Commentary

Bob Contiguglia on his faith in new president Carlos Cordeiro, why the other candidates fell short, and Sunil Gulati's legacy

Bob Contiguglia served as the President of the U.S. Soccer Federation from August 1998, succeeding Alan Rothenberg, through March 2006, preceding Sunil Gulati.


Bob Contiguglia

During Contiguglia's presidency, the U.S. women won the 1999 World Cup, the 2004 Olympic gold medal, and the 2002 U-20 Women's World Cup -- and the men reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup and the semifinals of the 1999 U-17 World Cup. Contiguglia, a kidney specialist M.D. who ran a private practice in Denver through 2007 -- hence known as Dr. Bob -- was a member of U.S. Soccer's Board of Directors as immediate past president through last weekend's election of Carlos Cordeiro as the new USSF President.

SOCCER AMERICA: How do you feel about the future of American soccer in the wake of last weekend's U.S. Soccer presidential election?

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BOB CONTIGUGLIA: I am incredibly optimistic. Our organizational growth has been meteoric and I expect continued growth. Carlos Cordeiro is the right choice for president and I agree with him that we can build U.S. Soccer into a $500 million company to be on a level with Germany, England and Spain. As we continue to invest in the game, our player development programs will turn out more and better talented athletes and our coaching programs will also progress. I see the same with our commitment to the fans and referees.

What would your advice be to Carlos Cordeiro?

Carlos is one of the smartest and hardest working people in soccer. My advice to him is to "know your limitations," ask for help and be inclusive and collaborative; continue to be honest, independent and demonstrate integrity. Carlos knows that we have many outstanding people on staff and in the community ready to help and support him. I know he will take advantage of that.

How did you feel about how the campaigns were run?

The campaign negativity and acrimony were mainly driven by a group who disagree with Federation board decisions and who are suing the federation. Their candidates, namely Eric Wynalda and Hope Solo are unfit for the job and, tactically, they had to go negative to be recognized.

Some of the other athlete candidates were well meaning and represented the passion of the soccer community, but they lacked the experience to be the board chair of a $150 million company. The two attorneys [Steve Gans and Mike Winograd] had great resumes, but no one knew them. Kathy Carter was hurt by perceived conflicts of interest. Carlos ran a professional and competent campaign focusing on the members' needs and interests with realistic solutions.

The process in general was healthy and the membership made the right decision. I encouraged the losing candidates to get involved with in the membership.

How do you think history will judge Sunil Gulati's tenure as president?

All recent presidents have been able to build on their predecessors' successes and Sunil Gulati has done that. The organization has grown financially to a budget of over $150 million. Our player development programs have expanded, especially on the women's side.

Sunil has been a strong advocate for diversity, resulting in some outstanding women as independent directors on our board. Sunil was also able to bring in several outside consultants to work with the board of directors to improve corporate governance. Most of all, Sunil has also built relationships in Concacaf and FIFA and has positioned us to win the 2026 World Cup bid.

Above all, Sunil will be remembered for his hard work, passion and dedication to our national teams over the last 30 years.

What accomplishments are you most proud during your tenure as U.S. Soccer president (1998-2006)?

We built a culture and behavior of mutual respect and integrity within the Federation. We hired Dan Flynn with the goal of making U.S. Soccer a $100 million company. In 1998 our budget was around $12 million, and went to $50 million in 2006. We are now at $150 million.

With Dan we wrote the first five-year strategic business plan in the history of the Federation. The plan's framework is still used today.

We worked with MLS commissioners, especially Don Garber, to build a strong business and mutually beneficial relationship. We started working with Soccer United Marketing rather than an independent federation marketing company in competition with the MLS. We worked with Phil Anschutz to develop the National Training Center and Home Depot Stadium [now known as the StubHub Center] in Carson, California, and with the Hunt family to build Pizza Hut Park in Dallas.

After five years of lobbying, we were finally able to shrink board of directors from 46 members to 15 with three independent directors resulting in more relevant board involvement. We introduced electronic voting and a parliamentarian to control AGM's. We hired Bruce Arena in 1998. The 2002 World Cup success was critical for survival of MLS and growth of federation. We did not fire Bruce after three qualifying losses despite outside pressure.

The 1999 Women's World Cup laid the ground-work for women's participation in soccer world-wide, arguably, the most important women's sporting event in the 20th century.

Also during your tenure, the USA hosted the 2003 Women's World Cup on four-month notice after the SARS epidemic prevented China from hosting ...

