11:28 am Jan. 24, 2013
In the end, the Red Bulls decided to replace fired head coach Hans Backe by promoting from within.
Interim head coach Mike Petke, a beloved franchise player and previously an assistant, had his interim tag removed. The move came after a number of the Red Bulls' other targets turned them down.
Which may turn out to have been a blessing.
“Mike is very passionate about our club and has shown us that he has the leadership and organizational qualities to be our head coach,” said Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh. “He is a terrific servant for this club, from being a top player to most recently heading our reserve squad. Mike has earned this opportunity and he will have the full support of our staff to help ensure the team’s success. We believe that his experience both as a player and coach in American soccer will be a significant asset as we head into the 2013 season."
Canned rhetoric aside, Petke's name was well down the list of candidates. He himself made no effort to get the job, even saying as recently as last week that he wasn't ready to be a head coach.
But Petke has a number of advantages the other candidates, such as former Premier League skippers Paulo Sousa and Gary McAllister, did not. First is the franchise history Petke enjoys, as the team's career leader in games played after the then-Metrostars picked Petke with the eighth pick in the 1998 draft.
Which should in turn give him more leeway with the team's fans as he figures things out.
"Ever since I joined New York in 1998, this is the club that has always been closest to my heart. I am thrilled to have earned this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is truly a dream come true," Petke said. "I know there is a lot of work ahead and our challenge is not easy. However, I am excited to take hold of my new responsibility and hopeful that I can help build a hard-working team that our club’s loyal supporters can all be proud of."
The short time remaining between now and the team's season opener on March 3 meant that any coach hired at this point would have had to get caught up to speed on evalauating his roster and implement a new system in real time. Petke, though, has been present all winter, and running practices since training camp began this week. He provides continuity, and his knowledge of the league eliminates some of the head coach learning curve that many internationally accomplished former coaches for the Red Bulls, such as Backe, experienced, and hires like Sousa or McAllister would have dealt with, too.
The Red Bulls have endured an offseason filled with the embarrassment that comes with rejection, and were ultimately forced to go with the coach they happened to have on hand.
But it may turn out that, despite themselves, they ended up with just the guy they needed.