with women's swimming and diving and men's golf — because they aren't core, required sports in the Big Sky. Team members gathered in the ensuing days to write letters and emails and make phone calls lobbying the State Board to grant Idaho's request for more time to handle its deficit.
Pittman was outspoken about assurances he'd received that soccer wouldn't be cut and the value of the program. Idaho asked the Big Sky for a waiver from its core sports requirement that would have allowed a different sport to be cut if the budget problems couldn't be corrected but the conference declined.
“We believe we should be supported on our performances ... but not only that, as a successful program, we deserve investment,” Pittman said April 9. “That’s our aim. We will be doing everything we can to make sure that happens for 2018 and the years to come.”
The State Board made its decision April 19, and UTSA made contact with Pittman that week as well, he said. UTSA eventually cut its list to three finalists and brought him to campus. He'll inherit a struggling program in a competitive Conference USA. New Athletic Director Lisa Campos moved to UTSA from Northern Arizona of the Big Sky.
"There's a new president there, a new athletic director," Pittman said. "(Campos') vision for all of the UTSA athletic department as well as women's soccer really excited us."
Said Campos, in a press release: "(Pittman) has proven to be a program builder who has a great ability to identify talented student-athletes through the recruiting process. He also shows a deep passion for a team-first mentality and relationships."