From a distance, Garth Lagerwey’s decision to move from the Seattle Sounders to Atlanta United seemed to happen awfully quickly. Just six days elapsed between the time Lagerwey spoke glowingly of his future with the Sounders following the announcement that 90% of Alliance Members who voted had opted to retain him and Atlanta United formally unveiling him as their new CEO.
In reality, the process moved quite a bit more slowly.
On Monday, Lagerwey met with Seattle-based media in part to set the record straight.
Here’s a rough timeline:
This all starts when Darren Eales formally leaves Atlanta to join Newcastle United. His departure opens the Atlanta CEO position. AMBSE, the company that owns and operates Atlanta United and the Atlanta Falcons, says they’re hiring a search firm to identify candidates. Lagerwey’s name immediately shoots to the top of a lot of people’s lists of potential replacements.
The MLS regular season ends with both Atlanta United and the Sounders missing the playoffs. Within a week or two of that, Atlanta formally contacted Lagerwey, starting a multi-step interview process.
Lagerwey has what turns out to be the final interview in early November. About a week goes by before the Sounders Annual Business Meeting on Nov. 16, at which point Lagerwey said he was under the impression that Atlanta United had moved on.
“When I walked on stage, not only did I not have any job offer, but it had been over a week and I thought it might not happen,” Lagerwey said. “I had no way of knowing that. I spoke sincerely and from the heart about how grateful I was and was assuming I was continuing. Within 48 hours of that event, I got a job offer from Atlanta.”
On Nov. 22, Lagerwey was officially unveiled as Atlanta’s new CEO.
After 15 years as a general manager — first with Real Salt Lake and then the Sounders — Lagerwey said he was ready for the next challenge. He would have loved for that to be in Seattle, but said Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer was always straight with him about needing to go elsewhere to find it.
“He always said this is how we’re going to be organized and I’m not going to change for any one person,” Lagerwey said. “You’re in good hands with Craig Waibel, who I recommended. As long as an Adrian Hanauer is the owner, you don’t need to change the structure.”
Although Lagerwey has known this was a step he has long wanted to take, he insisted it was still a tough choice.
“Definitely family-wise I wasn’t looking to leave, but it’s a significant promotion and one that wasn’t going to be available in Seattle,” Lagerwey said. “I’ve been offered other CEO jobs in the past that weren’t of this scale and scope. This was a comparable club and a bigger opportunity.”
On top of the size of the club and the promotion, the final element that made the job attractive was moving closer to his wife’s family in Tennessee.
“It did take an almost perfect scenario,” he said.
For all the positives of the move, Lagerwey did hint at one possibly mild frustration: Atlanta United’s work environment is “much more corporate.” As one example, during the interview process Lagerwey asked about the work-from-home policy. “We work from work,” Lagerwey said he was told.
Even as the CEO, there are apparently some limitations.