Sounders FC majority owner Joe Roth and part owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer spoke with reporters Thursday afternoon following the news that coach Sigi Schmid will be retained for the 2014 season.
Here is a transcript…
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How much of a concern was the late-season slide in making this decision?
Roth: “Well, I sat down with Adrian and Sigi on Tuesday down here in Los Angeles for two hours, and we kind of talked through everything, because anybody who has a business that’s kicking ass Oct. 1 and down to fifth on Nov. 1 has got to worry about it or they’re remiss, themselves. I think that I was horrified by the late-season slide and felt like it started in the 1-1 tie in the Red Bulls game, frankly — a game we should’ve won. Then it just seemed like we were on our heels the rest of the way. As a sports fan and a fanatic Sounders fan and an owner and a businessman, I was terrified, particularly since the previous 22 games we’d gotten 47 points. If we stunk, we stunk, but this was totally unexpected. I think the job that Adrian and I have in front of us is to evaluate every single piece of the team: coach, coaches, medical staff, players, ball boys — you name it. I just wanted to hear from Sigi and, at the same time, have him hear what my expectations of the team are.”
What were the reasons that led you decide to keep Sigi and what, if any, changes have you identified that you need to make to the organization to avoid a repeat of what happened?
Roth: “Look, I think Sigi’s a great coach. I’m down here in L.A. and I watched him coach at UCLA for a long time and at the Galaxy and at Columbus. We went out of our way to try and bring him to Seattle. In the five years we’ve been here with an expansion team, he’s made the playoffs all five years. We just haven’t had a slide like that. It was so shocking and discouraging, I think we all needed to talk about it. Nobody’s won more MLS games than Sigi; he’s a great coach. We just wanted to get more understanding about it and make sure we can take steps, whatever they are, in training, in the locker room, or whatever, to make sure this thing doesn’t happen again.”
Hanauer: “I was just going to add that I think in that meeting we heard that Sigi has the same commitment to the tough decisions ahead, the kind of soccer we want to play, and the mentality that we want our team to represent for our brand and our fans.”
And have you identified changes you’d like to make?
Can you elaborate as to what those are?
Hanauer: “No. (laughs) … We’re busy at work for next year. As we make decisions, you’ll become aware of them.”
Do you feel this public process has weakened Schmid’s status with the team?
Roth: “I’ll start off and the answer is no. I don’t think it weakens him with the team. We’re saying that having this press conference and putting this statement out says we’re completely behind him and expect to be in the kind of form we were in midseason all season next year. So no, I don’t think it weakens him. There is a little organization here called the Los Angeles Dodgers that I believe gave Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda about 30 or 40 one-year contracts, and frankly, they seemed to work out just fine. I happen to think that when you look at the players in the NBA or the NFL or baseball, playing out the last year of their free-agent contracts, somehow they miraculously hit more home-runs or score more points or do something. I think it’s good. I don’t think it weakens him at all. It’s not a trial, it’s nothing. He’s too esteemed a coach to be on trial. We always just need to have the same fire in our belly that the fans have. If we can muster up the same passion that the fan base has, we’d be champions of the world. That’s what we’re requiring going forward.”
We had been told the process could take up to a couple weeks. Had something changed there or gone differently than planned to come to this decision in just a couple days since that last update?
Roth: “Adrian said it; I think he was right that he was basically saying we don’t want to make an emotional decision based on a disappointing last month of the season. Actually I was unaware that he said it. What I was looking for was a two-hour face-to-face with the coach where I could voice my opinions and hear his responses to make sure that we were on the same page. So I felt like once we got past that, there was really no point in waiting longer. The decision was to keep him on and keep him on with full support. To me, once you’ve made that decision, every day you wait just allows people to be skeptical or cynical or uncertain.”
Does this decision carry over to the entire staff? Are you operating under the assumption everyone is going back for 2014?
Hanauer: “Yes, we’re operating under that assumption but the entire staff is assessed at the end of every year. Well, quite frankly, throughout every year and at the end of every year, just like everyone else in the organization. You never know when changes are coming, but our intention is and our belief is that we have a very, very good staff and a great, cohesive unit, and it’s full steam ahead.”
Roth: “And Josh, I’m assessing everybody, including you. (laughs) … The ball boy, the peanut vendor, everybody. Everybody has got to be on the same page.”
How important was it to make this decision as an owner and a businessman and not, perhaps, as an emotional fan that you mentioned you are earlier?
