Travelin' Man

In another in a long recent line of wildly unsurprising developments, word came late yesterday that SIGI SCHMID WILL NOT RETURN as Head Coach of the Columbus Crew next season.

While many observers are concluding that this means that AN ANNOUNCEMENT FROM SEATTLE IS "IMMINENT" I think I'll just wait until something is actually, you know, announced.*

(Note for the future: the next time bloggers are subjected to the withering disdain of "serious, professional sports journalist" types for passing along "news" based on nothing, I'm going to refer them to The Seattle Times' Jose Romero, whose "Schmid to Seattle Imminent" headline is supported solely by a fact that, as he so artfully puts it: "one can only surmise")

However, sometime very soon, we can most definitely expect an announcement from Crew President and GM Mark McCullers (who, I could note were I in a churlish mood, SERIOUS SPORTS JOURNALIST STEVEN GOFF said a few days ago was all set for a move to Dallas, a passed-along rumor that the notoriously accessible McCullers is OPENLY LAUGHING AT )** to the effect that longtime Crew assistant Robert Warzycha, ("The Polish Rifle") will immediately step up to the big chair.

This opinion is based not on a "fact" that "I can only surmise" or on a groundless, easily debunked rumor but rather on the fact that, the day Schmid was hired, McCullers said that Warzycha - who served as the interim coach after the long-overdue dismissal of Zippy the Pinhead - was next in line whenever the Large One left.

(And frankly, if I was a "serious professional sports journalist" type who therefore apparently gets a free pass on posting rumors as facts, I'd be busy right now writing about how it was the Crew who cut off Sigi, not the other way around.

It's being whispered on Velma Avenue that McCullers told Schmid he needed an answer by yesterday because the team was stuck in neutral waiting for SS to decide something, and when Schmid said he didn't have an answer for him McCullers terminated negotiations.)

You may recall that a while back I said I was going to be calling out writers who fervently excoriated Crew fans for the whole "tossing-crap-at-players" thing but who refused to ever utter a single, solitary word about much, much worse going on in BMO, and I meant every word. I have a long, long memory, and grudges are my specialty. Ask anyone.

As a result, I don't link to Goal.com, where two of the most egregious offenders - Kyle McCarthy and Greg Lalas - hold forth. (Although it would be hard to top Lala's monumentally stupid "deduct three points from the Crew" diatribe, McCarthy gave it a real shot).

Nevertheless, McCarthy made an interesting point last night when he suggested that since there is no proven Sigi Schmid type coach available, that the Crew would be better advised to bring in, say, a guy like Paul Mariner, based on the fact that promoting longtime assistants into the top job has at best a spotty track record.

Normally, I'd agree with Kyle - much as it pains me - but while I very much agree in general, this particular case is different.

An assistant coach is usually seen by the players as a buffer, a shoulder to cry on, a buddy you can appeal to and someone you can air out your grievances with. It's the job. The Head Coach is normally someone that, deep down, you fear, knowing that he's the guy who can decide to put your ass on the bench, the street or even - horror of horrors - trade you to Toronto.

So when a team promotes an assistant, his relationship with the players has to change, and the result is often - well, not pretty. Either he ends up coming off as a jerk "Yeah, sure, the guy pretended to be one of us until he got promoted" or he tries to maintain his old relationship as everybody's pal, which is very hard to pull off when you're the man in charge of trading and cutting and benching players.

And under normal circumstances, this paradigm would be doubly true with the Crew; say what you want about Sigi as a tactician, but most guys who've played for him don't really like him all that much. He's distant, imperious, demanding and arrogant, and he has a very roomy doghouse that's well known for longevity of occupancy.

But Bobby Rifle isn't your average assistant. As a longtime Polish international, to say he's a gentlemen of the Old School is a vast understatement. His relationship with the players is formal, correct and professional, but he's the farthest thing imaginable from warm and cuddly.

And if you've ever seen him interviewed - I say seen because, after over a decade in Columbus he still talks like he just got off the kielbasa boat from Gdansk - you've seen how disinterested he is in anyone liking him or wanting to take him out for a night on the town.

I'm not saying that he's a sure thing. I like the guy and I think he has what it takes, but nobody really knows how a man will deal with that kind of responsibility.

And that leaves aside the toughest part: how the hell do you follow an act like Sigi's 2008 Columbus Crew? Hell, Sigi himself was going to have a damn hard time with that one.

As for the team itself, as I've said many times, when I accepted this role last Winter I swore that I was not going to write about the Crew any more than I wrote about anything else.

Well, maybe next year that will work out.

But 2008 has been such a ridiculous ride; on the field with Guillermo BS and the rest playing magical soccer has only been part of the tale. The early TFC invasion, with Canada's sons getting arrested for dickie-waving at a Church wedding party, the phony "racism" tape, the Steve Ralston streamer whining, the West Ham "incident", the emergence of the Nordecke, barely a week went by without the kind of constant turmoil that has distracted more than one team over the years.

So in a way, Sigi's departure, while unfortunate but perhaps inevitable - he's a guy bearing down hard on his Golden Years, a time when a man wants to be near his children and grandchildren and friends, not 3000 miles away living alone in a condo - is nothing more than the natural conclusion to a wild, wacky, incredible year for the Crew.

A year which, it should be noted, began with most MLS writers and fans assuming that he was about to be fired and ended with him being lauded as one of the greatest coaches in league history.

But then, it's been that kind of year.

* Dan-Loney-type footnote to Beau Dure: It's easy to complain about the straight-up bloggers, but it's not just the basement/pajama crowd passing along opinion disguised as facts

** Dan-Loney-type footnote to Wil Kuhns and Susan Marschall: is passing along scurrilous rumors about FO personnel as potentially damaging as doing the same with players?