Changing coaches often offers little solutions

With almost one-third of the season expired and the Fire looking like a club destined to miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons the whispers about a coaching change are getting louder. Fans are understandably upset with the club's 2-7-1 record and the outcry for change via social media and various other outlets becomes more vocal with every disappointing loss. Those whispers aren't just from the fan side either. Changes on the bench are commonplace and expected in the result driven world of professional sports and MLS is no different. Once a team, be it in Chicago, New York, or anywhere else goes through a difficult spell you can rest assured that cries for a new coach will be heard sooner rather than later.

Coaches know what they're buying into. It's the nature of the beast in that line of work and they all realize that at some point they're going to face the ax whether they're fully at fault or not. The Alex Fergusons of the world that retire willingly from a post are few and far between. I'm sure Frank Klopas feels the noose tightening. He's realistic enough to know that losing begets change and the most convenient move is always to fire the coach. Convenient doesn't always mean right however.

Firing Klopas or making a move on the bench at this point will signify that the Fire have fallen into the trap that struggling organizations invariably stumble into when losing becomes habit and the need to "make a change" for the betterment of the club means that the coach is out the door. Fire brass knew what they were getting when Klopas was handed the reins "permanently" on November 3, 2011. Klopas had only served as a head coach with the Chicago Storm for two seasons of indoor soccer and had never been the head guy for a professional outdoor club. This is not uncommon in MLS where the likes of Jason Kreis has made a successful transition without ever leading a team from a head coaching perspective. There are others as well, although most are still unproven. Ryan Nelsen, Ben Olsen, and Mike Petke all come to mind.  That formula can work if a club has enough talent to compensate for the coaching shortcomings and management realizes that there are going to be mistakes as the coach essentially learns on the fly or management has embarked in a full-on rebuilding program with an unproven gaffer and young players and time has been afforded for this growth. The Fire fall into neither of these categories.

Tactics, substitutions, man management, and a knack for getting the best out of a squad are all areas that coaches develop over the course of a career and none of it comes easily in most cases. "I believe Frank is the best person to lead our young men to achieve success on the pitch and beyond. Since we brought him back to the Fire ranks a few years ago, he has shown an incredible commitment to building the kind of club and team we strive for," said Fire Owner Andrew Hauptman on November 3, 2011 when the club announced that Klopas was losing the interim tag and was the best choice to lead the team going forward. "He's a passionate and hard working coach, and he believes in our values and our philosophy and it shows. He has a special bond with our young players, and he has fostered a unique culture this year that is sure to lead the Fire to great success in the future."

Do the values that landed him the permanent spot in the first place change when the club loses? Of course not, but questions continue to mount with every loss and the nature of professional sports begs that those questions be answered immediately. Making a move with Klopas places Hauptman in a tricky position. He brought him into the organization and moved him into the Technical Director's role in the first place. As a popular figure with the majority of the fan base, replacing him now would raise the ire of many who believe the owner isn't doing enough from his end to ensure that the club is successful on the field. Furthermore, the club has gone out of it's way to promote Klopas as the public face of the franchise for the better part of the last few years. Removing him now would place the Fire further back in the local media spotlight and undo some of the work done on the marketing end with local radio and tv outlets who already paid little or no mind to the soccer team in Bridgeview. Right or wrong, to many Klopas is Mr. Fire.

That's not to say that results shouldn't be the ultimate factor in deciding the fate of a coach because the bottom line is wins and losses but Hauptman has other factors to consider as well. One of the biggest considerations should come as a result of asking a simple question. Does another coach improve this team right now?

Whether it be Jesse Marsch, Sir Alex Ferguson, or someone like Eric Wynalda, does hiring a new coach resolve any of the issues the Fire organization has created for themselves? Certainly no one can account for injuries in the volume that the club has suffered through early this season but it wasn't a stretch to imagine that the injury plagued 33 year old center back that is vitally important to your defense might miss some games in 2013. It wasn't a stretch to believe that the backline was incredibly thin, particularly at right back where the release of veteran Dan Gargan left the position open to Jalil Anibaba and the perpetually injured Steven Kinney.

