The new-look front office of the Columbus Crew never had any intentions of bringing head coach Robert Warzycha back on the job in 2014, but disappointing results this year accelerated the process of cutting ties with one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league.
Crew General Manager Mark McCullers told the media Monday afternoon that he and new club owner Anthony Precourt concluded that parting ways with Warzycha now was the team's best option at a fresh start next season, or even a chance at last-gasp run at the postseason this fall.
“We have an obligation to our fans, to the community and to the rest of our organization,” McCullers said in a press conference. “After careful consideration and consultation with our owner, we determined that we would not be renewing Robert's contract at the end of 2013. Upon coming to that conclusion, we felt that it was best to go ahead and make a coaching change now, both for the sake of the organization and in the best interests of Robert.”
McCullers said that the move was made midseason to give the team time to make a legitimate coaching search and to give Warzycha a chance to explore options of his own.
The move comes days after a 1-0 home loss to the Seattle Sounders in which the team played 83 minutes against 10 men, after a red card gave Columbus an advantage in the seventh minute. The Crew are currently 8-13-5 this season, eight points behind the pace for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Despite the deflating loss Saturday, McCullers said that one game did not decide the fate of Warzycha.
“I don't think I would hang it on a specific loss,” he said. “I'm not sure that the result Saturday would have changed the decision we're announcing today. When it was determined that we were going to make a change and that we weren't going to renew or extend his option, we decided that now would be the time to go ahead and make that move.”
McCullers said that he met Warzycha over coffee Sunday to discuss the move.
“I think that [Warzycha] was not surprised,” McCullers said. “He took it with a lot of grace and dignity, which I would expect. His concern was with the club and his players, not with himself.”
Warzycha had been with the club since the inaugural season in 1996, occupying playing and coaching capacities. He departs with the most regular season wins by a Crew head coach (70, tied with Tom Fitzgerald) in addition to having led the Black-and-Gold to the 2009 Supporters’ Shield, back-to-back CONCACAF Champions League semifinal appearances and a 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final.
Only five current head coaches in MLS have equal or longer tenures with their clubs than Warzycha had with the Crew: Dominic Kinnear (San Jose Earthquakes/Houston Dynamo), Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake), Schellas Hyndman (FC Dallas), Bruce Arena (LA Galaxy) and Sigi Schmid (Seattle Sounders).
Replacing Warzycha in the interim will be Crew technical director Brian Bliss, whose coaching career includes stints with the Kansas City Wizards, the United States Under-20 team and the Crew Juniors. Though Bliss remains the team's technical director in the meantime, McCullers said that Bliss will be a candidate for the permanent job, and the former Crew player made his intentions clear.
“Not to put any pressure on Mark or Anthony, but I am here for the job and I want the job, and they know that,” Bliss said in the press conference. “I'm ready for the challenges that lie ahead and to be that next guy. This is a career choice that I've put myself into, and one that I feel I'm up to the task to do.”
While the team will not make the hiring process public, McCullers shed some light on what the organization will be looking for in its next head coach.
“I think it's important that we have somebody that is a fit with our corporate culture, and a fit with our brand pillars, somebody that has buy-in to who we are and who we stand for as a club,” he said. “Beyond that, we're looking for somebody who has a strong vision that fits within that culture and within that brand.”
The team will only have two days to come to grips with the change, and will host the Houston Dynamo in Crew Stadium on Wednesday. Bliss says that while it would have been nice for him to have a full week with the team, the tight schedule may help to get their focus back on the field.
“As I said to the group today, there's no better way to get going on the right track again than by getting two results in a short amount of time,” he said. “However, the downside is, if you don't get the results, it can be a little more deflating.”