Good guy was bad fit
World Cup is too close
When nice guys are fired in sports, as was the case Sunday when U.S. Soccer dismissed women's coach Tom Sermanni, there is often a bit of shock and outrage mixed in among the reaction and analysis.
When the person who was dismissed shares the shock, as was the case with Sermanni, it does not speak particularly well to the hierarchy's communication process or the coach's awareness of the situation.
But that doesn't mean the firing was necessarily the wrong move.
While the firing may not have been anticipated, this is no ordinary team we're talking about. Much was made of Sermanni's 18-2-4 record in 15 months on the job. While the two defeats are being dismissed by some because they occurred in the Algarve Cup, a relatively minor competition in March, the loss to Sweden (coached by Sermanni's predecessor, Pia Sundhage) ended a 43-game unbeaten streak for the U.S.
In the second loss -- to Denmark -- the U.S. gave up a program-record five goals en route to a seventh-place finish in the tournament.
Hidden between the lines in remarks by both Sermanni and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was evidence that the decision was made with at least partial approval of the players, though some close to the program have speculated that it was the old guard specifically.
Gulati said they didn't like the direction the team was heading, their standard was too high to dismiss the Algarve Cup losses and that they reached the decision after "talking to people in and around the team."
That is generally why coaching firings happen.
Part of the outrage over Sermanni's ouster is that Women's World Cup qualifying is in October, and the World Cup is in -- horrors -- 15 months. So, what, they should ride out the next 15 months with the same coach because it's too soon to make a change? Despite three straight Olympic gold medals, the U.S. hasn't won the World Cup since 1999.
Sermanni's coaching style is characterized as laid-back, and while perhaps the powers-that-be could have had more foresight as to what they wanted when they hired him, it is certainly not unprecedented that a coach's methods or personality doesn't prove to be as effective as initially thought.
It doesn't mean Sermanni isn't a good guy. It just means U.S. Soccer saw signs that a change needed to be made and they made it.
The 2015 Women's World Cup is close enough that all systems should be functioning at their peak. Instead, U.S. Soccer is soliciting résumés after firing women's coach Tom Sermanni.
The firing came as a shock to the soccer community. This wasn't a coach with a simmering history of feuds and player discontent. And whatever Sermanni's flaws, they were well known when the Americans hired him in October 2012.
Sermanni was known as more of a laid-back manager than the team's previous coach, Pia Sundhage. That information wasn't a secret; if he wasn't a good fit, there was no need to waste two years on some kind of experiment.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said that, despite the shake-up 15 months before the World Cup, there was nothing wrong about the initial choice of Sermanni.
"I'm not sure it's about the process," Gulati said on a Monday conference call.
Of course not. The fact that U.S. Soccer didn't sit down with Sermanni and talk about issues with the program wasn't something that Gulati seemed to be bothered by either.
The decision is all the more puzzling given that last year in competition the U.S. women didn't lose a match. They won 13 outright and three ended in a tie. Two losses in last month's Algarve Cup seems to have started the process to oust Sermanni.
Team chemistry is a tricky thing, but by most accounts the Americans have it. Messing with a functional structure as the team prepares to qualify for the World Cup isn't without risk.
"The standards for this team are very high," Gulati said.
That's good news. The women's soccer team is a high-profile and successful program; 13.5 million people watched the 2011 World Cup final on ESPN.
It's also reassuring that Gulati said they have a short list of candidates for the job. But this scrambling so late in the game could have been avoided.
Sermanni's style didn't change after he was hired, so despite the spin, U.S. Soccer should be looking in the mirror as it's looking for a new coach.