Jamie Starr had been out of coaching for about a decade when Xavier University men’s soccer coach Andy Fleming gave him a chance to join his first staff in 2010.
Now, serving as the goalkeepers coach for FC Cincinnati, Starr says he wouldn’t be where he is if it hadn’t been for Fleming.
The two will be on opposing sidelines for the first time Friday, when Xavier hosts FC Cincinnati for a friendly at 7 p.m. There is no admission to the match, which concludes FC Cincinnati’s preseason before opening at Charleston on March 26.
“I had taken about a 10-year break to start a family and a career, but I always wanted to get back into the game, because it gave me so many different things,” said Starr, who was a volunteer goalkeepers coach at Xavier until hired by FC Cincinnati in December.
“It was a chance to get back, and now it's giving back to me again. I’m where I am today because Andy Fleming gave me a shot. I'm just excited to be here and excited to see this grow.”
Starr, a 1994 graduate of Sycamore High School, met Fleming while recruiting at the local Blue Chip Showcase in 2000 — Starr as a graduate assistant at the University of Tulsa and Fleming as an assistant at Boston University.
The two had a mutual friend and ended up sitting next to each other the entire weekend and going out to meals together. By the end of the trip, they'd gotten to know one another well enough that 10 years later, when Fleming was hired at Xavier, he called Starr for tips on what to do and where to go in Cincinnati.
“There are some people you meet and you automatically connect with them and hit it off right away,” Fleming said. “Then, there are other people you run into after a long time not seeing or really speaking to them, and you re-connect right away like they had never been away. I would put Jamie in both categories.”
Starr had quit coaching after the 2000 season at Tulsa and was working in pharmaceuticals — something he still does today — and spending time with his son Riley, now 14 years old.
He'd been wishing to get back into soccer, so when Fleming called about his first head coaching job, Starr volunteered to help out. Three weeks later, Fleming took him up on that offer.
Fleming was taking over a program that had won five games over the two previous seasons combined and knew the staff he was putting together could be his biggest move as a coach.
“There was really no culture, no tradition here,” Fleming said. “I thought we needed honest people I could trust, and that came before anything else. I knew Jamie enough to trust him, and I knew Jamie right away would be a good ambassador.
“It was a little bit of a risk at that point, because he hadn’t been in it a while. But everything I did at that point was a risk, because we really had nowhere to go but up.”
Starr had just three years of college coaching experience at that point (he served as a graduate assistant at South Carolina after graduating in 1998), but had the characteristics Fleming was looking for in an assistant and an “incredible talent” as a player.
A former youth national team goalie, Starr was a four-year letter-winner at USC, where he helped the Gamecocks to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including as the No. 1 seed his sophomore year.
Starr’s playing ability and style of coaching translated well to Fleming’s team, which has since obtained three top-10 national rankings, four NCAA Tournament appearances, the program’s first-ever Sweet 16 berth in 2014 and six straight 10-plus win seasons. Starr trained keepers such as Big East Goalkeeper of the Year winners Dallas Jaye (2015), who is now a backup keeper for FC Cincinnati, and Eric Osswald (2014), who plays for the USL’s Real Monarchs SLC.
“He is very even-keeled, never gets too high or too low,” Fleming said. “He always has great perspective. He was very good at communicating with the goalies and very fair in how he evaluates them, and I think his even-keeled personality -- especially early on when we struggled quite a bit, his sense of humor and quiet demeanor -- was probably a good outlet for the guys.
“His ability to adapt and be a chameleon with the kids he gets is an asset.”
Fleming said Starr is “one of the most talented guys” he’s coached with, and he always thought Starr could be an MLS trainer.
FC Cincinnati coach John Harkes saw something similar when he watched a Xavier practice session in the fall. He asked Starr to help out at an open tryout in November and, soon after, the club offered him a job.
“He brings a lot of experience, good training habits, a good mindset,” Harkes said. “We approach the game the same, with great character as well. He likes to have fun and joke around, but also knows when to be serious as well. He's good with the keepers, and he'll take good care of them. He gives good advice from his experience. He's been all-around very good.”
For Starr, the decision to join FC Cincinnati was a no-brainer.
Since eighth grade, he has been a part of professional soccer attempts in Cincinnati, either as a fan, player or coach. He spent summers the past five years playing and coaching with the Cincinnati Saints, who moved to Dayton as the Dynamo after FC Cincinnati was born.
This effort feels different, Starr said. He’s anxious to see what FC Cincinnati can do, and he’ll do his part working with the club’s three keepers.
Mitch Hildebrandt, who previously played in the second-tier North American Soccer League, is the projected starter.
“I was very happy at Xavier,” Starr said. “I was hitting my ground there and enjoyed being a part of what Andy has done there, but when the opportunity arose here, it was something I couldn’t pass up — a chance to be a part of something to build on.
“When I first started at Xavier, there wasn’t a lot going on there, but to see it grow has been fantastic, and the chance to do that again with FC Cincinnati -- to build something from the ground up -- it’s a new and exciting challenge.
“And being here in my hometown, it’s pretty special to be a part of this.”