I chaired the 2003 Women's World Cup. We used MLS stadiums and featured the Home Depot Center for the consolation and final matches. That event represented the great collaboration with MLS and provided the ground work for future events like Copa America. We lobbied with FIFA for prize money for the Women's World Cup, which came later.

Anything, in hindsight, you would have wanted to been done differently during your time as president of US Youth Soccer and/or US Soccer?

Although I tried, we failed to establish a collaborative relationship with the men's and women's players associations. Unfortunately, the relationship has been adversarial, probably with blame on both sides. We had to operate in crisis mode rather than try to create a win-win situation.

After the Federation and USYSA lost a complaint to the USOC by AYSO, the Youth Division had a choice to give up its corporate status and become a subsidiary of U.S. Soccer or stay independent and subject to competition from other and new organizations. They decided to remain independent. I tried to get them to become a subsidiary. If that had happened, I think the Adults would have followed, and we would not have the divisive atmosphere that we have today and would have had a united Federation.


Bob Contiguglia (right) with Columbia coach Joe Molder circa 1963.

Your introduction to soccer?

I started playing soccer along with my friends in Great Neck Junior High School, Long Island, New York. Our gym teacher had recently returned from Europe and introduced us to the game. Our community was adjacent to the United Nations headquarters at that time and the delegates' kids went to our school, so we had some good players. I was an All-Nassau County player in high school, went on to play at Columbia and was All-Ivy League. In both high school and college, my best friends were my teammates.

Fondest playing memories

Winning the Nassau County Championship in high school and losing to Penn for the Ivy League championship in College. Most of all, I still have relationships with my teammates today. … Playing with square-toed high-top leather shoes in high school and receiving "kangaroo" leather molded cleat shoes in college. I was in heaven.

Coaching memories

Besides enjoying coaching youth, my fondest memories are attending the USSF coaching licensing courses. This was one of the most fun environments where you played soccer every day and had the camaraderie generated though joint suffering during the fitness training. Many of the coaches who attended my three license courses went on to have outstanding careers. One of my classmates was Bruce Arena. I have attended most of the United Soccer Coaches conventions over the last 30 years and enjoy seeing many of my fellow classmates.

What was it about soccer that prompted you to spend a lifetime in it?

The joy of playing and coaching the game has driven me to devote a lifetime to the game. As importantly though, are the personal relationships made in the journey. I admire the dedication and energy of the volunteer base of our sport especially on the youth side. They are all incredible people.

I have a close and personal relationship with both Hank Steinbrecher, Dan Flynn and their families. We all served together when I was president and I cherish our quiet dinners together. We share many experiences in the evolution of the Federation.

I enjoy youth coaching, which got me into this whole thing when my wife took me to an organizing meeting for the Cherry Creek Soccer Association. I have coached at all levels and have returned to coaching after my retirement from medicine and the Federation presidency. What excites me is the improvement in the quality of our players over the last 20 years. And with good coaching they get better each year.

8 comments about "Bob Contiguglia on his faith in new president Carlos Cordeiro, why the other candidates fell short, and Sunil Gulati's legacy".
  1. frank schoon, February 13, 2018 at 6:47 p.m.

    Obviously Bob Contiguglia with his soccer backround and experience is the type you want to see run for president of US Soccer. It's too bad this tradition failed to continue since he left.
    As I read this interview apparently US Soccer has done well in the financial and business aspect of things but nothing as far as I can allude to can be said about player improvement and development which we're in the mess were in. This association is top-heavy on the business side, no doubt, and therefore I was hoping for some balance in the leadership whereby player development would be given much of a boost. But unfortunately, I don't see that happening.
    The criticism of going negative as Bob points to Eric Wynalda I find that to be unfair. After all, there is a lot unhappiness among the ranks and file, which is why there was a new president chosen.
    As I read through this whole interview which was done well, I didn't see anything  about player improvement and development that we're really try to focus but instead it was all about making bucks..

     

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, February 14, 2018 at 1:59 p.m.

    Great interview. Probably no one better understands the big picture of USSF soccer over the last 50 years than Dr. Bob. 

    Frank, my takeaway here is that USSF is successful on the business side after taking a professional approach to managing the business affairs. Dr. Bob mentioned the 5-year business plan. 

    What USSF needs now is the equivilent professional approach to managing sporting affairs. I am afraid that USSF is not getting the job done there. Too many false starts due to personnel changes. What USSF needs is a separate CEO for soccer affairs also reporting to the USSF board--with assistants for the three on-field participant groups and for each of the membership groups (adult, youth, and professional). The board sets broad policies and goals and also monitors and approves major decisions by the CEOs. The CEOs are the executives running their respective segments.

