After their senior season, many student-athletes ultimately retire from the sport they play as they say a farewell to their school’s athletic program, never to work with their fellow coaches or teammates again. This was not the case for Mike Saalfrank.
After his final season as the starting goalkeeper for the Red Hawk men’s soccer team in 2018, Saalfrank joined the Red Hawks coaching staff in 2019 as a goalie coach.
Saalfrank played goalie for Ramsey High School. He came to Montclair State in 2015 after being impressed with his visit to the school. Saalfrank would go on to play four seasons as the starting goalkeeper for the Red Hawks men’s soccer team.
In those four seasons, he played in 85 total games, posing a career 1.20 goals-against average and .780 save percentage.
He made the Second Team All-New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) twice and was a key member of a program that won two NJAC championships and competed in three NCAA tournaments.
What Saalfrank treasures most from his playing career are the friendships and bonds he formed.
“I don’t think any accolades or anything reflects anybody’s career,” Saalfrank said. “I think there’s a lot of guys on everything that go unnoticed regardless, so personally, those are great. I love having that to my name, but I think my career here is better reflected in the friendships I’ve made off the field, on the field.”
Saalfrank went on to talk about his academic career at Montclair State.
“The degree that [Montclair State] gave me is great,” Saalfrank said. “I have a job already, after the season. I actually took a coaching class here. One of the things I learned from that is the way to judge a kid’s career. If you coached them well, ask them in 20 years.”
While reflecting on the time he has spent thus far with the soccer program, Saalfrank got a bit sentimental.
“You don’t remember the All-NJAC or the NJAC championships,” Saalfrank said. “You remember the friendships you make and the memories you have on and off the field. So in that sense, I think I had an amazing career here. I have so many friends in this [soccer program]. Like, all my friends are from here. So that’s awesome for me.”
In his senior season, Montclair State did not have a goalie coach as part of their staff. This ultimately led to Saalfrank embracing a “player-coach” role in 2018. Following the season, the men’s soccer team needed someone to watch over the five goalies on the roster heading into 2019. Head coach Todd Tumelty offered Saalfrank the role of goalie coach, which he accepted.
“I took it knowing that I would have a job right after school, which definitely made my parents happy,” Saalfrank said. “I learned a bunch of things in the offseason and kind of tried to put them into the training sessions this year, and keep the five goalies we have on the team this year kind of in-line and make sure they get good training.”
Transitioning from a player to a coach in just one season can yield some challenges. For Saalfrank, he found that coaching the players that he was formerly teammates with to be quite interesting.
“It was easy in the sense that I knew the program that I was working with, rather than going to a totally different program,” Saalfrank said. “I knew the rules. I knew the ins and outs of the program. However, coaching with the players that I played with was pretty fun because it’s all my friends.“
While Saalfrank has gotten used to coaching some of his friends on the team, he knows he has to keep his personal and professional relationships separate.
“Keeping the coaching relationship, the professional relationship and the friend relationship is kind of tough to balance. But I think all of the players respect me as a captain last year and as a coach this year. It’s not a huge transition, but I’d say it’s keeping me on my toes,” Saalfrank said.
Of all the skills that Saalfrank had as a player, he felt communication was the biggest one to transfer over into his coaching position. With five goalies on the Red Hawks roster in 2019, it was crucial that Saalfrank was straight up and honest with them regarding what he needed them to do and when it needed to be done, that way everyone stays on the same page.
As of right now, Saalfrank does not know how much longer he will remain with the men’s soccer program as a coach. However, he is honored to have served as a player, a coach for the Red Hawks and to have worked with coach Tumelty for so many seasons.
“[It is] an honor to both play for this team [and] to have Montclair on my chest,” Saalfrank said. “It’s a great program, one of the top [Division III] programs in the country, soccer-wise. It’s a great school. Being able to represent the school on and off the field is awesome, and I think it really meant a lot for me, knowing what coach [Tumelty] thought of me, being able to bring me back on staff after playing.”
“We had a great relationship as a player-to-coach and now [having] a coach-to-coach relationship is totally different, but it speaks a lot to what he thinks of me and the standards he holds me to,” Saalfrank said. “It’s just awesome knowing he trusts me with this ability, not just to play for him, but now to go on and coach with him, which is really, really cool. It means a lot.”