Of all the decisions to be made on head coaching positions in Major League Soccer this off-season, perhaps none is being watched more carefully than the New York Red Bulls' decision on whether to keep Richie Williams as head coach.
Hiring Williams would seem like a no-brainer for a club that watched him take a hopeless team and transform it into a respectable one that posted more points in eight matches (11) than it posted in its first 22 (10). Considering it was the second time that Williams had taken a terrible Red Bulls team and whipped it into shape (he did the trick as interim head coach in 2006), you would think the Red Bulls would have broken a land speed record getting Williams a contract.
These are the Red Bulls after all, and if we have learned anything from this dysfunctional franchise, it is that even the easy decisions wind up being tough ones, and the obvious answers never seem to be such sure things.
Part of the reason the Red Bulls haven't hired Williams yet is because the person who will serve as immediate supervisor to the head coach has yet to be hired. Managing director Erik Stover will hire a new general manager before a head coach is selected, and will partner with that new GM in selecting the head coach.
So Williams' future lies in the hands of a person who has yet to be hired, and it remains unclear just how long it will take that person to be hired. The only thing that seems clear at this point is that if the Red Bulls don't hire Williams, there are several teams who will come calling for one of the most respected assistants in the league.
D.C. officials are claiming to not have made a decision yet on the future of Tom Soehn, but you can bet that D.C. will pounce if Williams is passed over by New York. Williams enjoyed a stellar playing career with D.C. and has already proved his ability to work with veterans and younger players. He also has pre-established relationships with veterans Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen and has strong ties to the D.C. area.
Can you just see it now? Williams on the sidelines as D.C. head coach as D.C. topples the Red Bulls yet again? The potential scenario draws to mind the 2004 season, when the MetroStars sent a supposedly washed up Jaime Moreno to D.C. United in a trade. All Moreno did was lead D.C. to the 2004 MLS Cup title.
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS
If Peter Vermes passes on staying as Kansas City head coach, as he stated when he first took over as interim coach, then Vermes will need to find a replacement. Chivas USA head coach Preki is at the top of Kansas City's wish list, but rumors persist that the Chicago Fire will make a major play for Preki to replace Denis Hamlett (who is a safe bet to be leaving Chicago after this season). If KC can't land Preki, and if the Red Bulls and D.C. United pass on Williams, it wouldn't be a stretch to see Vermes calling on his fellow South Jersey native for help building the Wizards into a winner.
Mo Johnston needs a coach who knows MLS, and while his dream candidate (Stevie Nicol) remains under contract with New England, and his second choice (Paul Mariner) is in England now, Johnson could turn to the man who served as his assistant coach in New York in 2006.
The two didn't end on the best of terms when Johnston left New York, but three years have passed and Toronto FC has the talent and the resources to make Williams consider a move up north. Toronto FC has other MLS coaches it could consider, such as Chicago head coach Denis Hamlett and Houston assistant John Spencer, but Johnston will also have to consider Williams if he is available.
Those are just some of the jobs Williams will be considered for if the New York Red Bulls pass on him as head coach. One thing appears as certain as ever. Richie Williams will be an MLS head coach in 2010. What remains unclear is whether he will be the head coach of his hometown Red Bulls, leading the team into a new era in a new stadium, or if he will be the head coach of a conference rival, reminding the Red Bulls of their latest mistake over and over again.
What do you think of the Red Bulls coaching situation? Should the Red Bulls hire Williams, or should they look elsewhere?
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