Coaching A Revolution: Are Heaps Of Passion Enough?

I thought I might be writing about a coach tonight, but certainly not like this.  I hoped to offer commentary on Juergen Klinsmann and his lackluster start with the US Men’s National Team.

But since I’ve not even finished watching the USA v France game on DVR, and still don’t feel the US fan corner I watched the game from in France allowed me much perspective (too much fan-watching, too bad an angle)… I was struggling.

Then, it happened.

The Boston Globe broke a story, and Twitter storm, about Jay Heaps being announced tomorrow as the New England Revolution’s next head coach.  Let’s, for the moment, just take it as fact. If the Boston Globe cares enough to pay attention to the Revolution in the post season, they are probably not guessing.

In some ways, this is no surprise, as Jay’s name had come up for some time in the conversation about people potentially interested in the role. However, I think most fans thought it was a cute conversation about a prior Revolution player and current TV color commentary guy.  It wasn’t taken particularly seriously.

It’s not that Jay Heaps isn’t a popular figure in Revolution circles, he most certainly is. Revolution fans hold him in high regard, and for good reason. He always brought an intensity to the game that was infectious.   If there was a player who embodied the Revolution’s (somewhat ironic) catchphrase of “Pride and Passion” it is Jay Heaps.

So this announcement has supporters. Fans looking for nostalgia, for the fire-in-the-belly attitude that Steve Nicol seemed to have lost will love this announcement. Fans who remember Jay as a member of the Revolution teams that made it to finals, had winning seasons and battled for Eastern Conference domination will hope that the fighting spirit returns.

But a strong initial reaction, even from fans who like Jay Heaps, was one of disappointment and resignation. With a team stuck in a deep funk, the idea of a bringing aboard an inexperienced coach who was a “team guy” with questionable readiness taking over smacks of being “the easy way out.”

The prior ex-player to be seriously discussed as a coaching option was Steve Ralston, and I set out a bunch of considerations by which a Ralston appointment might be viewed. It’s an interesting comparison to use those same measurement areas for Mr. Heaps.

  • Knowledge of MLS. Like Ralston, this is a strong positive for Jay’s candidacy, though Ralston has side-line specific experience from his current Assistant Coaching role for the Houston Dynamo.
  • History as an attack-minded, passing-oriented player. This was a non-standard metric to judge a coach in anyone’s book, but one I was hopeful would play in to the decision. If you believe that coaches only offer inspiration and motivation, ignore this. But if you think that coaches influence the brand of soccer that is played, Jay’s record as a hard-nosed defender doesn’t inspire confidence for the arrival of the beautiful game at Gillette Stadium.
  • Foxboro fan favorite. I don’t know who would win a popularity contest between Ralston and Heaps in Foxboro, but both would do very well.
  • Mentoring Benny Feilhaber and Diego Fagundez. Jay would serve as a positive mentor for young Revolution players, but one might think the young defenders (Alston, Barnes, etc.) would see a greater benefit than a Feilhaber or Fagundez who offer the potential for a more skillful brand of soccer.
  • Revolution history. Heaps offers the same nostalgic view of the Revolution’s good-old-days as Ralston would have offered and will undoubtedly push to return the team to that former glory.
  • Personality. Jay’s much more active and forward personality might well be better suited for MLS coaching, especially in shaking the Revolution from its funk, than a more reserved Steve Ralston.
  • Coaching Experience. Steve Ralston is currently an assistant coach at the Houston Dynamo, a successful MLS organization. Jay Heaps hasn’t ever been a coach, and will have to manage some significant personalities (and ex-teammates) like Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis, in order to find success.
  • International Experience. Both Jay Heaps and Steve Ralston saw time with the US National Team, though Ralston had far greater exposure. In reality, neither of them would bring any international coaching credibility that’s likely to ease the acquisition of DP level foreigners to Foxboro or impress likely signings.
  • Go big or go home. This was the idea that the Revolution are in need of something big to prove to the players, the fans and MLS that they are “in it to win it.” After a management reorganization that, while potentially beneficial, was hardly seen as a big advancement, the choice of a Kraft-family favorite with no coaching experience who is already on the payroll for doing TV broadcasts looks quite like a cop-out.

One area I didn’t cover with Steve Ralston was whether or not he’d actually be interested in taking the job.  Ralston is about to be on the sidelines of an MLS Cup challenger, learning from an experienced coach and getting ready for the excitement of a soccer-specifc-stadium opening.   What would be the draw to return?  Heaps, meanwhile, grew up in New England, played more games for the Revolution than anyone and still works with the team and seems ready, willing and able to consider a coaching position.

(Or maybe ex-right back Mike Burns wanted to replace ex-right back Steve Nicol with ex-right back Jay Heaps.)

There are two major concerns with this Jay Heaps being announced as coach.

First, does an inexperienced coach (does he have a coaching certification at all?) have what it takes to right a ship that’s clearly off course.

Second, we can expect Jay to bring intensity, but ugly soccer with the volume turned up does not get better looking, and often gets worse.  And this product could use some polishing.

There’s much to learn about what a Jay Heaps managed team would look and play like, and it’s certainly hard for anyone to wish Jay Heaps or the Revolution any ill will.

It’s less difficult though to find some concerns with his choice as the new coach of the team and the significance of the recent organizational changes.

Because, while a Heaps–>Burns–>Bilello reporting structure might not be striking fear in the hearts of our rivals, it has brought indigestion to fans looking for a big statement of commitment, investment and higher-expectations from team ownership.

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One thought on “Coaching A Revolution: Are Heaps Of Passion Enough?

  1. Again, spot on.

    I want to believe. I do. Unfortunately, and it hurts to say this, I just can’t right now. Jay Heaps is going to come out Wednesday morning and say all the right things. The problem is he isn’t going to be able to deliver on any of them, and only around 200-300 people in the entire region will be listening/watching anyway.

    Heaps->Burns->Bilello? Lemme guess how this’ll work: “I need new players”->”Sorry, this is the best we can do”->”Yup, best we can do”.

    It’s not Jay’s fault. He’s been given a damn near impossible task- to make this team relevant in a MLS 2.0 world (with teams rapidly progressing to 2.5) with a 1.0 budget/ownership attitude.

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