The Fire did little to address this issue before the season and have done little to rectify it during the campaign. Wells Thompson may do as a fill-in or spot starter but he continues to prove that he isn't the answer for more than an occasional emergency appearance.

It also shouldn't have been difficult to anticipate that Sherjill MacDonald wasn't going to be the answer up top. Neither was Maicon Santos who was selected in first day of Re-Entry for MLS veterans therefore locking in his base salary at the current $157,000.00 wage. Most observers have been clamoring for an accomplished finisher for years and that is still the case today. Does Marsch or anyone else suddenly turn around an offense that has scored 6 times in 10 games and has been shut out 6 times already? Does Marsch or anyone else improve on filling out a line-up card with only 26 players on the roster and many of them unavailable?

And what of veterans Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz who were brought in to generate a more dynamic look from center midfield? Lindpere appears to have aged five years overnight and has been a shadow of the player he was when he arrived in MLS with New York. Larentowicz has been just okay in his role, but it seems the club was expecting something more than just okay. How does a new coach change any of that?

When Carlos de Los Cobos was released on Memorial Day weekend in 2011 it was obvious why a change had to be made. The club was floundering and de Los Cobos, amid a litany of bad decisions (which we won't go into here) didn't have any answers and wasn't flexible enough to adapt to a league he didn't really understand in the first place. Klopas' record for the ensuing 11 matches after de Los Cobos was released was almost identical to that of his predecessor. The club's turnaround coincided with the arrivals of Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini. To no one's surprise adding quality players improved the product on the pitch. Imagine that.

Klopas did a good job of easing those players into the side on the fly and that earned him the "permanent" position almost immediately after the 2011 season ended. Making a move now would repeat the same pattern of impatience and knee-jerk reaction that is all too common in football these days. But how common is it in MLS?

Here is the list of coaching changes made by each club in the league since 2007. The similarities in consistency between the top teams over this period and the clubs perpetually in flux are striking:

Chivas USA

Preki : Jan ’07 to Nov ‘09

Martin Vasquez: Dec ’09 to Oct ‘10

Robin Fraser: Nov ’11 to Nov ‘12

JL Sanchez Sola: Dec ’12 to current

Colorado Rapids

Fernando Clavijo: Dec ’04 to Aug ‘08

Gary Smith: Nov ’08 to Nov ‘11

Oscar Pareja: Jan ’12 to current

FC Dallas

Steve Morrow: Nov ’06 to May ‘08

Schellas Hyndman: June ’08 to current

Los Angeles Galaxy

Frank Yallop: June ’06 to Nov ‘07

Ruud Gullit: Nov ’07 to Aug ‘08

Bruce Arena: Aug ’08 to current

Portland Timbers

John Spencer: Dec ’10 to July ‘12

Gavin Wilkinson: July ’12 to Nov ‘12

Caleb Porter: Dec ’12 to current

Real Salt Lake

Jason Kreis: May ’07 to current

San Jose Earthquakes

Frank Yallop: Nov ’07 to current

Seattle Sounders

Sigi Schmid: Jan ’09 to current

Vancouver Whitecaps

Teitur Thordarson: Jan ’11 to May ‘11

Tom Soehn: May ’11 to Oct ’11 (interim)

Martin Rennie: Oct ’11 to current

Chicago Fire

Dave Sarachan: Nov ’02 to July ‘07

Juan Carlos Osorio: July ’07 to Dec ‘07

Denis Hamlett: Jan ’08 to Nov ‘09

Carlos de los Cobos: Jan ’10 to May ‘11

Frank Klopas: May ’11 to current

Columbus Crew

Sigi Schmid: Jan ’06 to Dec ‘08

Robert Warzycha: Jan ’09 to current

DC United

Tom Soehn: Jan ’06 to Dec ‘09

Curt Onalfo: Dec ’09 to Aug ‘10

Ben Olson: Aug ’10 to current

Houston Dynamo

Dominic Kinnear: 2006 to current

Montreal Impact

Jesse Marsch: Oct ’11 to Nov ‘12

Mario Biello: Nov ’12 (interim)

