Real Salt Lake announced today that CJ Brown is joining their coaching staff as an assistant to head coach Jason Kries. Brown replaces Robin Fraser who left to take the top spot at Chivas USA. The Fire released this statement from Technical Director Frank Klopas:
"This is a great opportunity for CJ, and everyone at the Fire is very happy for him. We are grateful for all of his contributions to the club, and we wish CJ and his wife, Kim, and their two girls the very best."
I wrote yesterday that the organization needed to keep Brown in some capacity for no other reason than to maintain the connection and sense of history between the team and it's core fan base. That opportunity has now passed and that opinion hasn't changed but an objective look at the situation may help to shed some light on why the move was probably good for Brown as he pursues a coaching career.
Brown has been a member of the Fire organization since 1998. While he's universally respected by fans, players, and the organization it may serve him well to have a look from the other side. In this case, the other side includes a winning team, Champion's League play, a talented and deep roster, and the opportunity to work for a coach who went directly from the playing field to a hot spot on the bench as a head coach.
The Fire decided on hiring Leo Percovic as first assistant coach last week, but the writing had been on the wall for some time. After Brown announced his retirement late in the season he expressed his desire to coach in MLS, preferably with the Fire if the opportunity arose. As the weeks and months following the season went by and no announcement was made regarding Brown's future with the club it became fairly obvious to most observers that the organization felt that the timing for a move to the bench with the first team was not right.
Brown spent time coaching the Fire Juniors over the last few years so a move to coaching in some capacity within the organization seemed to be a natural progression. If a spot on the bench wasn't in the cards for whatever reason it may have behooved the Fire to make sure that Brown stayed in Chicago in another position but it's possible that Brown was intent on furthering his career as an assistant in MLS rather than forcing his way onto the Fire coaching staff if the technical staff felt that he wasn't a fit at the moment. When Fraser moved to Chivas, opening a spot at Real Salt Lake Brown secured a position for himself which in the long run will probably be more beneficial for him than staying in Chicago as Juniors coach or part time instructor biding his time for an opening on the first team.
Which brings us to the reasons for Brown's departure. Why would the Fire organization allow a respected player who has been the one constant since the club's inception and has expressed an interest in coaching to depart for another opportunity? From my observations it appeared to me that Brown may have been on a different page philosophically from De Los Cobos. Brown and most of the Fire players had become accustomed to doing things one way and the new style may not have been welcomed. I'm not specifically referring to the one-two touch system that De Los Cobos tried to implement but more to a change in the culture of the daily grind of a professional player from longer and more rigorous training sessions to a different way of interacting with contemporaries. If Brown didn't see eye to eye with the head coach as a player and teammates were aware of this dynamic would it not be counter productive to add the Fire original to the staff in 2011? I'm sure the technical staff realized that Brown had a future as a coach but it's possible that they simply felt the timing wasn't right at this moment. Of course it doesn't sit well and it won't be easy seeing Brown on the opposite bench this summer but it's a reality of professional sports and doesn't mean that Brown won't be welcomed back at some point.
The Fire may have missed out on an opportunity to appease the fan base by keeping Brown within the organization but in the long run they probably did the best thing for CJ Brown.