HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - When Mohammed El-Zare arrived in Hattiesburg in 2013, Southern Miss women’s soccer had not won more than five games in any of the past five seasons.
He’s led the Lady Eagles to a 52-64-17 record in seven years including a school-record 13 wins and 11 shutouts in 2018 – a part of USM’s first trip to the Conference USA title game.
But rather than talking about the victories, El-Zare measures his success as a coach on the personal growth of his players.
"As coaches we focus on the X's and O's,” said El-Zare during a sit-down interview in December of 2018. “And we learn that it's not only about the X's and O's, it's about developing people. And that is something that's a part of our philosophy, a part of how we want to win on the playing field. And we win with people."
"He genuinely cares about you as a person before an athlete,” said USM junior forward Hailey Pohevitz. “And I think when you get into college sports that sometimes gets lost." "He's worried about you, your school, your family,” said USM junior defender Caitlin Pierce. “He puts himself more involved in your life so it shows that he cares. We have this high level of respect for him."
Born in Ethiopia, El-Zare played at the club level and professionally in Egypt. Soccer has served as his chauffeur in what’s been an enriching journey around the world.
El-Zare came to the States in the late 1980s on a soccer scholarship from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.
His 27-year coaching career began as a volunteer at St. Thomas University where he eventually took over as the head coach in 1996. El-Zare’s also made stops at Florida International (1999-02), the University of Mobile and South Alabama (2002-11).
“I don’t know if I would’ve continued to get higher education if I had not been to the United States,” El-Zare said. “Soccer has given me that platform and I was fortunate enough to get a college degree and be able to play the sport that I love. I could have not wrote this. I never thought that I would be here coaching if you asked me 25, 30 years ago.”