Maybe all of us – fans and media alike – should be a little more thoughtful and a little more patient before we write columns, blogs or Twitter posts calling for a coach to be fired.
Sometimes, we forget just how much emotion and devotion so many of these driven, dedicated men and women pour into their jobs, and how devastating it is when they get terminated.
Jason Kreis mourned on the day he was fired as Orlando City’s coach 10 weeks ago.
He mourned like he’d just lost a loved one.
“My wife and I likened it a little bit to grieving after a death,” Kreis told me Wednesday during an interview on my Open Mike radio show. “It’s like a part of you has died. A project you are building and think you’re in the middle of suddenly gets taken out from under you. Emotionally, it’s crushing.”
I wrote it then and I will reiterate now: Firing Kreis not even halfway through the season with Orlando City still above the playoff line was Flávio’s folly. When owner Flávio Augusto da Silva called Kreis into his office and pulled the plug at midseason, it was yet another indication Orlando City’s management team has no patience or prudence.
Since Kreis was replaced with new coach James O’Connor, Orlando City has continued its free fall down the standings and currently is dead-last in the Eastern Conference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Kreis would have done any better but at least he deserved the opportunity to try.
Yes, Orlando City was in the midst of a franchise-record six-match losing streak when Kreis was fired, which inexplicably came on the heels of a franchise-record six-match winning streak. Still, the club had rebuilt its roster before the season with players Kreis had hand-picked himself. When asked Wednesday if he and GM Niki Budalic made a mistake in rebuilding the roster, Kreis was not ready to admit as much.
“I don’t think that can ever really be said,” Kreis claimed. “The team is still very much struggling, but I think some of that struggle comes with a change in leadership. This was a brand-new team and that brand-new team needed to stay together, needed consistency, needed a consistent message from above. I just think, without that, it absolutely changes things. A new coach that comes in has a different mindset and wants to coach a different way and perhaps these players aren’t suited for that.”
Just listening to the lingering bitterness in his voice, you can still tell Kreis is devastatingly disappointed in Orlando City’s management. His tenor and tone is almost exactly the same as that of former coach Adrian Heath, who even now, two years later, is upset about the way he was let go.
“We had a three-year plan and I never had an opportunity to finish the plan,” Heath told me before this season began.
Says Kreis now: “I gave my heart and soul to this club and it took a long time to get the team to a point where I felt like these were ‘our guys.’ Our coaching staff worked tireless hours to scout, to meet, to spend time on the phone with these players and bring them all in to be a part of something we thought was going to be special. To have that torn away from you in less than half a season was extremely difficult to cope with.”
Kreis says he was blindsided by his firing because he met with Orlando City’s ownership group a few weeks prior and was assured management would stick to the rebuilding plan. When the losing streak grew to six games and the “Kreis Out” mob on social media became a clamoring cacophony, the coach was called into a meeting in the owner’s office. Kreis, always intense and laser-focused to the task at hand, was oblivious to the fact that he was about to be fired.
“I didn’t know. I really didn’t think the [firing] was coming,” Kreis says. “I was told about the meeting and I thought the meeting was going to basically be me coming in to explain to the ownership group what I believed. And what I believe, and what I was going to explain to them, is that through my almost 20 years of experience in this league, often times, it’s the teams that go through some of the roughest patches in the regular season that many, many times are the teams that end up winning championships. The reason for that is because those teams have been through difficult times and grown together.”
Yep, that’s what Kreis was going to tell ownership, except he never got the chance.
“I walked into the meeting and was summarily fired before I could even sit down,” Kreis says. “… It was the owner, Flávio, who fired me and I give him credit [for doing it himself]. I think that’s a very professional way of doing it. He didn’t rely on anybody else to do it. He didn’t need a third-party messenger. He told me face to face. That’s the way things should be done.”
Even though Kreis respected the method of his firing, he obviously doesn’t respect the reason for it.
Some might consider Kreis as a disgruntled coach whose failure was of his own doing, but I don’t believe that. This is a man who won an MLS Cup and played for another when he coached Real Salt Lake. To me, his reputation is much more credible than that of Orlando City, which is now perceived as an MLS club in disarray. Other fledgling franchises that came into the league at the same time or after Orlando City – Atlanta United FC, New York City FC and Los Angeles FC – have, quite simply, blown by the Lions.
It seems to me there are three ways to win in MLS: You can simply spend more money than everybody else, you can spend money more wisely than everybody else or you can come up with a solid plan and a process and patiently adhere to it.
Orlando City has done none of the above.
Since being fired, Jason Kreis has spent much of his time around his Winter Park home doing handyman projects such as installing tile and repairing cabinets.
The question is: What is Orlando City going to do to fix a franchise in an extreme state of disrepair?