Hartford women's soccer coach John Natale is a finalist for the vacant job at Providence College, according to sources. Hartford, however, has initiated contract discussions in an effort to keep Natale with the Hawks well into the future.
Athletic director Pat Meiser said “We’re in the midst of negotiations” when asked Thursday night at the men’s basketball game about the contract status of Natale.
Multiple requests went unanswered Tuesday and Wednesday. As a private institution, Hartford has no obligation to discuss personnel, but the athletic department has otherwise always provided contract length upon request and even includes that information in press releases announcing new deals.
Reached Wednesday and again Thursday, Natale offered no comment when asked about Providence or whether he has been under contract since being hired in 2004.
Natale, 38, a Wethersfield native who played at Eastern Connecticut, is said to have interviewed in Providence last week. Others being considered, sources say, are Bridgeport coach Magnus Nilerud, two other outside candidates and Matthew Kagan, an assistant under previous Providence coach Jim McGirr. Kagan has been the Friars' interim coach since McGirr's resignation in January.
Natale is 82-78-29 in 10 years at Hartford, which has become an annual contender in the America East Conference. Since 2006, Natale's third season, the Hawks have had a winning record in seven of eight seasons.
Hartford, 73-53-26 in that span, won the conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Natale's record the last three seasons is 35-13-9. He and his assistants were named America East coaching staff of the year in two of those three seasons.
Providence, of the Big East, was 6-9-3 last season and 8-9-1 in 2012. McGirr was 57-84-24 in nine years, with one winning season. In a press release Jan. 10, Providence announced a national search would take place for a new coach.
Hartford announced Feb. 7 that men's coach Tom Poitras, who has led the Hawks to the America East championship game in two of his three seasons, signed a new five-year contract to remain as coach through the through the 2018 season. At that time, a request for information regarding Natale's status by The Courant was met with no response from Hartford.
Natale has extensive international experience, having worked as the Team USA video analysis coach under head coach Pia Sundhage leading up to and through the 2012 London Olympics, where the U.S. won Gold. Natale was also a scout for the national team leading up to the 2011 World Cup, which the U.S. lost the championship game on penalty kicks to Japan.
Natale maintains a close friendship with Sundhage, who is now the national team coach in her native Sweden. They were on the same staff under Mark Krikorian (former coach at Florida State and Hartford) for the Philadelphia Charge of the Women's United Soccer Association in 2001-02. In 2003, he was Sundhage's staff with the Boston Breakers of the same league. When Sundhage became the U.S. national team coach in 2007, she again asked Natale to follow her.
Hartford was 11-6-3 last season, losing an America East semifinal to Maryland-Baltimore County. Junior Chanel Johnson was the conference's striker of the year (All-American Amelia Pereira of the Hawks was striker of the year in 2012). Nine members of last year's team garnered all-conference honors. Raelynn Mikell, Stephanie Santos and Johnson were named to the first-team All-America East. All three return next season.