Roth: “Listen, Sigi is the leader of the team. He is the leader of the players. Whatever team we put on the field next year, they will be the responsibility of Sigi, so I wanted to make sure that I understood how that is going to go and what his opinion was and what he thought of the team that he had. … It was not an emotional meeting whatsoever. It was a very frank conversation about the disaster of winning one of our last 10 games.”
Did you ever get to the point where you considered replacements?
Roth: “This is not about possible replacements, at all. John Wooden died a few years ago, but other than that I can’t think of (anyone).”
Why isn’t Schmid on the call?
Roth: “Because we’re here to support him.”
Hanauer: “And he’s meeting with players.”
Roth: “I wouldn’t put him on the call anyway. We’re here to support him. He doesn’t have to defend himself. We’re here to support him.”
Is it always going to be a gut instinct type of thing or has this process clarified your own expectations on what it takes to make a coaching change?
Roth: “I think it has, actually. Just to speak for myself. To me, it’s two things; it’s results and character. We expect you to get to results. We expect to have the team have the character that we want it to. If the team has the character that we want it to, we’ll get the results.”
Any comment on the report that the team is shopping Eddie Johnson around the league?
Hanauer: “Look, you guys know, this is the time of year when transactions happen in our league. Every general manager is on the phone with every other general manager talking about just about every player on their team. This year is no different. There are going to be 100 of these rumors in the next few months. Some of them will end up being true and some of them won’t end up being true. I’m not going to comment on specific player transactions.”
Roth: “Other than the fact that we love Clint Dempsey and are super happy that Clint Dempsey is with us. We look forward to the transition into the next few years of his contract and think will end up being an MLS superstar.”
Did bringing Schmid back involve a change to his contract, like an extension?
Hanauer: “No, he was under contract for 2014.”
And you weren’t exercising a team option?
You mentioned Clint Dempsey, how much of a factor was knowing the trend of big midseason additions paying off in Year 2?
Hanauer: “Not enormously. Again, Joe characterized it perfectly. We want the right character and the right results, and the right character will lead to those results. Look, there are certain realities to every team. Players come and go from national team duty, and you have injuries. Players come in midseason. You have some strengths and some weakness. But ultimately this decision was about the core character, type of play and results.”
Roth: “And I could be wrong, but I think we won basically the first five games in a row after Clint joined the team. Somebody can correct me if I’m wrong. (Ed note: They won Games 3-7 since Dempsey debuted, and Dempsey missed two of those games)
Would you call this season an aberration in terms of Schmid’s performance?
Hanauer: “You sort of characterized it as Sigi’s performance. I’m not sure that I’d say that Sigi’s performance this year was any different than the first four years. There are a lot of factors that go into character and results. Again, that was the key — that everybody was on the same page and that character and results were going to be the focus.”
Roth: “There is another part to it, too, which is up until Oct. 1, we were the hands-on favorite to win the Supporters’ Shield. There was nobody playing better soccer than us in those middle 22 games of the season. We got 47 points during that time. Actually, for much of the year, we were playing well enough to be the high-scoring team in the league in terms of points. Then we just fell apart. It’s uncharacteristic of the Sounders of the five years. It’s certainly uncharacteristic of Sigi’s career. Frankly, it’s uncharacteristic of almost any sports team I’ve ever seen. I think the Philadelphia Phillies one year were a few games out and had to lose their last eight games not to make the playoffs and managed to do that. When things go bad, they go bad.”
Roth offers an anecdote…
Roth: “I have a little anecdote that I think is very instructive to where we’re at as ownership, which is yesterday morning down in Los Angeles, my wife was at a park. There were two children at the park, her and another couple. My 20-month-old son was wearing his Sounders shirt, like he always does here in L.A., and the other couple remarked that he had a Sounders shirt on. They talked about it a lot. My wife leaned over and said, ‘Are you from Seattle?’ They said yes. They said, ‘We had to get out of town after the team lost to Portland. We couldn’t stay in Seattle.’ She said, ‘Really?’ The wife said, ‘Yeah, my husband would’ve broken up the house.’ So that’s the kind of passion that our fans have, and I expect every person under our employ to feel the same way.”
How much did injuries and all that factor in and would the conclusion on how this team was coached have been different with a healthy roster?
Roth: “I don’t have a conclusion on how the team was coached. I think it was an unfortunate combination — it’s never one thing — of getting on a bad streak, having a lot of injuries, having national team call-ups. Obviously I think if we hadn’t the injuries we had, it would’ve been better. Obviously if we hadn’t had Dempsey and Eddie Johnson and Evans called up on two separate occasions playing national team games, I think we certainly would’ve had better chemistry on the field. To me, the teams that have chemistry on the field are the teams that win.”