Marco Schallibaum: Jan ’13 to current

New England Revolution

Steve Nicol: Jan ’02 to Oct ‘11

Jay Heaps: Nov ’11 to current

New York Red Bulls

Bruce Arena: July ’06 to Nov ‘07

Juan Carlos Osorio: Dec ’07 to Aug ‘09

Richie Williams: Aug ’09 to Jan ’10 (interim)

Hans Backe: Jan ’10 to Nov ‘12

Mike Petke: Dec ’12 to now

Philadelphia Union

Peter Nowak: May ’09 to June ‘12

John Hackworth: June ’12 to current

Sporting Kansas City

Curt Onalfo: Nov ’06 to Aug ‘09

Peter Vermes: Aug ’09 to current

Toronto FC

Mo Johnston: Aug ’06 to Feb ‘08

John Carver: Feb ’08 to April ‘09

Chris Cummins: April ’09 to Oct ‘09

Preki: Nov ’09 to Sept ‘10

Nick Dasovic: Sept ’10 to Jan ‘11

Aron Winter: Jan ’11 to June ‘12

Paul Mariner: June ’12 to Jan ‘13

Ryan Nelsen: Jan ’13 to current

Only Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls have made more managerial changes than the Chicago Fire since 2007. Richie Williams held an interim tag in the last few months of the 2009 season so that actually places the Fire in second place for the dubious distinction of being the most unstable coaching franchise in the league over the last 6 seasons - and that's assuming that Klopas finishes the year in charge.

Klopas isn't fully without blame for the current state of affairs as he has had some involvement in player evaluation and procurement although much of that has been lifted from his shoulders in order to help him focus on the actual day to day task of managing a professional soccer team. None of that alleviates any perceived lack of in game tactical acumen, mismanagement of talent, or handling, preparation and training that all professional coaches are criticized for by fans and media but it should be noted that every coach in every league has been critiqued at some point for those same "faults" since football started being played professionally at high levels.

If results continue as they have been over the last several weeks it will be easy to say the coach has "lost the team" and that may well be the case but other factors need to be weighed. At some point, the Fire need to establish some consistency behind the bench whether it's with Klopas or Marsch or whomever might be the choice to take the controls for the foreseeable future. Bringing in a replacement now that isn't an established and accomplished coach to reap the temporary rewards of success brought about by any reinforcements that are signed during the July transfer window only delays the inevitable and perpetuates the cycle of change that non-contenders are constantly mired in.

Klopas may indeed not be THAT guy but at some point, Hauptman believed he was or he wouldn't have hired him in the first place. The goal should be to find THAT guy and stick with him for more than two seasons despite losing periods as some of the top clubs have done. If it's Klopas then he's already in place and has the full support of the organization despite the collapse at the end of last season and the putrid start to 2013. If it's someone else then the organization should realize that an 18-24 month stint to turn things around isn't long enough.

Perhaps it's time to stop changing coaches every two seasons and look deeper at what's actually going on organizationally that facilitates that these types of moves be made. When you look hard enough sometimes you find it's not the coaches. It's just convenient to say that it's time for a change on the bench.

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  • The Fire used to excel at identifying and bringing in young talent, then helping to cultivate it. We used to have an admirable track record. That well has dried up. Talent evaluation over the last 3-4 years has been abysmal. Who ever is in charge of scouting at present should be let go, they are a huge part of the problem.

  • In reply to DerSting:

    I agree. I would love to see the success rate (i.e. actual games played) of draft picks pre-Klopas and draft pick post-Klopas. Frank's motivation is not enough for the talent he has assembled. They cannot move the ball forward and are horrible at stopping the opposing team's attack. I would love to see what Wynalda could do with the Fire. I'd hire him right now. He is great with young players. I say bring in Wynalda as coach and Jesse Marsch as assistant. Bring in CJ too. Why not bring in Blanco as marketing chief. And bring in the Ricketts as new owners. Hauptman won't spend anymore of his wife's money on the team so he has to go.

  • In reply to Krasov:

    I personally don't think the drafting has been bad lately (berry, jalil, sj, atouba looks like he could be a nice late find). In fact, I think they've done a solid job there. It's been the free agent signings that have an awfully high fail rate....too many to mention.

