SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Michael Linenberger could not have predicted he would be celebrating his 25th season with the Hornets as the men's soccer head coach when he agreed to be assistant coach back in 1988.
"My brother (David) was the head coach and I was still trying to play at that time," Linenberger said. "I was just coming back from Germany, wasn't sure what I wanted to do and he invited me to come out here to be an assistant for a year."
The young soccer player with hopes of pursuing a career as a professional athlete traveled to Sacramento after playing for Germany's second and third divisions FC St. Pauli and SC Norderstedt.
Linenberger played with the Sacramento Senators while continuing his assistant coach role, until his brother decided to accept another job opportunity in 1989 just two weeks prior to the preseason.
Linenberger decided to remain at Sacramento State as co-head coach and soon after earned the spot as head coach at the end of the Hornets' first Division-I season in 1991.
"It was an interesting road; I learned in the trenches," Linenberger said. "My first few years I had players on the team that were older than me. I was so young I didn't realize the challenge."
Despite what seemed to be an uphill battle, Linenberger has since helped pave the way for the program's success in monumental strides.
After a year of Division-I play, he led the team into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in 1992 with three MPSF Tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament first-round wins in 2009 and 2010. Twenty years later, Linenberger's team took on a new challenge as it was able to break into one of the top five soccer conferences in the country, the Big West.
Over the past 25 years as head coach, Linenberger has played a vital role in the growth of the program as he witnessed transitions between conferences, playing fields, funding, and five different athletic directors.
"One of the things that has kept me fresh here is the constant evolution," Linenberger said. "It keeps the competitive juices flowing. Nothing gets stale because there's been such evolution here."
Under Linenberger's tutelage there have been 76 all-Conference honorees, 20 first team selections, four NCAA All-Far West Region selections, one MPSF Player of the Year, and he has watched 33 of his former players go on to professional soccer careers.
Beyond the role of head coach, his focus has been on his players and implementing a tight-knit relationship with the team. Linenberger's goal is to create a welcoming, family environment for his student-athletes and their families.
"It's a neat family environment," Linenberger said. "Not just for my family, but we try and make everything a family environment."
There is little separation between the team and his family. Throughout the years, his wife has shown constant support while his two children who have grown-up alongside the team since toddler age.
Linenberger's son Matt was able to play for the Hornet squad during his four years at Sacramento State, graduating last season. Even after his father's insistence on experiencing another school, Matt's passion to be a Hornet could not be subdued.
"My son had a lot of former players coach him at camp who became role models for him and he looked up to them. Even my daughter coming through the camps, she wants to go on the road every game and watch every game," Linenberger said. "They're very supportive of me, the team, the program and all of our players."
With 25 years of ups and downs with a frequently transitioning team, Linenberger continues to push toward gaining a foothold in the Big West Conference.
As a challenging 2013 season comes to a close on Saturday at home against rival UC Davis, Linenberger has high hopes to finish strong and continue improvement for the seasons to come.
"As difficult as this season has been – from a winning standpoint – it's been a really good year coaching wise and seeing the growth of our young guys," Linenberger said. "No one's hanging their head; they keep training hard and working hard. They have a real desire."
The ceremony commemorating his 25 years of service to the Sacramento State athletic department, held in the team's alumni game vs. Cal Poly on Oct. 19, was filled with former and present players who believe in what he brings to the team. As a constant advocate for the program, Linenberger strives to catapult the team into its full potential.
Linenberger said although he may not be at Sacramento State for another 25 years, he hopes to accomplish more with the athletic department in his remaining years and retire as a Hornet.
"You can't do it alone. You have to have help from the top all the way down," Linenberger said. "I hope I get that opportunity, who knows how much longer it'll go. You can't predict where life is going to take you. But I've really enjoyed my time here."