When the University of Nebraska at Omaha asked Jay Mims to become his first men’s football coach, he named him as his mentor. Bob Warming — who relaunched the dormant Creighton University program in 1990, where Mimms spent nine years as his assistant — described his year-long team-building process. He urged Mimms to accept the challenge.
This was in May 2011. Mimms looked forward to 15 months of planning ahead of the Mavericks’ first game.
Then he learned that the school planned to field a team in August: just a few weeks later. “No problem!” Mims said.
The new coach has started working. The Memphis native, whose Tennessee Olympic Development Program teams were rarely respected by Region III powers like Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina—until they started winning—had faced adversity before.
As the only Division I public school in Nebraska, Mims started out with local players. “All I could sell was my education and experience,” he says.
The Mavericks won their first game. Mimms felt “like Pep Guardiola“. They then lost 11 in a row.
“I had to learn how to lose,” he recalls. “I’ve never lost a game 3-0, 4-0, 6-0” – not at junior level, not as a four-year starting linebacker at St. Louis University, certainly not at Creighton with Warming or when he followed him . top coach at Penn State.
But every year UNO improved. By the fourth season, they had achieved double-digit wins; Summit League titles, NCAA tournaments and MLS draft picks followed, as well as a new stadium. The big schools have arrived. Athletic director Mims urged him to listen. “He said:“ You outgrow us, ”says the coach. “I wanted to stay, but I appreciated his honesty.” The real Salt Lake City interested him. The MLS club was building a real residential academy. They wanted Mims, who had also coached club football throughout his career, working with youth teams and scouting. He said yes and enjoyed the “amazing” experience.
But in 2019, he heard from a group in Omaha. USL was building a new League One team. The excitement of launching a new program – this time with eight or nine months of preparation to debut in 2020 – was impossible to resist.
Mimms wore many hats. In addition to coaching, he handled branding, marketing, sponsorships and even decided on the logo, colors and name of the new club: Union Omaha.
By then, Mimms was an expert at building something from scratch. The most important part was the players. “I always need more than just quality players. I need quality guys,” he says. He found them. In that first season, Union Omaha finished second to Greenville Triumph. However, a new problem has arisen – COVID-19. The championship match was cancelled.
Last year, Mimms’ team reached the final again – again against Greenville. Omaha won, 3-0.
But those were just warm-ups. Union Omaha entered the US Open Cup this spring. The oldest football competition in the country features teams from all four professional men’s leagues (and amateur teams in the earlier rounds).
Since the founding of MLS in 1996, these teams have dominated the competition. No lower division team has won the Open Cup since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
In April, a goal in stoppage time Alex Touch Draw Union Omaha tied with Chicago Fire. They won the shootout, becoming the first USL League One team to ever beat an MLS opponent.
On May 25, the Union Omaha run continued. A 2-1 win over Minnesota United — 2019 Open Cup finalists, the last year before the pandemic canceled the competition — took them to the quarter-finals. This is the first “Third Division” team since Orlando City in 2013 to come this far.
Their opponent in the eighth round is Sporting KC. The match will take place this Wednesday (June 22). Union Omaha quickly sold out its 500 tickets – and the next 500 as well. “I don’t think Kansas City gives us more,” Mims said. But he expects a couple of thousand fans to make the 185-mile trip south, hoping more history can be made.
But last Friday, Mims didn’t expect an Open Cup quarter-final. The next day there was a championship match against Greenville. Sporting QC could wait.
For a manager who built a Division I team from scratch in three months, four days of preparation would be nothing.