  • i agree that coaching changes usually don't mean success over night but unfortunately the firing of frank is probably what is going to happen. i think the issue is above frank and that it will not change.

  • In reply to penapirata:

    Quite right. Frank could probably do better at times than he has but I doubt anyone else this organization would agree to pay for would do any more with the cheap talent they've been gambling on. But Andy has fallen into every other trap that's come along. Why would he miss this one? Even if he fully recognizes the futility of firing Frank, I suspect he would still likely view it as a chance to distract the fans from the growing recognition that the deadwood lies at the top.

  • Firing Frank Klopas would be the organization collectively cutting off its nose to spite its face. He's not tenured in the league like the Sigi Schmidt's and Bruce Arena's of the world, but he's done well when given the right pieces.

    The problem isn't in his tactics and coaching ability, it's in giving him substandard talent and telling him to work with what he's got. The failed experiments of the last few years bare that out.

    Additionally, it's interesting that there's been such a high coach turnover rate under the current ownership. There's that whole "sometimes you find it's not the coaches" bit raring its ugly head again......

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    If they fire Klopas, whoever takes over has to deal with Petrei and Leon first and the crappy roster they have right now. The new coach can't make a turd into a chicken sandwich with a snap of a finger. It isn't just MLS, it is all over the leagues. Example: Pep Guardiola took over Barcelona with zero experience and he had the players. As a result, he won championships. Guillermo Barros Schelotto took over Lanus in the AFA with zero experience and he had a quick turn around and their team is in 1st place and competing in the Copa Libertadores tournament. Off topic their was a breakdown on MLS coaches (team by team) and I believe Cobi Jones coached one game for the Galaxy after Ruud Gullit got canned and right before Bruce Arena took over.

  • In reply to longoria3:

    You're right about Cobi Jones but I didn't include one or two game place holder coaches in the list.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    Frank is not a good coach: hasn't developed anyone in MF or on forward line, has no plan B, sub patterns are static and thoroughly predictable.

  • While Frank may have to go, that in itself is meaningless until
    there are substantial changes in other areas of the club.
    That means bringing in new talent and changes in the front office.
    While, initially, it seemed ,prior to the opening of the season, that the Fire would be a competitive team, things haven't worked out that way, certainly the Gargan decision was dumb. Most Fire fans knew it was a bogus move at jump street.
    Some new players were brought in, due to injuries and the fact that the new additions didn't seem to jell into a cohesive unit, plus Rolfe's Houdini act contributed to the poor start.
    There certainly has been a total lack of anticipation and creative thinking at the top level of the organization. Letting Gargan go and keeping some players that been around for several years that haven't produced is mind boggling. Not having Gargan probably cost the club at least 4 to 8 points. While the team might not have
    had a winning record at this point, we'd still be in the hunt.

  • Totally agree that firing Klopas right now does nothing for the current season. Also agree that Fire problems extend beyond him. HOWEVER, he IS part of the problem! Did he have no say in the disastrous personnel decisions over the past couple years??? Frank needs to go at the end of the season as do all managers involved in actual soccer operations. Then, the first task of the new group should be to decide exactly what type of team can they field.
    Given Hauptman's penny pinching outlook, I can see only one option: young, cheap, unproven players --- become the Ajax of MLS. Develop and sell !! We might actually find a gem ----- provided the new management can actually identify a real soccer player.

  • Frank has made mistakes but he's not the real problem. If Gargan was left unprotected because he didn't get along with Frank than that's Franks fault and while we clearly have problems with defensive depth the biggest problem is not having an offensive threat. Scouting is the real problem. You can't expect a guy to build a championship team with average to below average players. I know in the business world when upper management isn't working out their solution is typically blame it on lower management and fire them regardless if its their fault or not. I would assume if this season continues to be as miserable as it has been he will be gone. I'm hoping that Andrew has a good relationship with Frank and sees that firing coaches doesn't seem to help the team and that the guys above the coaches are who need to be fired.

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    Well done G. Regarding your conclusion, here's my only issue: you can't fire the owner. This much is fact.

