Sadly, there was no shock or surprise this time; only apathy and indifference.
Once upon time, there was public debate and discussion whenever Orlando City predictably and prematurely fired its coach, but when James O’Connor got his pink slip on Monday, there seemed to be a collective civic yawn throughout Central Florida.
Another day, another dumpster fire.
We’ve become used to it by now, right?
And, so, we start all over again.
Round and round and round it goes,
Where it stops, nobody knows.
Another lost season. Another fired coach. Another culture change and roster revamp. And another new man with a new plan who, too, will likely be fired before his rebuilding project ever has a chance to come to fruition.
With apologies to Ben Franklin, there are three things that are certain in this world: Death, taxes and Orlando City firing a coach after a year-and-a-half.
This has become like the classic movie Groundhog Day with Orlando City’s management team stuck in an endless time loop. The only thing missing from O’Connor being fired on Monday was CEO Alex Leitão waking up to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” playing on the clock radio and stepping into a slush-filled pothole on his walk to the office.
Nobody even blinks an eye when Orlando City fires a coach anymore, and that’s the most troubling part of all. It wasn’t that long ago when Central Florida was awarded an MLS franchise and Orlando City’s games and transactions were at the forefront of our sporting consciousness. Five dreadful seasons later, attendance at games has dwindled and the firing of coaches has become a mundane afterthought.
Orlando City just finished its fifth MLS season and is about to hire its fourth head coach. Um, just wondering when is somebody going to come to the realization that it’s not the head coach; it’s the people in the front office who are hiring and firing the head coaches.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t reach our goal of making the playoffs,” said Luiz Muzzi, Orlando City’s relatively new executive vice president of soccer operations, when asked Monday by Pro Soccer USA why exactly O’Connor was fired. “It’s professional sports and you’re measured by results.”
Memo to beleaguered Orlando City fans: I’m about to give you the slightest shred of hope:
Perhaps the only saving grace and the only sliver of positivity and promise that Orlando City supporters can cling to is that Muzzi, an experienced MLS executive, appears to be making all of the hiring and firing decisions.
It’s pretty telling that Muzzi says the decision to fire O’Connor was mostly his. On Monday morning, in fact, it was Muzzi who did the dirty deed of calling O’Connor into the office and telling him he no longer had a job. The last coach who was fired, Jason Kreis, was given his walking papers by owner Flávio Augusto da Silva.
It’s also telling that Muzzi, who took over in December of last year and inherited O’Connor as the head coach, told Pro Soccer USA on Monday he considered firing O’Connor immediately after he took the VP of soccer operations job.
“He’s a guy I didn’t bring in,” Muzzi said of O’Connor. “… I feel like we have a better chance moving forward … with a coach who has the same ideas and concepts as I do.”
It’s certainly not unusual for a new GM to want to hire his own coach (see Magic’s Jeff Weltman firing Frank Vogel and hiring Steve Clifford). Much like the Magic and Vogel, Muzzi said an organizational decision was made to give O’Conner one full season to prove himself.
Obviously, O’Connor failed miserably to impress Muzzi. O’Connor was 11-27-13 in 51 games, never put together back-to-back wins during his tenure and finished 11th (next-to-last) in the Eastern Conference during both of his seasons. It certainly didn’t help his cause that Orlando City was winless in its final eight games this season and was embarrassed 5-2 by Chicago in the season finale Sunday in a game in which the home fans loudly booed the team.
But is it really O’Connor’s fault he has been saddled with a weak, top-heavy roster that has been rebuilt so many times that it’s hard to even keep track? And is anybody really willing to give Orlando City the benefit of the doubt for its impetuous, impatient coaching hirings and firings?
Let’s not forget, Orlando City pulled the plug on beloved former coach Adrian Heath halfway through his second season with an expansion team when the Lions were just below the playoff line. Heath, by the way, is currently getting ready for the playoffs as head coach of Minnesota United — another expansion franchise he took over three years ago.
Orlando City then hired Jason Kreis and promptly fired him halfway through his second season with the team still above the playoff line and a roster that had been gutted and rebuilt before the season.
Both Heath and Kreis ripped Orlando City’s lack of patience on their way out the door.
“We had a three-year plan and I never got an opportunity to finish the plan,” Heath said. “… You can’t achieve what people expect you to achieve in a year-and-a-half.”
Said Kreis: “Winning does not come overnight. It takes patience, time, hard work, a plan, true support and trust.”
Muzzi says he believes Orlando City can become that type of franchise — a winning franchise with cohesion, continuity and chemistry.
“This is an important moment where we need to find the right person,” Muzzi says of a coaching search that he says will be quick (translation: he already knows who he wants to hire).
When asked what message he would like to send to Orlando City’s beleaguered fan base, Muzzi replies, “It’s difficult to ask for patience, but that’s what I’m asking for because it’s a slow process.”
In other words, Muzzi is asking for the same patience Orlando City’s coaches have never received.
Hey, can you hear it?
If you listen real close on this Groundhog Day, Sonny and Cher are singing in the background.
“I’ve got you babe.”