Armstrong introduced as MSU head soccer coach

MSU Athletic Director John Cohen, left, presents head soccer coach James Armstrong with a cowbell. (Photo by Kelly Donoho)

Staff Writer

Mississippi State soccer was only weeks out from its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance when the Bulldogs learned they needed a new head coach earlier this month.

Former head man Tom Anagnost resigned on January 4 citing personal reasons. On Wednesday though, MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen handed the reins of the program over to a man he’s confident can keep State’s momentum rolling as MSU introduced James Armstrong as the school's sixth-ever head soccer coach.

“We were looking for somebody who understood the nature of a winning culture,” Cohen said. “You hear that over and over again and it’s really hard to identify it and point at it. It’s one of those things you know it when you see it and we certainly saw it in coach Armstrong.”

Armstrong comes to the Bulldogs fresh off of a six-year stint as an assistant at Auburn. In the last two years, Armstrong served as the associate head coach of the Tigers.

All six years at Auburn were full of success for Armstrong. The Tigers reached the Southeastern Conference Tournament in all six seasons, reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years and notched a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015 as well as an Elite Eight in 2016.

Armstrong is betting on himself to try and now take the Bulldogs to similar levels of success and beyond.

“Something that I’m very passionate about is working to get better every single day,” Armstrong said. “You’re either getting better or you’re losing ground, so what we’re going to do, my staff and I, is make sure we maintain high standards and bring in more ideas to have even more success moving forward.”

The roots of the 39-year-old Armstrong’s coaching career stretch back nearly 20 years. He got his start as an equipment manager for the United States Soccer Federation in 2001 – a post that he held through 2004. He then moved on to become the director of coaching for the Lonestar Soccer Club in Texas for a decade.

One of Armstrong’s new players, MSU sophomore defender Miranda Carrasco – a Texas native – played club soccer in her home state before coming to Mississippi State and Carrasco said her former coaches are incredibly familiar with Armstrong.

Carrasco made a few phone calls to learn about her new head coach and liked what she heard.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive things about him,” Carrasco said. “It has just all been positive and great things. I’ve heard he’s a great coach and a great person on top of all that, so I’m really excited about all the accomplishments we’re going to make and the history we’re going to keep making.”

Armstrong also has coaching experience as an assistant and head coach with the U.S. Olympic Development Program where he has elected, trained and coached the top players from 13 southern states.

He started at Auburn in 2013 and immediately experienced winning ways with the Tigers. That stood out to Cohen in his search. Armstrong didn’t only have experience, he had a winning pedigree.

“Not only has coach Armstrong been a part of the Southeastern Conference, but he’s been successful in the Southeastern Conference,” Cohen said.

A possible black mark against Armstrong if there is one is that he’s never been a head coach in the SEC. Yes, he’s won as an assistant and developed an impressive reputation as a coach that can spark offenses and as a recruiter. However, he’s never had his own program.

He does now though. The Bulldogs are all his, and with Armstrong’s background and track record, he has no doubts he’s the man for the job.

“The one thing that I’d say is that I know I’m ready for this,” Armstrong said.