This morning Toronto FC made it official that they have relieved Paul Mariner of his duties with the club and brought in Ryan Nelsen and Fran O'Leary to lead the coaching staff going forward. Nelsen remains under contract with Queen's Park Rangers of the English Premier League and will not be with the team full time until his obligations with the club are wrapped up. While he is gone O'Leary will be responsible for much of the coaching duties. It was a press conference that will certainly give fans a lot to chew on.
It was confirmed that Nelsen will still have conversations with Harry Redknapp and Tony Fernandez at QPR to decide his future but he made it very clear that he intends to see out the final few months of his contract with the club and wants to do anything he can to help them survive the relegation battle that they are very much in the middle of right now.
So the timeline for his actual arrival at the club is a bit unclear but what we do know now is what the coaching staff for next season is going to look like. Mariner is out the door following Winter and de Klerk who were hired at the same time as him roughly a year ago leaving Jim Brennan, Stewart Kerr, and Jason Bent on the coaching staff. They will be joined by Nelsen as the head coach and Fran O'Leary as his right hand man. The staff will be supported by Kevin Payne as well as Earl Cochrane who will both remain in their current roles.
It seems like Nelsen will be bringing in his experience as a player and the knowledge that he has gained during his playing years. He confirmed that he has not completed any coaching badges as he was busy with his playing career but has been learning on the job by picking the brains of coaches throughout his career. That process is how he got to know O'Leary as he volunteered to work with him as an assistant coach at George Mason during his first season with DC United.
There was a lot of talk about how Nelsen always seemed like the kind of player that would eventually make a very good coach. Payne commented several times that when he first brought Nelsen in to DC he was impressed by his personality and his attitudes and the fact that he was a leader from a young age and always willing to learn. Payne felt that Nelsen had better leadership qualities than any player that he had ever been around and that is why he felt he would make a good coach.
Bringing Nelsen in as the coach was a process that had been in the works for a long time as Payne remained in touch with him after he left DC for England. He knew that Nelsen's career was winding down and that he would not be playing much longer so when the option to bring him in as the coach at TFC came out Payne made it happen. It came across that Payne was not sold on Mariner so when he heard that Nelsen was ready to retire from his playing career, even though he is not retired yet, he knew it was the right time to make the change.
The timing of the move certainly raised some eye brows considering how close we are to the draft and the start of training camps. Payne tried to calm any fears in that regard by stating that they have a team in place including the backroom staff and the coaching staff that will be able to get the work done by committee.
The press conference confirmed that while Nelsen is absent the coaching duties will primarily fall to Fran O'Leary. He has years of coaching experience at the NCAA level and also has the top American coaching license and has just completed his UEFA "A" course. O'Leary will bring a wealth of coaching experience and credentials to the job which should help to make up for the lack of that on Nelsen's side of things. He will also take on a big role in player development as he has spent his career working with young players in the college ranks and knows a fair bit about developing the kind of young talent that TFC has stock piled in recent years.
Toronto FC will be going forward with a coaching staff that will be very much a committee which is certainly not a new idea. Much clubs get things done by committee even if the head coach is the clear leader. They all have members of the coaching staff that specialize in certain things and share the work load.
In Toronto, it seems that Nelsen will be the charismatic leader who brings with him a specific playing style and attitudes towards the game along with the technical knowledge he has acquired while playing. O'Leary will bring more knowledge about coaching and developing players and that will be complemented by Stewart Kerr working with the keepers, Jim Brennan with the defenders, and Jason Bent working more with the midfielders and attackers. If you are going to coach by committee then it seems that Payne has now got a fairly well rounded committee in place.
So what kind of team is Toronto FC going to be under Kevin Payne and Ryan Nelsen? Well, the specifics will depend on the players that are available but it was made clear today that they want to be a team that works hard to get better every day and does not roll over for anyone.
For Payne that hard work will start with the management team which he expects to be the hardest working staff in MLS. That hard work will then provide the example for the players to follow and finally turn TFC into a team worthy of the fans support.
Nelsen echoed that sentiment saying that he expects the team to adopt a similar style to the way that he plays the game and work hard, constantly battle and never roll over for anyone. Watching the way Nelsen reacts to errors by his team as a player and you can see that he will not be one to settle for anything less than a player's best effort.
There are clearly a lot of questions to be addressed following the press conference and we will touch on a number of them in the coming days but for now all we can do is wait and see how Nelsen will be as a coach, when he eventually starts. It seems like the structure is in place to help him succeed once he gets here, which is a good start but until he is finished his contract at QPR it will be interesting to see how the team is run.
Along with the questions that most fans are asking there also seems to be a certain air of excitement. There is no doubt that Nelsen has certain key leadership qualities about him and you can tell that he is a no nonsense kind of person which are key things in a coach but we will have to hope that all the learning he did as a player is enough to help him be a good coach.
The real question now is do we all have to cheer for QPR since the new coach plays for them?