This is how it’s supposed to be. Hometown kid gets his dream job and is introduced in front of an adoring crowd made up of his club’s most diehard fans. The cheers fill the room. The standing ovation brings tears.
Brian Schmetzer is the Seattle Sounders head coach. All feels right.
“He's just an amazing person,” an absolutely beaming Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said after Wednesday’s Alliance Annual Business Meeting where Schmetzer was publicly introduced. “He cares more about this club than anybody I know.”
Sounders remove interim tag, announce Schmetzer as permanent h...
Sounders remove interim tag, announce Schmetzer as permanent head coachPosted by Sounder at Heart on Wednesday, November 2, 2016
While that may sound like hyperbole, it probably isn’t. Few have given more of their life to the Sounders or Seattle soccer. Schmetzer first signed with the NASL Sounders, in June 1980, as a 17-year-old Nathan Hale High School senior and played several years with them before they folded. He would later play for Seattle FC — the semipro bridge between the NASL and USL teams — and for basically every other pro soccer outfit in the Seattle area. All told, Schmetzer has spent well over half his 54 years playing or coaching in the area, most of it for one of the three iterations called “Sounders.”
If he weren’t employed by the team, chances are high he’d have been one of the hundreds attending Wednesday’s meeting.
It was during that meeting the Sounders front office also talked about how winning was more of a means to an end than an end unto itself. The end, they said, was helping their fans create memories. Schmetzer’s introduction was a good start.
Undoubtedly, the Sounders could have chosen a more opportune time to make Schmetzer’s hiring public. It was midweek and in the evening. There was a World Series Game 7 going on between two of the longest suffering fanbases in all of American sport. Many fans and virtually all the national media were busy doing something else. This was not an announcement planned for maximum exposure.
But for the hundreds of fans who were in attendance and for Schmetzer himself, it was something they’ll likely never forget.
“It was special because the reception I got was more than I anticipated,” Schmetzer said. “The amount of people in the room and the enthusiasm when that announcement was made really touched me. That was a good moment for me.”
Hanauer, usually reserved, even admitted to nearly being overwhelmed with emotion.
“I'm thankful because if I'd had to say more than three more words, I would have been in tears,” he said about his introduction of Schmetzer being interrupted by thunderous applause. “He's so popular in this community, and he's been involved and entwined with the Sounders for so long, 35 years. Brian doesn't have an enemy in this community. Everybody loves him.”
Immediately after his hiring as interim head coach, there was much talk of the “process” and how the Sounders owed it to themselves to do a proper coaching search. Sigi Schmid had been here nearly eight years. The club’s profile had grown immensely in that time. The kind of coach they could attract was limited only by their imagination.
Schmetzer would be given a shot, they said, but it wasn’t hard to imagine that it might only be cursory.
But Schmetzer never let himself get dragged into that conversation. In his first press conference, Schmetzer talked about being a steward of the club, just the next guy in what would eventually be a long line of coaches who led the Sounders. Whether he was the head coach for a few months or many years, his goal would be the same: To ensure the Sounders were better off than when he started.
That may read as cheesy written out, but hearing it come from Schmetzer’s mouth left no doubt as to his sincerity.
As feel-good of a moment as it may have been to give him the full-time gig then and there and save him the ignominy of ever being introduced as “interim head coach”, it’s probably better that he was forced to earn the position.
After leading the Sounders to an 8-2-4 finish that moved them up from ninth in the West to fourth and now on the cusp of the Western Conference finals thanks to a pair of MLS Cup playoff victories, Schmetzer gave his bosses little choice.
The search they planned never really had a chance to start because Schmetzer never gave them an excuse.
“We didn't proactively go out and start a real search,” Hanauer admitted. “I think that was more perhaps a figure of speech. But the intention was to very shortly start a search. We got a lot of resumes as you might imagine. But again, shortly after making Brian interim, it was pretty clear that things were headed in a very good direction. Once they were headed in that good direction, I think Garth and I both assumed and hoped that Brian would be the head coach.”
The points in Schmetzer’s favor piled up quickly. Not only were the Sounders winning, they were doing it with style. They were having fun. They were establishing an identity. Following a bad loss to the Portland Timbers, there was only talk of fixing the mistakes. When Clint Dempsey was ruled out for the year, there was only talk of collectively filling the void. A spat of avoidable suspensions were met by determination to improve composure.
It quickly became apparent that whatever the Sounders were looking for in a new head coach they already had in Schmetzer.
“He's a fantastic leader, he's willing to push all the praise down to the people that work with him and the players,” Hanauer said. “But if things go wrong, he's the first one to raise his hand and say 'that's on me.' For me, that's one of the traits of a great leader.
“He's great with people, people respect him. He's honest, clear in his communication, and I love and, more importantly, respect him. He's got all of these characteristics as a person that make him the right fit. He's a great soccer coach and has had numerous successes on the field, going back before he and I worked together.”
It’s tempting in considering how this has gone down to see it playing out as if it was scripted. But getting here only recently started to feel inevitable. Go all the way back to when Hanauer first called Schmetzer about coaching the USL Sounders. Schmetzer was then just trying to make ends meet, helping run a construction company while trying to keep the dream of pro soccer alive. He didn’t know what Hanauer was calling him about then and certainly had no idea where it would lead.
Fast-forward to the Sounders’ move to MLS. Schmetzer wanted the head coaching job then, and had a resume that suggested he at least deserved consideration after leading the Sounders on a highly successful seven-year run in the USL.
But the Sounders wanted someone with MLS experience and someone who could prove they were serious about being competitive right away. Hiring Sigi Schmid was a stroke of genius and gave Schmetzer the time he needed to learn, even if he didn’t necessarily want to admit it.
In the intervening years, Schmetzer interviewed for coaching vacancies with the Montreal Impact and FC Dallas only to be deemed not the right fit. Those, too, were blessings in disguise. For as much as Schmetzer yearned for a top job and to test his mettle against other top coaches, there was never any doubt as to where he wanted to be.
For him to get his dream job, though, the circumstances had to be right. It’s not hard to imagine Schmetzer being passed over if Schmid had left in the offseason under almost any circumstances that didn’t include an MLS Cup. Schmetzer was, cruelly, both too old and too unproven to be simply handed the job unless it was a virtual passing of the torch. The more likely scenario was that Schmetzer was going to have to win the job. In order to do that, though, he was going to need time.
Somehow, he managed to turn a few months into enough.
“I couldn't be happier,” said Hanauer, who may as well have been speaking for the entire Puget Sound soccer community. “He's my good pal and I'm really happy for him.”