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Cummins joins list of former assistants to step up
by Ridge Mahoney, May 4th, 2009 3:30PM



At some point, the MLS coaching career of John Carver careened off-course, and whether anyone might have foreseen it happening is no longer an issue.

After 15 months in charge, dating back to his hiring in February 2008, Carver left Toronto FC last week. Clashes between him, MLS, and team management had not only become more and more virulent but had begun to seep into the locker room and training sessions.

The final blow fell when Toronto FC manager and technical director Mo Johnston, and not - as Carver claimed and was reported in this column - Major League Soccer ordered him to coach from the bench and not a private box. From that vantage point, Carver relayed instructions to assistant coach Chris Cummins as TFC beat Chivas USA, 1-0, April 22.

He did not address the media after the game, leaving that job to Cummins, although he had spoken to the team before the game, selected the lineup and talked to the team at halftime. After the Chivas USA game, Johnston told Carver he must work games from the team bench, and Carver's angry and stubborn refusal forced TFC officials to meet hurriedly and decide the only way forward was without Carver.

In many parts of the world, the duties and titles are different than in Americans sports: a manager runs the competitive aspects of the first team, including selection of personnel, formation and systems of play, and deploys his top assistant, in England often called the first-team coach, to lead training sessions.

Johnston took the title of manager as well as director of soccer but made it clear Carver was the head coach, with all duties and responsibilities thereof. Carver had been a first-team coach and assistant manager at several English clubs and had two brief stints as caretaker manager at Newcastle and Leeds United. The Leeds appointment ended after a month in late October 2006 with the team and organization in turmoil.

The promoting of assistant coaches to head coaches in MLS has been hit-and-miss. Robert Warzycha worked for three head coaches in Columbus, which hasn't won a game since he took over for Sigi Schmid.

Dominic Kinnear
won two titles in San Jose as an assistant to Frank Yallop, and matched that total in his first two seasons as head coach of Houston.

In Chicago, former assistant coach Denis Hamlett is in his second season as head coach following a decade as an assistant. The successful tenure of Bob Bradley in Chicago was followed by another former D.C. assistant, Dave Sarachan, who led the Fire to its last MLS Cup appearance (2003) and was 55-50-31 overall, but took the fall when the 2007 season started out 4-6-2 and team ownership changed. Mike Jeffries, another Fire assistant coach, landed the Dallas job in 2001 but lasted less than three seasons and was dismissed with a 26-36-16 record. Jeffries had a successful stint as head coach of (USISL) New Orleans before being assistant at Chicago.

Not everyone can flourish in the demanding role of deciding what to do in the next game, the next training session, the next competition, the next transfer window, the next draft. There's always a problem, a situation, a dilemma, a challenge to be resolved. On a soccer team, like a train or a plane or a ship or a company, everybody is told what they're supposed to do. Everybody, that is, except the boss. He's the only one working without a net, sometimes drawing up the blueprint on the fly.

At a critical point in his life, John Carver lacked that the right blend of intuition, experience, gumption, confidence, knowledge, toughness, humor and courage to take the heat. His love for the game disintegrated as friction and squabbles with the league overwhelmed everything else. No longer able to frame the big picture, he lost the necessary perspective on his players, and thus, his job.

There's no set personality: Jose Mourinho is a flamboyant, egotistical fop compared to the steely dignity of Fabio Capello, who wouldn't be caught dead chomping gum on the sideline as does Alex Ferguson, a chirpy Scottish lad compared to the cool stoicism of Arsene Wenger.

The world of first-team coach, or assistant coach is structured, contained, predetermined. He doesn't deal with insulting judgments or snide comments from the press, report to team management, agonize over a jammed schedule of five games in 14 days, and decide which players will play, those who will sit, and which ones must move on.

In his third season in charge of D.C. United, Tom Soehn must prove he has the right stuff, otherwise there won't be a fourth. A former Bruce Arena assistant, Curt Onalfo, needs a strong run in year three to solidify his credentials. Last year, in his first full season as a head coach, Hamlett and the Fire fell to Columbus in the Eastern Conference final. He'll be expected to do better this year, while the Crew has started so badly Warzycha, with just seven games in charge, is in a bit of bother.

Rather than take over himself and return to his role as head coach when Carver departed, the role Johnston filled in its inaugural 2007 season, he kept the staff intact while choosing Cummins to lead.

For the past few years, Revs assistant Paul Mariner has been tabbed as the next in line for an MLS job; instead, an extraordinary turn of events shoves Cummins, who on the evidence of two games in charge - both victories - isn't nearly so inclined to engage the match officials, to the forefront. He has the job until the end of the season, a good interval in which to prove he has the knowledge and experience, and the psyche, to run the show.


In Friday's MLS Confidential, it should have been stated that MLS never contacted Toronto FC about former coach John Carver's choice of seat. It was Toronto, not MLS, that requested Carver coach from the sidelines, not from a private box atop BMO Field. MLS has no policy requiring a coach to be on the sidelines.


  1. David Gerrity
    commented on: May 14, 2009 at 2:43 p.m.
    Maybe he should have said he had kindey stones. It worked for Liverpool's coach.

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