    To me this approach is obvious. I should think it would be obvious to the new president, Carlos Cordeiro, too. What I don't understand is the best way to manage our affairs with CONCACAF and FIFA. My thought is that this is best managed directly with the board rather than through the CEOs keeping in mind that the CEO position is also a non-voting board member.

    An example of a board policy and goals would be increasing diversity in USSF, increasing the number of clubs and leagues affiliated, increasing the number of coaches and officials, and, above all else, growing the sport. The board should be approving the hiring, not themselves hiring, new coaches and staff.

    From the little I have read and heard so far, I don't think that creating the 2 new "general manager" positions is a step in the right direction. The positions have narrow and largely undefined responsibilities that continue to divide management responsibility by gender and interpose middle management oversight over the MNT and WNT coaches. Switching the reporting authority from the president to the CEO is really no change at all. 

    To use Cordeiro's phrase, the board should not be exercising executive authority. They should be delegating those tasks to the CEOs and at most require board approval of select major decisions.         

  3. frank schoon replied, February 14, 2018 at 2:49 p.m.

    BOB, I guess we'll see. You know more about the "runnings" and dynamics of this boardroom stuff than I do. All I know is something is off kilter and I don't see any push or an awareness displayed by those in power of the changes that are needed on the field; the otherside of the equation so to speak. Growth ,Diversity, Inclusivity, Quantity...whatever, but that doesn't mean improvement of what I want to see on the "field". We have grown by leaps and bounds in the past 50 years but not in player development and I think that is more important right now....

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, February 14, 2018 at 4:33 p.m.

    Frank & Bob:  Indeed a nice piece on Dr. Bob.  I also served on the youth soccer scene here in SoCalifornia in the then CalYouth soccer Assoc-South as district comissioner representing about 2/3s of Los Angeles Count and was on board when that BoD decided to reduce the number of districts from eleven to seven. It was also a time when we began to experience ayso's attempts to get a bigger chunk of the youth soccer pie, which in effect was a small recreational side challenging a huge competitive side.  The gaunlet was cast by ayso through legal threats and intimidation, and I must say that I am glad that the Youth Division decided to stay independent but ayso got what they wanted. Dr. Bob was in fact and deed a very nice guy, yet after eight years of the Rothenberg/Sterinbrecher locomotive, I was somewhat disheartened with the following soccer head honchos.  As for talking tome mild smack and singling out Wynalda and Solo, I was sorely disappointed to read his comments, because after all IMHO our sport needs to hear from all sides, and while I would've preferred to have read about their campaign, it would've been more to Dr. B's advantage to speak about their accomplishments on and off the field, furthermore, it sort of took off some of the positive shine.  PLAY ON!!!

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, February 15, 2018 at 1:37 p.m.

    Good points, Ric. 

    Being inclusive is not about appearances and it is not just about fairness. It is also about improving an organization's performance by including different viewpoints and opinions in planning and performance. People don't see the world by looking in a mirror. The most important assistant to any manager is one who will disagree with him.

  6. frank schoon replied, February 15, 2018 at 3:35 p.m.

    Bob, your quote<It is also about improving an organization's performance by including different viewpoints and opinions"> should be taken to heart and should begin with the leadership at the top of the pyramid for apparently criticisms by Eric Wynalda didn't seem to have been received well and I hope the leadership will also look in the mirror and straighten out their top heavy business focus  and begin to focus and stress upon better performance on the field...where the problem lies....

  7. Bob Ashpole, February 16, 2018 at 12:06 a.m.

    On th 13the USSF released a letter from the new president claiming he has a "detailed plan for change" here: https://www.carlos4soccer.com/aim-higher/

    Unfortuneately he is apparently taking a businessman's approach: Add more executives and increase the program budget. Now there will be the CEO and a general manager between the board and the national staff. There is no real change in how we manage or in the substance of our approach. There is also no detail to the plan. An action passed is an action completed.

    He does say that there will be a "new" techical department, but that sounds like a wholesale license for the new general managers to replace the entire national staff and coaches.

    I have seen more detailed plans made on a napkin during dinner.  

  8. frank schoon replied, February 16, 2018 at 6:55 a.m.

    Bob, I can see now why he is the stealth candidate and didn't make any waves like Wynalda. The strategy was to keep your mouth shut and really say nothing and keep it to a"napkin" ,ideas wise. Sorry to say he got by with some friends.....

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