    Best,

    Scott

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    In reply to ManOn TheFire:

    And for what it's worth, I disagree with you. Frank Klopas is not and never will be, THE guy. He's already lost the team HE assembled. You can see it on his and their faces.

    Now, they're going to go to Utah and lose. Then, they'll come home to another paltry crowd to face the the worst team in the league.

    Question: if they lose to RSL, then DCU at home, what do you do then?

  • In reply to ManOn TheFire:

    My points weren't based on Klopas being THE guy. Whether he is or not is debatable and I'm not making a case for him being the solution...I wanted to raise the questions of evaluation, stability, and decision making which seem to be bigger issues. On November 3, 2011 Klopas was presented as THE guy and now 18 months later he may not be. At some point there needs to be stability in the coaching position and you don't get that by changing the lead guy every 2 years.

    Your question is basically what I was asking. What happens if the Fire loses the next two games?

  • Anyone else find Man on the Fire's views on Andrew amusing?

    No, you can't fire the owner. You can question the odd moves he's made in his tenure and there have been plenty of those...whether its down to Front Office Personnel or the dealing with the personnel that deals with players or just the club's history or traditions, Hauptman has been an utter failure as an owner.

    Klopas isn't blameless but to put it all on him shows a real lack of institutional knowledge of how the Fire are running under Hauptman.

    Leon and Petrei need to go. If a house cleaning needs to occur for that to happen, that's fine. The larger problem comes from the Andell lackies put in charge of things they have no idea about.

    Will they go? I doubt it. Frank will be the fall guy and we'll be back in this position in less than 24 months.

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    In reply to seaside:

    Yeah, Hauptman's made plenty of bad moves - and one of those was handing Frank Klopas the reigns of his club. Hopefully, Hauptman will learn from his mistakes in time.

    As far as Leon goes, well, Andrew won't cut off his right hand, so you can forget about that.

    Petrei's harmless really, and functions mostly as some kind of MLS compliance expert as far as I know.

    Ultimately, I find all of this "Hauptman out" rhetoric a bunch of nonsense. Bottom line: he's not going to sell. Period.

    The best we can hope for is that he'll learn from his mistakes on the Soccer Operations side of things, and maybe, just maybe, listen to those of us who spend time writing about and commenting on the team. One thing's for certain though, he will pay the antagonism no mind and perhaps dig his heels in further as it mounts. Like Marcellus Wallace once said: "Pride hurts, Butch. It never helps."

    If you truly want to see Chicago Fire succeed, don't give Andrew Hauptman cause to bolster his pride in the face of naysayers. Instead, try to reason with him.

    Here's what I would (realistically) like to see happen:

    Hauptman should...

    - Fire Klopas and replace him with Jesse Marsch, Eric Wynalda, Pavel Pardo, CJ Brown, or Arne Friedrich. In addition to one of these guys as head coach, find a way to get at least two more of these guys into the Soccer Operations sector of the club.
    - Put a full-time technical director/GM in an office in Toyota Park, permanently.
    - Reevaluate, purge, and beef-up the scouting and player development sectors. Rely on the guys mentioned above to work their connections and help fill the gaps.
    - Keep Leon in LA to work on more developmental stuff and as a liason to the "Team for the World" partners. Javier's a nice guy and has a lot of charisma and connections. He'd be a good guy to keep around, although perhaps less in a Soccer Ops sense.
    - Keep Petrei, but just have him push paper. Don't let him near the scouting or man management side.

    As far as the rest of the organization goes (operations, marketing, communications, etc.), its solid. However, as we all know too well, Soccer Operations is a disaster.

    Is Andrew Hauptman ultimately responsible for creating this mess? Absolutely. He's also the man to fix it.

    In the end we need to come to terms with the fact that Klopas was handed the keys to the castle Five and a half years ago to be, as Guillermo said, THE MAN. Clearly, he's THE WRONG MAN.

    Real change starts with sending "The Kid" his walking papers. Why wait? Do it now before there's no hope left in 2013.

    Cheers,

    Scott

  • In reply to ManOn TheFire:

    See your problem there is that your boy Andy is cheap and petty.

    He's highly unlikely to go out and hire a new coach this year because he'd have to pay Frank out and pay whoever whatever.

