Fran O'Leary is about to be a very important man around Toronto FC. He was hired by the club to serve as an assistant coach under Ryan Nelsen and also as the director of player development. He will be the first assistant to Nelsen and while the head coach is still seeing out his contract with QPR it will be O'Leary that will make the majority of the decisions including selecting the roster and handling the coaching duties during any games that Nelly (yes, O'Leary does call Nelsen that) should happen to miss.
So if Fran O'Leary is going to be that important to the start of the season then it is probably wise to get to know him as he will certainly be a key part of the Ryan Nelsen era at Toronto FC. O'Leary, a native of Dublin, Ireland, comes to Toronto from Bowdoin college in Maine. He had been the head coach of the NCAA Division III program for the past eight seasons leading them to three tournament appearances and amassing a 82-44-16 record over that time.
Some may dismiss his coaching experience due to the fact that he was working at the division three level for a program that very few people have heard of but he has spent time coaching at higher levels before landing the top job with the Bowdoin Polar Bears.
O'Leary served as a coach with Elmira College and Kenyon College in division III before getting a crack at a top job in division I. He would spend seven years in charge at Dartmouth where he would lead the Big Green to a pair of tournament appearances and a 56-48-14. It was a fairly impressive tenure at the school before he eventually moved on to take the top job at George Mason University.
He enjoyed more success at George Mason which was highlighted by the 2003 season when he led them to a double digit win total with an 11-6-6 record. It was while he was there that O'Leary ended up crossing paths with Ryan Nelsen. Nelsen, then a rookie defender with D.C. United, volunteered to join O'Leary's coaching staff as an assistant and spent the 2001 season helping out with the program.
Since that 2001 season the two have remained in contact and Nelsen has learned a lot about coaching from O'Leary which is why he brought him in as a part of his coaching staff at Toronto FC. It is clear that they will come into the job with an existing relationship which should help them to be on the same page when it comes to decision making. It is also clear that Nelsen has a lot of respect for O'Leary and should be more than willing to lean on him to help make up for his own lack of experience.
O'Leary will bring with him a lot of experience in the coaching ranks but also some of the top qualifications that a coach can earn. He has completed NCSAA Advanced National Diploma, the highest coaching badge in the US, as well as his UEFA "Pro" License. During the introductory press conference it was confirmed that O'Leary actually just finished off his UEFA license over the weekend.
He has a very good resume for an assistant coach and has a good track record of working with young players. Some will want to dismiss him for the fact that the biggest college program on his resume is George Mason but any coach with higher level experience would not likely be willing to come in as an assistant. Nelsen was not going to get someone like Caleb Porter to be his right hand man and even if he did it probably would have resulted in conflict.
The best thing about the O'Leary hiring is that the two coaches are completely familiar with each other. We have seen enough issues at TFC where members of the staff have different agendas and the last thing the club needed was more of that. It is a safe bet that O'Leary is here to try and help Nelsen not with eyes for taking his job at some point.
If you are unsure about Nelsen and the fact that he has no coaching experience or qualifications you should at least take some comfort in the fact that O'Leary will be right there with him every step of the way. Anyone with 20 plus years of coaching experience and such highly regarded coaching licenses will certainly have some idea what he is doing and could prove to be the most important part of today's announcement.
TFC may hire a lot of head coaches with next to no experience but this time around they have hired a coach with a whole lot of experience. He just happens to be sitting in the second chair of the bench, well unless Nelsen is not there but you know what I mean.