Mentors, the Fresh Makers among MLS Coaches
Posted on August 4, 2012 9:04 pm
A couple of really smart people, Rakesh Khurana of MIT and Nitin Nohira of Hahvahd, hypothesized that forced managerial departures followed by an insider successor are doomed to fail, but they turned out be wrong. The researchers thought insiders would be too much part of the messed up scene to bring needed change.
For Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union, that scenario has been just the ticket for improved performance. The benefits of Paul Mariner kicking himself downstairs are chronicled by Mike Ulmer of TorontoFC.ca.
Of particular interest in that article is the description by Ryan Johnson of Mariner as a “great player’s coach.”
“He knows what makes us comfortable, what makes us happy, what doesn’t make us happy. He’s got a good sense of our emotions and he operates off of that.”
Similar praise adorns John Hackworth’s tenure in Philadelphia. In the linked article from Major League Soccer Soccer, former U.S. international Brian Maisonneuve says,
“When you listen and you’re honest, players love that. He is a player’s coach, and I would venture to say that every player that’s played for him has really enjoyed it.”
That a happier dressing room is part of the explanation for improved performance is no surprise in the case of Philadelphia. Less so in Toronto. Former TFC boss Aron Winter is courteous almost to a fault. Piotr Nowak, well, not so much.
Nowak decided suing the Union and filing his termination letter with the action was a good idea, allowing the whole world to see these gems from the letter outlining his sins:
“physical confrontations with players and officials during a Team game resulting in a fine and multi-game suspension, …interfering with the rights of Team players to contact the players’ union with concerns, …subjecting Team players to inappropriate hazing activities and engaging in behavior that put the health and safety of Team players at risk.
…making disparaging remarks to third parties regarding Club, its management and its ownership.
…requiring injured players to participate in strenuous training activities, not allowing players to have water during such activities despite temperatures in excess of 80 degrees, ignoring the
advice of the head athletic trainer regarding which players are healthy enough to play in games and participate in training sessions and creating an atmosphere where medical issues should be
hid from medical staff and not treated.”
TFC players did not have to put up with anything like that, but there is more to the emotional intelligence Johnson praises in Mariner than good manners. He appears to know how to push the right buttons.
Tactical adjustments in both places are also part of the difference. Philadelphia now plays more like TFC was trying to and vice versa. Matching personnel to tactics was a struggle for Winter, and despising those who succeeded seemed to be a problem for Nowak.
Of course we have a counter example this year. While TFC has gone 4-3-4 under Mariner in MLS after a 1-9-0 start and won going away in its opening CCL match, and Philadelphia under Hackworth has gone 5-3-0 after a 2-7-2 start, there is Portland. They were 5-8-4 with a -8 goal difference when John Spencer was fired. They are now 5-12-4 with a -17 goal difference.
Like Hackworth, Spencer’s replacement Gavin Wilkinson carries the “interim” tag. Unlike Hackworth, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has made it clear that Wilkinson will not be the permanent coach and has said he would hire a replacement in the offseason. In so doing, he set up the very “weak insider” dynamic that makes only change for the worse likely. Paulson signalled to his team and to the fans that things are really messed up, and that he is not going to do anything about it until the season is over, thereby making this season a write off.