Ron Morris

Morris: Savitz winds down career at Irmo

rmorris@ thestate.comApril 25, 2013 


A year-by-year look at the 33-season coaching career of Irmo High boys soccer coach Phil Savitz:

HIS 33-YEAR career as the Irmo boys’ soccer coach coming to a close, Phil Savitz cannot help but turn nostalgic with each passing milestone and game. Thursday night , for instance, Savitz will participate in his final senior night celebration as part of Irmo’s regular-season home finale.

There will be the end of the regular season and one last run at a 14th state championship under Savitz. Then it will end, final hugs will be exchanged, and Savitz will be on his way to Lexington’s new River Bluff High next year to build a program anew.

“It has hit me in stages and I’m sure will continue to for quite awhile,” Savitz says. “I’m sure there are people who have left jobs after a long time where they were saying good riddance and I can’t wait to get out of here, and they were miserable.

“But that is in no way shape or form the way it is with me. ... My time at Irmo, the people, the players, the events, meeting my wife, raising my kids, coaching my son, all those things are just cherished moments and will be fond memories for a long, long time.”

Who would have thought in 1979 that a 24-year-old graduate assistant coach at South Carolina would, more than three decades later, establish the premier soccer program in the state? Who would have thought that a 629-81-5 record over more than three decades at Irmo was in the offing?

It certainly was not the woman in the Irmo High cafeteria that fall day during his first year on campus. Savitz was teaching at the middle school next door and had ventured over to the high school cafeteria for lunch with a few of his players.

“I must have looked pretty young,” says Savitz, who was charged the incorrect price for lunch.

“Did you charge me the student price?” Savitz recalled asking the cashier.

“Yes,” she replied.

“I’m not a student. I’m a coach.”

“Well, you owe me another dollar, then.”

Irmo has gotten the most out of Savitz ever since. It is not enough to record how many state 4A championships Irmo has won under Savitz. To full appreciate the magnitude of his teams’ accomplishments, you need to ask Savitz to name the state-title years, and let him rattle them off as he does his starting lineup for any night’s game.

“Let’s see,” he says, “There was ’82, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’93, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, 2000, ’03 and ’04.” It is easy to recall those teams, particularly the 1987 club that not only went unbeaten but also did not allow a goal during the regular season.”

So, Phil, do you recall the nine years Irmo fell just short by losing in the championship game, including 2009, 2010 and 2011, when it was the club’s only loss of the season?

“No,” he says without hesitation. “Don’t remember those.”

Savitz, and his 28-year-old son Zack, who played for his dad and now assists him as a volunteer on the sideline, do remember in 2003 when the head coach vowed to shave his mustache if Irmo won the state title. Sure enough, Savitz took care of the mustache, and for the first time his son and now 26-year-old daughter, Erin, saw him clean-shaven.

Now when Savitz sheds his Irmo ball cap for the playing of the national anthem, he sports salt-and-pepper hair. He will turn 58 in July. His wife, Jan, a teacher for 40 years, first at Irmo Middle School and now at Chapin Middle School, is contemplating retirement after this school year.

Savitz says the annual Irmo soccer alumni game, which attracts close to 50 former players every year, is the best indication of how long he has coached and his family has been a part of the Irmo community.

When he first started blowing his whistle and plotting strategy for his team, Savitz also lifted weights and ran wind sprints with its members. So when it came to the alumni game, both teams would argue over who got the head coach to play on their side.

“Then it gradually shifted, and all of a sudden they fight over who has to take me,” he says. “They say, ‘We took him last year, now it’s your turn.’ ”

One who was particularly interested in taking Savitz anytime as a coach was Luke Clamp, the new principal at River Bluff High and a long-time friend. After Clamp first asked Savitz about switching schools, the principal gave the coach more than a year to make a decision.

In the end, Savitz liked the idea of working with a friend and of facing an exciting new challenge. On a recent tour of the stadium where Savitz’ new team will play, the group went atop the stadium press box and peered out across the Lake Murray Dam toward Irmo.

Off in the distance, Savitz could see the light towers to W.C. Hawkins Field, where his Irmo teams have excelled year after year after year. Savitz’ son, Zack, says the view will forever allow Savitz to continue overlooking the Irmo program from afar.


A year-by-year look at the 33-season coaching career of Irmo High boys soccer coach Phil Savitz:

Year Record Finish
198116-0-1State runner-up
198218-1State champs
198717-0State champs
198819-1State champs
198918-2-1State champs
199019-0-1State champs
199119-1-1State runner-up
199220-2State runner-up
199319-1State champs
199521-2State champs
199622-1State champs
199722-1State champs
199821-1State champs
199918-4State runner-up
200018-4State champs
200222-1State runner-up
200321-3State champs
200422-3State champs
200522-3State runner-up
200923-1State runner-up
201025-2State runner-up
201124-1State runner-up
Total 629-81-5

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