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Toronto FC and The Rookie Coaches, Is It Us Or Them?

As TFC continues on it's seemingly never-ending rebuilding process (7 years and counting!) by hiring Kiwi Ryan Nelsen, the team's 8th coach in less than seven seasons, it's time to take a look at the phenomena of rookie coaches and TFC. Does having a rookie coach always mean doom or is there something in the water at BMO?

What? Another Head Coach at TFC?
What? Another Head Coach at TFC?
Mike Stobe

It's never dull in TFC land is it folks? So here we go again; we're heading into yet another season with a rookie coach. And not just any rookie coach - only the finest rookie coach for season 7! - but a coach that until this past Saturday was still a starting defender in the EPL for Queens Park Rangers! How's that for completely wet behind the ears? Did I mention that he's also the captain for New Zealand's national team? Coaching qualifications? Umm...we're still waiting to hear about those. But hey, if Harry Redknapp says he's the business then what are we doing quibbling? Time for a walk down memory lane (as scary as it is) of the every growing list of rookies to take charge of our Reds.

Coaching Through The Years (did Holding Back The Years by Simply Red just run through your head? You're welcome):

Mo Johnston: Trader Mo was coach of TFC in it's inaugural year after having a very tiny taste of head coaching experience with the New York Red Bulls the previous season (although he was fired half-way through the season) and finished with a record of 6-17-7

John Carver: Carver continued TFC's love affair with coaches with EPL experience when they brought him over to be head coach at the beginning of the 2008 season. While Carver had lots of first team coaching and assistant experience he had never been one of the top guys before coming to TFC. He resigned only a few games into the 2009 season and left with a record of 11-15-10

Chris Cummins: Cummins had been the assistant coach for Carver and took over as interim head coach upon his resignation. Cummins had very little experience outside of player development in youth leagues but did finish the season with a 12-11-8 record behind the bench. Not to mention guiding TFC to their first ever Voyageurs Cup - not too bad for a rookie eh? But that interim tag just wouldn't leave and he was not asked to continue coaching the Reds (although there were apparently visa issues for his family as well). He's now the Development coach for Reading FC.

Preki Radosavljevic: This was where TFC was supposed to turn it around (yes, we've heard that many, many times) - finally a coach with not only MLS experience, head coach experience and playing experience but one that had won MLS Coach of the Year in his first year as head coach of Chivas. While under Preki TFC boasted the most defense minded team it's had, and had their lowest goal differential (although still on the minus side) of their existence while he was at the helm. But Preki rubbed some the wrong way and was summarily turfed along with General Manager Mo Johnston in September of 2010 finishing his tenure at TFC with a 7-10-7 record. At the moment he is not actively involved in coaching or with any other aspect of the game.

Nick Dasovic: Daso (as we like to call him) took over for Preki after his ouster and finally got the position that he was rumoured to have been offered after John Carver left the team. Yet another rookie coach but one with a Canadian playing and coaching pedigree! Daso was seen (and still is by some) as the best chance to have a coach that had worked within the TFC system (working with the Academy and as assistant coach to the first team) take the reigns. But after a decent showing for the last 6 weeks of the 2010 season going 3-4-3 he was replaced by Aron Winter in January of 2011. Dasovic is currently the coach of the Canada U-20 team.

Aron Winter: Quite possibly the most "rookie" of the rookie coaches - Winter came to TFC as the great Dutch hope. A storied player in his time for Ajax and Lazio as well as the Dutch National team he had very little actual coaching experience - yes he was an Assistant Coach with the Ajax system, but that was for the Academy team. Laudable to be sure but still, another coach with less than extensive experience. What was exciting about Winter's appointment was that it was supposed to bring (again) a new vision to TFC; a 3 year plan to transform TFC and it's Academy into a North American version of the Ajax model. As we all know Winter was fired (resigned, whatever) after going 1-9-0 to start the MLS season and the 3 year plan was tossed out the window...which brings us to:

Paul Mariner: Do I really need to go over Mariner's record and history? Possibly the most controversial of all of our coaches (rookie or otherwise), I'm pretty sure that we could all quote it chapter and verse after this past season so I'm just going to move on (or if you really need to know you can just check out our story stream).

So that's where we've been; 7 coaches, not one winning record and just the one sniff at the playoffs. A long list of mostly inexperienced men, often prickly but for the most part each in their own way wanting to win, wanting to lead a team, to make it his own yet none lasting even two full seasons. Few lasting longer than 9 months - lets hear it for stability!

So where do we lay blame? Is six years of missed playoffs, record player turnover, porous defense and lack of firepower up front really all the fault of inexperienced coaches? Could seven different men with years of football experience all be that terrible? Is it something in the water, is BMO actually cursed or do we once again look squarely at the offices at MLSE and those that have pulled the strings, had the knee jerk reactions and interfered at what seems to be every turn? Well it sure as hell hasn't helped.

Being a rookie coach doesn't always mean doom - three recent MLS examples of successful rookie coaches in Jason Kreis, Piotr Nowak and Ben Olsen are prime examples of what can go right. All three men went from successful playing careers to head coaching duties for MLS sides and all three saw immediate success.

Ben Olsen, arguably one of the best midfielders to play in MLS has taken D.C. United to the Semi-Finals of the MLS Playoffs in just over two years. Piotr Nowak also saw success with DC back in 2004 - taking them to the MLS Cup in his first season as coach (are you picking up on the DC connection?) And then possibly the most successful of the three is Jason Kreis who pretty much stepped off the pitch and into the head coach role at RSL back in 2007. He saw immediate success guiding Real Salt Lake to their first ever playoff appearance in 2008 and then became the youngest coach to win an MLS Cup in 2009.

What's the theme among these three rookies? Do they all possess some inherent coaching genius? Maybe. Or perhaps they've all worked for clubs with a stable Front Office, with football men in charge and with license to do what needs to be done. With the hiring of Kevin Payne and his wealth of experience, MLS contacts and respect throughout the league, TFC may finally have the "football man" that we fans have been clamoring for. Payne has wasted little time in putting his mark on the team and today's announcement (join us on the Live Thread at 9:30) of Ryan Nelsen as the last incarnation of the TFC rookie coach could be his best move yet. For once we've got a man in charge putting the people he wants in charge of the product on the field - here's hoping that after Nelsen has had a long and illustrious career (hey I can dream) with Toronto that like in Field of Dreams we'll be able to say to him: