Jeff Cook is a visionary.
No, he hasn't necessarily revolutionized the world of college soccer nor does he have a trophy or a coaching tactic or a play named after him.
But what the first year Penn State men's soccer coach hopes to do is reinvigorate a program that hasn't posted a winning season since 2014, won just five games a season ago and is in for a much needed culture change — while instilling team-wide self-confidence as well.
Cook's squad battled Pittsburgh on Saturday in the Nittany Lions' third and final preseason match and, despite Penn State falling to the Panthers, 1-0, in an at-times physical and chippy match, Cook was pleased with his team's performance.
"I thought at periods of the first half Pitt had us under pressure a little bit, but I thought our defending was excellent and we could've been better with the ball in transition like I said at halftime," Cook said. "I was so impressed with how we came out in the second half."
Cook's sights however, are set far beyond the confines of Jeffrey Field on any given night.
Instead, Cook has made it his personal mission to restore Penn State men's soccer program, one which has made 32 NCAA tournament appearances and won 11 national titles, to its former glory while learning from, and remembering past results.
It's those recent past results that likely led to the departure of former head coach Bob Warming — who spent eight seasons at the helm of the Nittany Lions and made three NCAA tournament berths in that span — following the end of last season.
Still though, Warming is a giant in the collegiate men's soccer landscape as the current University of Nebraska-Omaha coach has amassed a career record of 461-240-82, good for third best among active Division 1 coaches and led Penn State to two Big Ten titles.
Cook recognizes just what it means to succeed Warming and the magnitude and importance of doing it at Penn State.
"Bob's been first class in terms of his support for me and the program. Obviously he, more than anyone else, would've liked the last few years to be a bit different because he did achieve a lot of success here at Penn State and throughout his career," Cook said. "I have nothing but respect for Bob and what he's achieved."
Cook has been successful in his own right though, compiling a career record of 180-138-49 while guiding Dartmouth to seven NCAA tournament appearances and earning one with Cincinnati as well.
This time though, it's different for Cook, who puts tremendous stock in the institution of Penn State.
"We want to respect all of the teams we play against, but we're using that slogan 'We Are Penn State,'" Cook said. "This is one of the iconic athletic departments in the United States and our men's soccer program should be no different."
The emphasis on returning Penn State to national prominence was one that Cook made clear when he first arrived and one that his players have bought into.
"Coach Cook's first message when he came here was to do well right away and to win things right away, and if we win things, it'll be a successful season," said redshirt senior defenseman Dani Marks. "He demands and sets the standard for us, to be professional every day and to always be the team that sets the tone. It may not always work, but that's our goal -- to be the team that controls the field. It doesn't matter who we play, even if it's the No. 1 team in the country."
There's a long leap from setting the tone during games to winning national championships, but that's one of Cook's ultimate goals, and motivators during his time leading Penn State.
After all, he occupies an office in Rec Hall and joked he needs the hardware to compete with the likes of women's volleyball coach Russ Rose, wrestling coach Cael Sanderson or fellow soccer coach, Erica Dambach who leads the Penn State women's soccer team.
"We're at Penn State. I walk in the hall every day and everyone around me has national championships all over the place, so I've got a bit of work to do," Cook said, chuckling. "I'm trying to think of it as a way to inspire me rather than intimidate me or hide from it."
As much as the thought of winning a national title inspires Cook, it inspires his players too.
"For me, success this year is all the way — a national championship," redshirt senior defenseman Ryan Gallagher said. "But, you know, as Dani said before, we're going to take this one game at a time, then postseason, through Big Tens and then hopefully NCAAs. But definitely the goal for us, our success, is just all the way."
Gallagher feels that with "probably some of the best" talent he's seen, he feels those goals aren't far-fetched.
While Cook would ultimately like to win an NCAA title during his tenure at Penn State, he was quick more measured when it came to defining a successful run leading the Nittany Lions.
"I have immense pride in being the coach at Penn State and I think NCAA Division 1 soccer is a really elite level of play in this country," he said. "But I think for me, success is returning Penn State men's soccer to its rightful place as one of the top programs in the country. I don't know how long it's going to take but we're going to work hard. Everything is possible here."