Mike Rubesch, who was head coach of the men’s soccer team for 19 seasons, passed away on Jan. 6. (Courtesy of Emory Athletics)

Former Emory University Men’s Soccer Head Coach Mike Rubesch, or “Rubes” as he was affectionately known, passed away on Jan. 6 at age 66 after an 11 year battle with early-onset dementia. Mike began his head coaching career at Emory in 1986, leading the first women’s soccer teams in their 1986 and 1987 seasons. He then became the head coach for the men’s team in 1988, a position that he held for 19 seasons.

Mike was born in Los Angeles and went on to play NCAA Division II soccer at Erskine College (S.C.). After graduating from Erskine in 1980, he coached the varsity boys’ soccer team at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta from 1981-1984. He helped transform the program with three consecutive Georgia Final Four state tournament appearances. Mike then brought his magic to Emory, where he served as the men’s assistant coach from 1984 to 1987 and head coach for nearly two decades, from 1988 to 2006.

The men’s team garnered great success during Mike’s tenure. He had an overall winning record of 236-99-22, eight NCAA Division III (DIII) tournament appearances, five University Athletic Association (UAA) titles and 16 victories during the 1989, 1991 and 2003 seasons, tying the men’s soccer school record for most wins in a season, which still stands today. He also oversaw three Emory men’s soccer teams that escaped conference play without a single loss.

Mike’s accolades included winning five UAA Coach of the Year awards and landing among DIII top 40 all-time highest winning percentages after his last year as a men’s coach in 2006. During his tenure at Emory, nine of his players earned All-America titles and five UAA Player of the Year titles.

After retiring from Emory soccer, Mike moved to South Africa to coach the South African Premier Division team Cape Town Spurs F.C., formerly known as Cape Town Ajax, from 2007 to 2008. He went on to split his time between the United States as an assistant coach for NCAA Division I Coastal Carolina University (S.C.) and his soccer academy in Hermanus, South Africa.

In honor of Mike’s coaching success, he was inducted into the Emory Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018.

Players remember Mike for more than just his brilliance on the field. Scott Kelly (92C, 00MR), a 1991 All-American, said Mike was “more than a coach:” He was also a “great friend.”

“Every time you saw him, he was like, ‘How’s your Mom? How’s your brother? How’s your sister? What’s going on in your life? How’s your girlfriend?’” Kelly said. “He really cared about you as a person.”

Ho Lee (91C), a 1990 First Team All-American, echoed these sentiments and praised Mike for his “genuine” care for those around him.

“The best way to describe him is, he wasn’t above the team, looking down … He was [a] part of the team, leading us from within,” Lee said. “That was extremely effective. It pulled everyone together. We genuinely liked each other and wanted to play for each other. I think a lot of our success those years was because of that.”

Lisa Rincon (88C) said Mike was a positive and fun coach with his constant chatter on the sidelines and sense of amusement. John Symbas (00C, 04M, 05MR, 10MR) said Mike made sure all of his players found “joy” in the game.

“He really seemed to be enjoying life, and he helped spread that good vibe throughout the team,” Rincon said.

Alumni players remarked on Mike being a visionary for Emory’s soccer program whose leadership transformed it into a nationally-recognized “power,” according to Matt Arnett (94C).

“He’s the one who put Emory soccer on the national map,” Lee said.

Mike Rubesch poses with the Emory University Men’s Soccer team in 1989, second row far right. (Courtesy of Philip Scarborough)

+ posts

Alina Glass (she/her, 26C) is from Baltimore, Md. She is double majoring in psychology and anthropology. Apart from writing for the Wheel, Alina is the public relations chair for Circle K, a writer for the Association for Women in Science newsletter and a volunteer for Sprouting Readers. When she is not writing for the Wheel, Alina loves to run, bake and spend time with friends and family.