    Even if he did, the coach he hires might not be a great standard... Jesse Marsch seems the obvious choice.

    He's also petty, so in the case of C.J. Brown, it'll never happen. That pettiness is well-known around the league so attracting one of the many Fire diaspora back to Chicago with the knowledge that they'll have to work for Andrew and deal with the shenanigans that Leon and Petrei pull will make that near impossible, which is a shame.

    We agree, you can't get rid of the owner but as Frank has had plenty of time to learn from his mistakes, Andrew's had much more. Things haven't changed and most of the fan base agrees things won't do so until he relinquishes our club

    Are we Fire supporters or existentialists? Perhaps we're one in the same.

    If Klopas goes, Leon and Petrei better be right behind him.

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    In reply to seaside:

    Try this on for size: http://owengoal.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/the-high-cost-of-winning-and-in-the-fires-case-losing/comment-page-1/#comment-13

    And again, name-calling will only further entrench him. If you truly want him out, you're going to have to get more creative.

    I wish you luck.

  • I agree with the overall sentiment here. Frank's overall body of work since joining the Fire has been questionable indeed, but the largest problem with the team has been talent acquisition/decisions (of which he's a part, so...).

    But the main thing I want to note here is that I thought this was an excellent article. Good stuff Guillermo.

  • Nice article. Below are some thoughts that your article generated.

    From a development perspective, I'm concerned about the Fire. Despite having what appears to me to be a fairly extensive development network, with teams in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and more, we have yet to have a homegrown talent come up through the ranks and break into the team. It's not like we haven't had any in the past (e.g. Guzan, McGee), but I haven't seen a whole lot recently (though Austin Berry sort of counts, no?). Better developing players would help Frank out.

    Because really, it's as much about the players as it is the coach (and arguments can certainly be made that it's more about them).

    My chief concern about Klopas as a coach is that he gets too much in a rut. If he finds a combination that works, it seems that he keeps using it until the whole league figures out a way to beat it.

    As a motivator, he seems to work. And right now, it sounds like he's doing a decent job with the pieces that he has. If we had a great goal scorer we'd have at least tied or even won a lot of games this season. But we don't. And I'm not sure how much of that can be placed on Klopas's shoulders. If he is still the TD, or if he still has a lot of pull there, then yes, and maybe he has too much to do. But as coach, he can't put the goals in. Things would be so different if we had been able to get Suazo, I think.

  • In reply to Fuegofan:

    Much different.

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    What a the chances AP sells to Beckham?

  • In reply to Kao Xiong:

    Zero

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    I think here are the three players you add for under 3 million and we have a good chance of pulling this back.

    Sebastian Grazzini
    Dan Gargan
    Dominic Oduro

  • In reply to Kao Xiong:

    i think grazzini might be the single biggest mistake this club has made in recent history - at least with players we had on our roster. they finally found a guy that can create and distribute in the attack, and they flubbed the situation and somehow lost him.

    oduro is a good player, but he wanted out. you can't blame the team for respecting his wishes, and they did get back duka and i'm confident that they'll eventually get some assets for rogers.

  • I hate the fact that we have no plan in place for the future. We always hear about how close we are and need a few pieces, and while that is somewhat true, we don't have a bench anymore and our young guys never see the pitch or don't exist. Our scouting has been shit for many years now. While we do great in the draft, we can't seem to find skillful players anywhere. Shit, look at Houston and how they always seem to find no name players and turn them into someone who can help the club and they aren't DP's.

  • In reply to pezkoreaddict:

    How do you figure we do great in the draft. We have Anibaba who is mediocre at best, Berry who is just OK without Arne next to him, and Sean Johnson who was good. Nyarko is good and so was Rolfe like 10 years ago.

    The developmental program was hyped in the papers but apparently no on is close whereas Galaxy have had Bowen, Villanueva, and little Adebyour and others contribute.

    All we have is hype about Pineda for 3 years who is apparently healthy enough to go to the Toulon tournament but not healthy or good enough to get any minutes on this crap side even thou he is listed as a forward with the U-23 and we basically have no forwards on the Fire

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