Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America Classifieds
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
Nowak's rough approach wore thin in Philly
by Ridge Mahoney, June 14th, 2012 12:28AM

MOST READ
TAGS:  philadelphia union

MOST COMMENTED

Three years ago, the Philadelphia Union hired a head coach 10 months before it embarked on its expansion season in MLS.

It had already jump-started a fan base, thanks to the fanatical Sons of Ben, and construction was chugging along on PPL Park, which would open in time to stage all but two of its 2010 home games. On and off the field, the Union got off to a strong and early start, and after struggling through a promising yet frustrating initial season, it improved enough to finish third in the Eastern Conference last year and qualify for the playoffs.

This year, Philly started near the bottom of the standings and stayed there, buttressed from the bottom only by the terribleness that is Toronto FC. When the dismal Reds, 0-0-9 at the time, beat Philly in late May, and last week fired their head coach anyway, Peter Nowak moved onto  the league’s most precarious perch.

So what the hell happened? How did Nowak take a successful and ambitious franchise and flush it down the toilet? Rarely has a team with real promise collapsed so quickly, but in this case, the cause is clear: for whatever reason -- personality differences, stubbornness, clashing egos, impatience, arrogance – Nowak jettisoned far too much talent that could be replaced short-term while barreling ahead with a bid to coach Scottish club Hearts.

Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga will take some replacing as the team goes forward with assistant coach John Hackworth in Nowak’s place. He is quiet, insightful, thoughtful … in many ways the absolute antithesis of the brash, brazen Nowak, whose deep knowledge of the game wasn’t necessarily leavened by refined people skills.

If you wanted to talk soccer with Nowak, you were in luck. He grew up in Poland as its national team ascended to dizzying heights, playing a swift, fluid game surpassed in Europe only in the 1970s by the ebullient Dutch, and during the 1980s by France. With that background, and a playing career that included a stint in Germany with 1860 Munich as well as the double-winning expansion Chicago team of 1998, plus coaching stints with D.C. United and the U.S. Olympic team, he possessed a vast background in the European game.

A blood-and-guts coach like Nowak can talk tough to his players and all will be well if the performances and results are satisfactory, and what the press and fans think of his comments doesn’t significantly alter the dynamic. He would rebut criticisms, seldom politely, and drive home his points and philosophies about how he expected his team to play and what he demanded from his players.

Hired by club president Nick Sakiewicz partly as an appeal to the city’s hard-hewn image, the relationship seemed to function well despite the inevitable frictions. But many times Nowak’s public statements conflicted sharply with those of his players, and without splitting semantic hairs about who said what, when the team’s play deteriorated so severely Nowak’s job fell into jeopardy.

Players don’t need training sessions and team talks to be all warm and fuzzy, but they do insist on being treated fairly. When Le Toux was traded to Vancouver, Nowak said, “Feelings are not part of my job description.”

He probably said it somewhat flippantly, but in his strong-willed way didn’t realize or care that he’d inflamed an already volatile situation. In Europe, it’s not uncommon for coaches to leave one job for another during the season, and if that does indeed occur, it would be further proof that Nowak’s stormy time in Philly had to end when it did.



4 comments
  1. Valerie Metzler
    commented on: June 14, 2012 at 9:30 a.m.
    Yep.

  1. C. Zee
    commented on: June 14, 2012 at 9:45 a.m.
    Nowak's demeanor with journalist and fan clubs was temperamental at best. Perhaps all those years behind the Iron curtain of Europe shaped his public relations. But this is not 1980's Poland. The MLS, and indeed most american sports leagues grant access and openness to the media. It doesn't mean a coach has to be friendly, but it never hurts. Even a tough guy gets a break if the team is winning. Nowak ran out of everything. I said: Dobre Dania

  1. Philippe Fontanelli
    commented on: June 14, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.
    Nowak was a good player but as a coach and player he had no respect for US bred players. I always thought that he screwed up Adu's development way back with DC. But when he discarded Le Toux his top scorer and player I knew he was off his "rocker" and it was only a question of time of his dismissal. Philly and most teams are better off w/o him.

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: June 14, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.
    To Mr. Fontanelli: My sentiments re: Nowak's screwing up Freddy Adu!!! As I read the article, this is one of the very topics I thought of, i.e. looking back as his career with DC Utd. As to why he was named HC of the US Olympic team, that defies any logic, though even if he did have some full grasp of the European game it was obvious to anyone within his right mind that his personality would've worked better elsewhere. As to how he got to the top jobs, one only has to look at the history of the US Coaching cadres and see how the "good old boy" networks works. And yes, most teams are better off without him!


Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
MLS clubs face different challenges in Concacaf Champions League    
MLS is well positioned to qualify a region-high four teams for the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals ...
New deal rewards perseverance of Olsen and his players    
Just in time for the postseason push, D.C, United head coach Ben Olsen has signed a ...
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson runs full-court press well    
If you get the idea Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson knows what he's doing running the full-court ...
Losing skid reveals Rapids' flaws    
Injuries, sophomore slumps and a rookie head coach will be the primary causes cited if the ...
Soccer America Q&A: Falcons' Jim Smith on MLS Atlanta    
Former Columbus Crew president/general manager Jim Smith is playing a major role in the launch of ...
Changes under Cassar are taking hold for Real Salt Lake    
Real Salt Lake prides itself on continuity, yet for the past two seasons it has flourished ...
Three takeaways from Czech Republic-USA    
Alejandro Bedoya's goal and Nick Rimando's saves enabled the USA to kick off its post-2014 World ...
USA-Czech Republic Player Ratings    
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's experimental squad -- he fielded only two 2014 World Cup regulars (Fabian Johnson ...
Toronto FC upheaval is all too familiar    
It's official: Toronto FC has overtaken Chivas USA as the most dysfunctional team in MLS.
FIFA's Putin problem    
How is it that the latest issue of GQ ranks FIFA president Sepp Blatter as No. ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives