Despite—or perhaps because of—his success over the years, Arena has had few fans among college coaches or the muck-a-mucks at the U.S. Soccer Federation. This son of a Brooklyn butcher is considered a little too imperious and a little too outspoken by his colleagues, and a lot too critical by the federation honchos, who passed over him for the Olympic job in 1994. "Bruce can't tolerate incompetence," says Virginia assistant coach George Gelnovatch. "And he always speaks his mind."
Here's what was on it last week: "The federation's decision makers had seen other American coaches fall on their faces, and didn't want to hire another one. But those decision makers don't know anything about soccer." Nevertheless when the Olympic team post became vacant three months ago, those same decision makers threw Arena into their hat. "If I fall on my face, I'm a dope and so are they," he says flatly. "If I experience some success, we're all geniuses."
At next year's Summer Games, teams will be allowed three players over the age of 23. Arena's pool of potential Olympians includes many past and present Cavaliers, including two-time World Cup midfielder John Harkes, who plays for West Ham in England's Premier League, and midfielder Claudio Reyna of Bayer Leverkusen of the German Bundesliga. But patronage is not in Arena's plans. "I'm not interested in having a Virginia Alumni Day," he says. "We're going into the Olympics as underdogs. I can't field 11 friends. I've got to have 11 players. We're playing for keeps."
Whether he takes Cavs or Cav-nots to Atlanta, Arena will likely leave the Golden Jockstrap in Charlottesville. Even after the loss to Duke, it hasn't lost its luster. "I don't blame the jock for the defeat," Gelnovatch says. "It's not like we look at that thing and pray to it. Why make it bigger than it already is?"
For the record, it's an extra large.