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January 24, 2013
Petke gets promoted from interim to head Red Bulls coach

By Michael Lewis Editor

Like a romantic movie, sometimes the person that you are seeking is right under your nose.

For more than two months, Red Bulls sporting general manager Andy Roxburgh searched the world looking for a new coach.

It wasn't until Thursday that Roxburgh made his decision to promote interim coach Mike Petke to head coach public. He decided after working with Petke for weeks after Hans Backe was told his contract wasn't going to be extended.

Roxburgh obviously liked what he had seen from the Bohemia, N.Y. native.

"I worked with him on the pitch for two weeks when the players were training," he said during a conference call on Thursday. "From that moment I was really impressed. He's well organized, has got respect of the players. Mike is very experienced in terms of MLS. If you brought a coach in from Europe, he might be experienced in Europe, but he would inexperienced here in the U.S. Mike starts with that, an enormous advantage. He knows the league and he is absolutely passionate about the club. All of these things added up to making Mike an appropriate choice for us. . . . I think it will be an interesting adventure for us all."

Petke's adventure with the organization began way back in 1998, when he was selected as the eighth overall pick of the Major League Soccer draft by the MetroStars. He was ecstatic when heard his name and a romance with the club began that still lasts to this day.

"First and foremost I am honored and I am privileged -- I feel privileged to be put in the situation that I am in right now," he said. . Obviously, all you guys know how I feel about this organization. The way I conducted myself has never been a means to an end. It's never for any other reason to gain anything, but to do what's right for this organization."

Petke, who played at the Brentwood Soccer Club and St. John the Baptist High School, wasn't the Red Bulls' first choice, but he hardly felt slighted. At one stage, former Scottish international Gary McAllister and ex-Portuguese international midfielder Paulo Sousa sat in the pole positions, but both men's pursuits of the job fell through.

"If they decided to go with someone else, I never would have had a problem," Petke said. "But I believed that I was always more than ready. I'm more than capable. I always put this club ahead of me in everything I do."

Petke, who turns 37 on Wednesday, became the first former Red Bulls player to become head coach of the team (Richie Williams twice was an interim coach).

"I didn't realize it at first, but realized it as the weeks went on, my interview process started in November when they turned to me and said you're taking the reins for the rest of the year," he said. "It wasn't a sit-down interview. It was Andy observing me. It was how I reacted with the players, how I handled myself. It wasn't a difficult interview because I carried on the way I always carried on. Do I feel slighted? Not in the least bit."

When Backe was not rehired, Petke, then an assistant coach, became interim coach. Roxburgh started his search. It took 75 days before Thursday's announcement. He made the announcement before Thursday's morning session in Bradenton, Fla.

"It was very important to see all options," Roxburgh said. "I had spoken to a number of people about the position. For whatever reason, it didn't work out. But I always thought I would like to have a young and hungry coach, who is adaptable. As we went through the process, we didn't rush anything we did. I did have a deadline that I wanted to have a coach by the time the players came to camp. The players had to know."

One of Petke's challenges will be dealing with some high-priced players, such as French superstar Thierry Henry, who has been known to be demanding.

"I've had two years now to get to know Thierry, work with him," Petke said. "We have a very good relationship. Thierry is somebody that before he came here, I didn't think anybody was as passionate or as competitive as I was. When he came here, he made me look like my five-year-old son.

"This is a guy whether he was playing ping pong, whether is playing cards, whether he is playing the World Cup final, he is there to win. You look at athletes such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Kobe Bryant, people like that, he's right in that mold. . . . Nothing has changed. No one will be coddled. They are human beings and men and we'll treat them like men.

The Red Bulls, who hope to hire an assistant coach soon, have been talking to several candidates. Former MetroStars and Red Bulls goalkeeper Tony Meola is one of the possibilities, a league source said.

"We have had discussions with a number of people, even before Mike and I got down to talking about being fulltime head coach," Roxburgh said. "One thing is certain: it will be someone with MLS experience, someone from the U.S. I think we'll give you an answer to this very quickly. We want to have that in place as fast as possible."

If there was an unofficial theme of the conference call, it was that nothing had changed for Petke, a phrase he repeated several times after a memorable and and sometimes hectic 24 hours.

"I look back at big things in my life," he said. "I look back at winning a high school soccer championship, going to college on a scholarship. getting drafted by the Red Bulls. I look back at them when those things happened and remember feeling about myself a little bit overwhelmed, but in a good way. and waiting for it to kick in. Then all of a sudden you blink and you don't think it's kicked in, but it's a smooth transition.

"The same thing has happened over the last 24 hours. Obviously, the one big thing that has changed it was announced this morning while I had the team at training my phone was literally burning flames from friends, family, supporters, people that I haven't spoke with over a long time. Mot importantly agents, who were telling me that they had the next best player. It's been a great 24 hours. Fortunately, my wife is down here with me for a couple of days. So we got to enjoy that together. She has been along on this ride with me since I was a player. We've been together my whole career. Nothing has changed."

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