In Defense of Herrera (the Coach, That Is)

It’s hard to know what to make of Miguel Herrera’s firing as head coach of the Mexican national team. On the one hand, he absolutely deserved it if it true was alleged: you can’t punch people, no matter what they say about you, your tactics, what you look like, your family, whatever. Moreover, in the state of Pennsylvania, where the offense occurred, second-degree (meaning non-consensual) battery (often confused with assault) carries with it a maximum prison sentence of two years for the perpetrator, or one-year if it is deemed third degree. 

We’re not going to get into the ins and outs of Pennsylvania law, but the point here is that the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) really had no other option. Coaches simply can’t go around punching people when they get upset, because not only is it illegal in most countries, it’s also particularly bad behavior for a public figure or role model of any kind.

Fine, but the FMF’s move is not the thing bothering Off The Post. Rather, it’s the post-mortem of Herrera’s near-two year stint as Mexico head coach.

A lot of the talk he’s read centers around how controversial and combustible a figure Herrera was—err, still is. Sure, the Internet is awash with gifs of his exuberant touchline antics—particularly during last summer’s World Cup—, and some of his comments regarding referee decisions he disagreed with are outlandish, or even, disrespectful, but some of the reports claiming that the former Club America coach was on a downward trajectory and might have even been fired by the FMF anyway, are baffling to say the least.

Say what you want about Miguel Herrera the person, but as a coach, he absolutely turned the Mexican national team program around when it was at its nadir. After all, he inherited a team that really should not have qualified for the 2014 World Cup. As we know, Mexico eked into the intercontinental World Cup playoff against New Zealand thanks to the USA’s two last-minute goals against Panama, which gave Jurgen Klinsmann’s men a 3-2 win, and El Tri one last chance after it had exhausted many others. As traumatic a moment as that was for many Mexico fans, it happened, and the reason it happened was not because of a lack of quality in Mexico’s program or it’s individual players, but rather, it was a combination of coaching chaos (remember, four coaches in a month), and a collective loss of confidence and identity, which kept the team from scoring goals. When you have that perfect storm, that kind of loss of form can become a monster that feeds on itself.

But that was all before Herrera arrived. Once the then-Club America coach stepped in, the team found its mojo in front of goal, destroying New Zealand 9-3 over two games in the playoff, and it then went on to enjoy a good showing at the World Cup—although the 2-1 loss to the Netherlands in the round of 16 to two late goals (one a dodgy penalty) still stings. That said, ask any Mexican fan if they would have taken that kind of finish before Herrera arrived, and most would have absolutely said ‘yes.’ Indeed, it was almost as if World Cup qualifying had never happened.

The ability to motivate, to get players out of their funk and up for big games, to get them to believe in themselves, is the hallmark of a great coach. Psychology is such a huge part of this game, and the best coaches -- Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti -- know how to get inside the heads of players to turn things around when they need to. 

For all of his off-field foibles, Herrera did this. Sure, there were some questionable-to-bad results during his tenure—a 3-2 loss at Belarus, another 2-0 loss to the USA and, more recently, the 4-4 draw with Trinidad & Tobago come to mind—but this is international soccer, and unless you’re working with a team of Bayern Munich or Barcelona academy graduates with a superstar like Lionel Messi or Arjen Robben in your team, there will be bumps along the way.

Granted, Herrera’s Mexico was on a poor run heading into the Copa America, which it then bowed out of at the group stage (with a ‘B’ team, mind you), but the Gold Cup was always his priority, and the Gold Cup he delivered. Yes, it wasn’t pretty most of the time; yes, Mexico received a couple of really important, really questionable penalties along the way, but OTP would argue that in this game, most champions, particularly international ones, receive a moderate-to-hefty dose of luck in one form or another en route to winning a major title.

Moreover, this is still a results business. Once you start getting into how prettily you win things, or how appropriately your coach behaves off the field (criminal acts not included), then you’ve got a whole new set of problems on your hands—just ask Brazil how that’s worked out for them. 

7 comments about "In Defense of Herrera (the Coach, That Is) ".
  1. Chris Sapien , July 29, 2015 at 8:49 p.m.

    Damn, and I thought he would really take that "Golden Generation" to the next level.

  2. Thomas Hosier, July 29, 2015 at 9:05 p.m.

    I liked to watch him on the touchline! He brought a lot of energy to the game.

  3. Soccer Madness, July 30, 2015 at 12:36 a.m.

    Mexico is not playing up to par, regardless of winning gold cup. Its called accountability. Maybe we should try it?

  4. Santiago 1314, July 30, 2015 at 7:53 a.m.

    Hated the Guy.!!!..., But he understood how to Deal with the 4th Pillar of a player...Pyscology...Especially the Mexican Player...Wish we had that ability in ours,..JK and his Mind games Obviously are not working on The Big Stage...Just another Reason to Move On

  5. Tim Gibson, July 30, 2015 at 8:31 a.m.

    Liked him & his passion. Yes, he is a psycho too which is where the passion came from but they did the right thing getting him out of there, he X'd the line. NEXT!

  6. ROBERT BOND, July 30, 2015 at 11:22 a.m.

    say it was tequila, month of rehab-probation..back in time for the play-off.............that's what they do in PA.......

  7. Tim Brown, July 30, 2015 at 3:45 p.m.

    Maybe USA should give Miguel a call.

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