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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

January 23, 2013
Red Bulls coaching fiasco: disappointing, confounding, ridiculous

By Michael Lewis Editor

For better or worse, I have covered the Red Bulls/MetroStars since their inception and quite frankly I have never encountered anything like this.

They are coach-less entering pre-season training and with no solution in sight.

I have experienced and reported on every coaching move and firing through the years, and some of them have been doozies.

Let's see, there was Eddie Firmani stepping down eight games into the MetroStars' inaugural season in 1996. There was Carlos Queiroz rejecting a sizable offer to coach the team in 1997 to earn millions from Grampus Eight in Japan. There was Alfonso Mondelo getting the heave-ho during a five-game losing streak after the team clinching a playoff berth in 1998. There was Bora Milutinovic taking over for Mondelo and directing the team through a nightmarish 1999 season. There was Bob Bradley getting fired late in the 2005 season with a playoff berth still on the line. There was Mo Johnston, who feared he was going to get canned weeks before the axe came down in 2006. There was Bruce Arena getting pushed out after the 2007 season. There was Juan Carlos Osorio resigning late in the 2009 season because Red Bull wanted him to make the move (Octavio Zambrano was fired after the Metros did not make the playoffs in 2002; nothing unusual about that).

But never, have I covered a team without a coach this close to the season. Since Hans Backe was told his contract wasn't going to be extended on Nov. 9 the Red Bulls haven't had a permanent coach. That was some 75 days ago. And oh yes, there are 38 days until their March 3 season-opener in Portland.

No coach, no worries?

Not here.

I am concerned about this team.

The Red Bulls became the first team not to have a fulltime coach in place by the MLS SuperDraft and they are the first team not to have a head coach by the time training camp began.

Not having a coach at this juncture is disappointing, confounding and ridiculous.

With a new regime taking over, a coach should be in place as early as possible as he can communicate his playing philosophy, style and tactics to the team.

Unless you have been living in a cave, you already know that assistant coach Mike Petke has been interim coach and directing the team in Florida.

We don't know how many candidates sporting director Andy Roxburgh has interviewed for the position, although we do know that Gary McAllister and Paulo Sousa, the two leading candidates at one time or another, are out of the picture, well at least as of Wednesday, Jan. 24. McAllister reportedly wanted too much money, especially to coach an MLS team, and Sousa reportedly said that negotiations did not work out (there was talk of some visa problems), even though he resigned from Videoton in Hungary.

What we don't know is how much input Red Bulls global football head Gerard Houllier has had in the process. Roxburgh said on Monday that he talks to Houllier daily. Houllier reportedly wanted a European coach, while Roxburgh wanted a stronger American influence. We don't know if Houllier is making suggestions or demands or something in-between.

For better or worse, I would like to see Roxburgh and general manager Jerome de Bontin to make their decisions on their own experience and expertise.

Roxburgh, who will have final say on the new coach, is a class act and one of the most knowledgeable and respected men in the business. Although he might not necessarily remember, I got to know him a bit at a National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention years ago. I was impressed with him then and for the short time I was able to interview him in November. He's one smart dude, willing to listen to the concerns of the media.

So, back to the question at hand: just who will coach the team?

Your guess probably is as good as mine.

But here are some scenarios:

* Roxburgh takes over as coach, with Petke as his No. 1 man, grooming him to be the head coach next year.

* Petke is named coach, although he has no experience as a No. 1 assistant coach, despite a growing number of Red Bulls fans who feel that he should be the head coach. Petke could need another year of grooming, though.

* Roxburgh revisits some of the candidates he interviewed, including Eric Wynalda, Jesse Marsch, Tony Meola and even Claudio Reyna. Reyna reportedly was interviewed to be technical director or top assistant coach. Last week, very good sources said Reyna probably would not take the position. But with Sousa out of the picture, who knows what could happen now?

* Another European or even South American could emerge. Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

* Or, they bring back the hated and vilified Rafa Marquez to coach the team, where he would complain about every one being an "infantile player."

OK, OK, I was joking -- a cruel joke -- on this one. Red Bull fans have been tortured through the years, but they shouldn't be tortured that much.

But then again, with no coach as of Jan. 23, they seem to be tortured enough already.

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