Longtime local soccer coach Phil Savitz begins final farewell, will retire after 2024 season

Posted 2/28/24

Legendary soccer coach Phil Savitz made one of the toughest decisions in his life just a few months before the start of the 2024 soccer season. 

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Longtime local soccer coach Phil Savitz begins final farewell, will retire after 2024 season


Legendary soccer coach Phil Savitz made one of the toughest decisions in his life just a few months before the start of the 2024 soccer season. 

Savitz, the state’s all-time winningest soccer coach with 806 victories entering this season, announced in November his 45th season of coaching would be his last. His farewell tour began this week with a team championship in the Capital City Cup. 

“Most people really don’t love what they do, and they just can’t wait to get to that point where they can not do it,” Savitz said. “Every year, I’ve kind of gone ‘Yeah, I think I’m definitely going to do it another year,’ and this year, I started thinking with two grandkids, and I’ll be 69 on my birthday in July. I started thinking maybe take a step back and just see what it feels like.”

Once he made the decision Savitz told his family, then the school and finally addressed his team. The players respected and understood the decision but also felt disappointed it would be their final year with the only boys head soccer coach in River Bluff history. 

“I think they were shocked, I think in some cases some of the seniors were kind of funny because they said, ‘Hey coach, we’re going out together,’” Savitz said. “Every single person was supportive, but I could also tell that there was some disappointment,  which felt good because you could tell that they wanted me to be their coach, or they wanted me to still be a part of their lives. And that felt good.”

Savitz said his decision to retire was shocking for his family and difficult for him to make. He is used to making these types of choices though and has done so many times throughout his career. 

From his decision to start playing soccer as a senior in high school at A.C. Flora to accepting multiple different coaching opportunities, Savitz has had to go with his gut on multiple occasions. 

One of those earliest decisions was when he chose to stay close to home and accept a job as a graduate assistant instead of going to UMass for the same job. 

Savitz was set to take the UMass job before the newly appointed head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Mark Berson, got in contact and asked him to join his staff. 

“I said, ‘Mark, I appreciate it, but I’m heading to University of Massachusetts here shortly to take a graduate assistantship,” Savitz said. “He said, ‘Don’t go. Tell them you’re not going and stay here with me.’ So I went home and mulled it over, and decided to do that. As luck would have it, right at the end of my two years, the Irmo job opened up.”

Savitz accepted the Irmo job, and from there, his career took off. He spent 33 seasons as head coach of the Yellow Jackets, winning 634 games, 13 state championships and six runners-up trophies. 

Irmo won four consecutive state titles on two separate occasions during Savitz’s tenure. The first four-peat came from 1987-1990 and the second from 1995-98. 

Winning his first championship in 1982 at Irmo was a huge obstacle the coach had to overcome, he said. 

“After losing in two, I was like, ‘Am I ever going to get another chance?’” Savitz said. “Luckily, I did.”

In 1993, Savitz watched his son, a senior captain, nail a penalty kick in the state title game to win Irmo its sixth championship under Savitz and eight overall. 

“There were so many other amazing memories and occasions,” Savitz said. “Don’t think that championships are the only thing that are important to me because they’re probably way down the list.”

After the 2013 season at Irmo, Savitz was contacted by the principal of a new high school that was set to open, which would be called River Bluff. 

Initially, Savitz was skeptical. He was comfortable at Irmo, had a group of players he liked, family connections and spent the past 33 years there. However, he never outright rejected the offer. 

“I said, ‘Luke [Clamp], you need to hire a young guy,’ and he said, ‘Well, if you tell me no, I’ll go look for that young guy. But if you don’t tell me now, I’m going to call you every week until you tell me yes or no,’” Savitz said. “[He] called me every week for a year.”

Savitz eventually began to consider Clamp’s offer but made one final condition before accepting. He wanted to meet the school’s Athletic Director. 

River Bluff at the time was still searching for its first AD, but eventually landed on David Bennett, a longtime college football coach with a fiery personality.

“I start looking up David Bennett, and I see that he was head football coach at Coastal Carolina. I see the dogs and cats thing that went viral on YouTube, and I go in and meet him, and we’re supposed to be in there for about a 15-minute meeting, and over an hour later we’re still in there talking,” Savitz said. “He said, ‘We need you. We want you,’ and I said, ‘Well, coach, it’s been awesome meeting you, and I’ll get back with you very soon.”’

Savitz took his wife to Charleston that weekend and when he got back decided the offer was a move for him and informed those close to him, who were again shocked. 

“They were absolutely shocked that I was thinking of leaving Irmo where they both went to school, where I coached my son for four years,” Savits said. “But it was [Clamp and Bennett] that I knew, and trusted, and respected. That was the difference maker for me.”

Savitz concludes his career after 13 seasons in charge at River Bluff. He got the program off the ground and running, winning the state title game in 2016, the second team title in school history after the cheerleading title in 2013. 

The Gators are off to a good start in year 13, sitting at 5-0 this year after winning the golden division of the 2024 Capital City Cup. River Bluff defeated region rival Chapin 2-1 in the title game. 

“It’s hard to retire because there’s always that next group that you want to be a part of, and then there’s that next group, and that never ends,” Savitz said. “We have an unbelievably talented young nucleus coming up. River Bluff soccer is going to be fine, and this next coach is going to be blessed.”

Savitz is not 100% sure he’ll enjoy the retirement life. He loves the game and loves being around his team, but he wants to take time to explore the things he has not gotten to enjoy as much, such as visiting his family in Charlotte and getting outside for more leisurely activities. 

“I want to walk, maybe even get back to where I can run some and work out. I want to be in the gym. I want to play pickleball. I want to work in the yard. I want to work around the house,” Savitz said. “In the end, all those things are going to be great, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough.”

Despite not being on the sidelines, Savitz will continue to support both River Bluff and Irmo. He said he has black, green and gold running through his veins. 

“The Irmo soccer family and the Gator soccer family, thank you for all you’ve meant to me and my family over these many years,” Savitz said “I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t be the coach I am. When people say I’m successful, I always say, ‘No, we’re successful. My family, my coaches, my players, my parent volunteers, administration, fans of both schools. It’s a we thing, not a, not a me thing.’”

Phil Savitz, River Bluff soccer, Irmo soccer, South Carolina soccer, Mark Berson, David Bennett, Luke Clamp


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