Eastern Oregon University has named its new men’s soccer coach just in time for the start of fall practice.

The Mountaineers announced Monday that Zach Mills, who comes to EOU from Southwest Mississippi Community College, will take over as the program’s third head coach.

“Through the interview process, it was evident that Zach shares the core values that we see as important within our department,” Anji Weissenfluh, EOU athletic director, said in a press release.

Mills was drawn to the prospective job in part to having Oregon connections. He has family in Portland, Beaverton and Bend, to name a few cities.

“Actually, most of my family is in Oregon. In my opinion, (the EOU coaching job fit) really well. I am very family oriented.”

He noticed a sense of family when he came to La Grande to visit with the athletic department.

“As soon as I got there, I could tell,” he said. “I loved the atmosphere. I felt super comfortable.”

Mills was the head coach at SMCC for two seasons, and had ample success in his time with the Bears. In those two years, the program posted a record of 23-10-2, and won at least 10 games in both seasons. In the process, he led the team to its first ever berths in the MACJC conference tournament, reaching the semifinals his first season and the quarterfinals in 2017.

SMCC went 13-6 in 2016, averaged 2.7 goals per game while allowing 1.7, and had five shutouts. A year ago, the Bears went 10-4-2, averaged 2.8 goals per game and allowed just 1.4 goals per game. They also registered four shutouts.

The previous four years, SMCC had a combined record of 16-42-7, and never recorded more than seven wins in a season.

One of the reasons for the turnaround was Mills’ ability to bring the right players on the team. That included players from Argentina, which he was able to recruit after the school was allowed to bring in international players.

“Mainly the international rule helps,” Mills said. “I have an eye for talent. When I find those guys I try not to recruit based on just numbers.”

He listed a strong work ethic and selflessness among some of the traits he looks for.

Mills, a 2010 graduate of Southern Mississippi, played professionally for a year in 2014, representing FC Olimpia in Moquegua, Peru.

He takes over as the third head coach at EOU in as many seasons. Ken Huber, who stepped into the position in 2017, left in late May to become the head coach at his alma mater, Olivet Nazarene University.

Mills said it’ll be a challenge leading the program with such a short turnaround before the season starts. The team takes the field for practice Aug. 6 and plays its first game Aug. 24 against Whitworth.

But he’s excited for the challenge. Part of that learning curve will involve letting the team just play to see what the skill set is.

“I don’t know any of these players really. I cannot wait to watch them (play),” Mills said.

The Mountaineers posted a record of 8-8-1 last season and went 5-7-1 in the Cascade Collegiate Conference. In three years of existence, the program has a mark of 26-23-2.

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