Stevens: Savva Biller And The Power Of The World's Game
Oct. 14, 2012
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The passion of Savva Biller comes from his roots. Greek roots first. Soccer roots second.
The Greek roots provide many things, but one core there is family. Savva loves his son, Stefan. The soccer roots help spur a love of Lobos and the opportunity the UNM squad provides him to dig deep into another level of the game that he loves.
“The only happiness and contentment I’ve had in my life is when I’m involved in soccer,” said Biller, the volunteer goalkeeper coach for the University of New Mexico.
“Right now, I’m obsessed with being a father to my son and I’m obsessed with this team. I think we have a chance to prove we are the best team in America.”
Biller is in his second season as the keeper coach for UNM. His path to UNM and his path through soccer were long, up-and-down, and at times the stuff that fairytales are made of.
Flashback to Greece where a 21-year-old, down-on-his-luck, almost broke Biller was living in a ragged section of Athens, sitting outside a coffee shop and “all of a sudden this big shadow came across me.”
“Things were going bad for me,” said Biller, who went to Greece to try and make a pro roster. “I was staying in a room that cost $6 a night in an area that mostly had street people. I shared a bathroom with 10 other rooms. I was struggling. I had maybe a hundred bucks in my pocket. I couldn’t get a tryout.”
The big shadow belonged to Peter Mason, a 6-foot-4 American businessman, who had been asked to find Biller and help him out. Mason helped. He gave Biller some cash, but also set Biller up with some tryouts with some Greece soccer teams. Biller made a team which helped lead him to a six-year pro career in Europe.
That career ended in 1992. Biller was a casualty of love. He was playing pro ball in Switzerland after two seasons playing indoors with San Diego. He returned to his home in Los Angeles (Hollywood) and met a girl, who did not want to move to Switzerland. He got married and had a child.
“I walked away from the game,” he said. “I started playing golf.”
But there was a hole to fill, an itch to scratch. At first, the hole was filled with food.
“I stayed away from the game for 16 years,” said Biller, about 5-foot-8. “My weight went up to 210 pounds. I wasn’t very healthy. I decided to change things. I needed to get back to soccer.”
Biller got back to playing the game with his move to Albuquerque, but his long range goal was to coach the game. He needed to lose weight, get back in shape, find some students.
“I started working out and eating right,” said Biller, now about 165 pounds. “I think to be a successful keeper coach, you have to be able to show the kids what you are talking about. They have to see it to totally understand it.”
Biller’s initial steps into coaching were small ones. He picked up a few students but also waited tables at Scalos and painted houses. His private lessons have been stimulated by his success at UNM. The Lobo keepers are good ones. Biller, 51, now has about 40 students.
“Savva loves these guys so much and has taken our goalkeeping up another level,” said UNM head coach Jeremy Fishbein. “It’s difficult to attract a quality keeper coach here as a volunteer coach. We were lucky that he was here and he wanted to be part of our team. He’s a true teacher of the position.“
Biller says there are many attributes to being a successful keeper, but he does throw out four critical ones:
1. 1. You have to have the personality who loves to have control. A keeper had to control his environment and direct what goes on in front of him.
2. 2. You have to have courage and you can’t worry about getting hurt.
3. 3. You have to be mentally disciplined so you do the right things physically.
4. 4. You have to be athletic.
For sure, there is a quirky side of Biller. The Lobo coaching staff has been known to play on Biller’s passions – in a good-natured way.
“I’m aware of it,” said Biller. “But when they do it I have a hard time not reacting. They have fun with me. But Jeremy (Fishbein) is hard to read. It’s sometimes hard to tell if he is joking or not.”
Said Fishbein: ““He sets himself up a little bit, but he’s respected by these guys and by our staff . He is a passionate man, who loves soccer. He was aggressive about joining our staff and he’s been phenomenal for us. “
For Savva, the experience has been phenomenal, too. On the practice fields, his Greek passion is infectious. So is his passion for the game.
“I’m a volunteer coach, but I’m committed 100 percent,” said Savva. “I love it. I got gear. I got my own locker. I’m training with the kids. It’s like being a pro again.”