SFU's Buchanan Named Coach of the Month for May
SFU men's golf head coach John Buchanan, pictured here with the 2013-14 team, was picked as the GNAC Coach of the Month for May.
SFU men's golf head coach John Buchanan, pictured here with the 2013-14 team, was picked as the GNAC Coach of the Month for May.

Monday, June 2, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

PORTLAND, Ore. – From serving as a shipbuilder in his native city of Glasgow, Scotland, to directing a collegiate soccer team to an NAIA championship title, long-tenured Simon Fraser golf head coach John Buchanan experienced a career first in May. 

Buchanan, who took over the SFU golf program in the fall of 1990, led the Clan to its first-ever NCAA Championships appearance, where the men’s team finished in 17th place.

While the championship atmosphere was hardly foreign to Buchanan, the fact that the 2013-14 season marked the golf program’s first in an NCAA tournament made the appearance an unprecedented one for SFU.

Buchanan has been selected as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Month for May, after piloting SFU to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Super Regional tournament and qualifying for the Championships.

Buchanan’s career at SFU began in 1966, one year following the founding of the university.

“I came to Canada in 1960 for one year, and then came back again in 1964,” Buchanan remembered. “I was serving a five-year apprenticeship as a shipwright with John Brown’s Shipyard, which was the company that built the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The economy was poor in Britain at the time, so I decided to move to North America.”

Buchanan, who had family along the west coast, carried a background in soccer into Vancouver, B.C., as he got involved coaching a local amateur team. His knowledge of the game transferred perfectly to SFU’s inaugural soccer team, which came as part of its membership with the NAIA in 1966. 

“I immediately got involved with starting a club soccer team at SFU,” Buchanan said regarding when he first took the job. “By 1974 that club had morphed into one of the best on the west coast, and it was full of high caliber amateur league players.”

The first varsity soccer team at SFU was not established until 1975, and over the next seven seasons Buchanan’s squad qualified for the national tournament every year.

The peak of Buchanan’s success came in 1976, when his men’s team won the NAIA national title in grand fashion inside the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

“The first year we got to nationals, we lost in the finals 1-0,” Buchanan said. “The second year we won the title, and that was very significant because of the caliber of the venue we played in.”

Among the highlights of Buchanan’s coaching career is an appearance in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games as a member of the Canadian National Team staff.

Having established extraordinary momentum and success for the men’s varsity soccer program, Buchanan elected to pursue a different role following the 1980 season and became an assistant director for the department of recreation.

While Buchanan temporarily abandoned the realm of coaching in order to manage the workload of his new position, it wouldn’t be long before he resurfaced with a team. 

“I ran into a fellow named Jack Westover who had been coaching the SFU golf program since 1972,” Buchanan said. “He asked me to help out with the program in 1984, and it wasn’t really a varsity team yet.” 

Before long, Buchanan helped replicate the success that preceded him from his career working with the soccer program. He worked to establish a fundraising tournament and developed the program’s image, before assuming the lead role in 1990.

“I basically inherited the golf program in the fall of 1990, and for the next 13 years we qualified for 11 national championships,” Buchanan said.

Similar to his ’76 men’s soccer team, Buchanan experienced the thrill of a national title when one of his players won the individual championship and his team came in second place in 1999. 

“I had actually officially retired in 1997, but the school asked me to stay on staff,” said Buchanan. “It took me until 2003 until I finally decided to retire, but shortly after that our golf program was cut.”

With the support of then-president Michael Stevenson, Buchanan aided in the rebuilding of the golf program. When SFU made the jump to the NCAA in 2009, Buchanan was asked to guide the men’s and women’s golf program through the transition from the NAIA.

“The biggest difference was the whole image of the NCAA versus the NAIA,” Buchanan said regarding the unprecedented move to the previously solely American organization. “With the amount of time and effort a student-athlete is prepared to put in to do well in the NCAA, there’s just a different feel about it.” 

Competing with the four other GNAC schools that feature golf programs, Buchanan began the difficult task of quickly establishing a competitive program.

After a strong showing all season long, SFU qualified for the 2014 NCAA Super Regional championships. The Clan’s hopes of reaching the NCAA Championships appeared slim after the first two rounds of play at the regionals, as SFU shot team scores of 309 and 305 at the Grey Rock Golf Club in Austin, Texas.

In a gritty move that displayed the team’s character, SFU delivered a final round score of 290, earning the sixth berth from the regional into the NCAA Championships.

The Clan was carried this season by GNAC Golfer of the Year Mike Belle, and Freshman of the Year Kevin Vigna.

Belle, a senior, finished his career by shooting a two-under par 69 on the final day of the NCAA Championships. It was the Clan’s best individual round of the tournament.

“Belle was by far the steadiest golfer this season,” Buchanan said. “That was nice for him to shoot two under in the final round, and he made eagle on the last hole.”

Vigna, who earned medalist honors at the 2014 GNAC Championships, represents one of the key building blocks for the future of Buchanan’s program. Vigna’s scoring average of 74.5 was the third best in the conference this season, and the fact that Buchanan is beginning to attract golfers of this caliber is positive for the program.

“It has been a bit of an uphill climb, and incredibly slow at times because we haven’t really been on any golfers’ radars,” Buchanan said regarding recruiting Canadians into his program. “Now that we are a member of the NCAA, we are included in a lot of different organizations and are well-represented on the web. Now we are on the same plane as everyone else in terms of recruiting, and it really is an international thing.” 

Buchanan has been no stranger to success throughout his various roles at SFU over the past five decades. He has displayed a knack for directing his programs to consistent excellence, and has truly become a fixture and well-appreciated figure in Clan athletics.