In a surprising announcement, the San Jose Earthquakes and head coach Frank Yallop announced today that they had parted ways effective immediately. Assistant coach Mark Watson will coach the Quakes on an interim basis for the remainder of the 2013 MLS season.
Both coach Yallop and general manager John Doyle provided statements in a club release, and new coach Watson is expected to make his first public comments in the coming days. Team president Dave Kaval was able to reveal more details of the stunning news in an exclusive interview with Center Line Soccer.
Center Line Soccer: How did the decision to part ways with coach Yallop transpire?
Dave Kaval: “We sat down this week: myself, John Doyle, and Frank Yallop. It was a point in the season we would normally have a conversation and it was a touch point to talk about everything. What mutually came out from both sides was that the organization and Frank was that it was best to part ways. It wasn’t antagonist but just a realization that it was the right course of action.”
CLS: Did you or Yallop come to the table with other plans in mind, including the possibility that he would leave the Earthquakes for other opportunities on his own accord?
Kaval: “No, no. The decision was made in house in that meeting. We did not go into it knowing that Frank would not be our coach. Everyone was introspective, talking about the team and their goals, and mutually agreeing that this was the time. It was like we had a collective ‘aha’ moment and in doing so we understood the gravity of what it meant but we also understood it was the right decision.”
CLS: After winning the Supporters’ Shield a season ago, the team has really struggled in the standings this year and has collected only 15 points (3-6-6) in 15 games. How much were recent results taken into consideration when making the decision to let Yallop go?
Kaval: “None of us was happy with the results. And frankly, the results over the course of the season we all agreed were something we wanted to do better on. However, the decision was not connected to that. It was more connected to the bigger picture of understanding where we were and where we wanted to go. The time had come, and this course of action made the most sense.”
CLS: With almost half the season gone and the Earthquakes second from bottom in the Western Conference, do you still feel this team as it is made up can pull itself back into postseason contention?
Kaval: “The season is far from over. We are committed and focused on making this season a success, and success for us is making the playoffs. We are 100% focused on that and feel strongly that Mark (Watson) in his role since he knows the team so well can succeed.”
CLS: Watson does not have any head coaching experience to speak of, though he is very familiar with the Earthquakes having served as Yallop’s assistant for the past few seasons. Was it a decision of convenience to hand the reigns over to Watson for the remainder of the MLS season?
Kaval: “One great thing about Frank over all these years in terms of all the things he has contributed to our organization, he has empowered coaches. Look what he did with Dominic (Kinnear). Frank has done an amazing job of developing these young coaches. The Frank Yallop coaching tree is a strong one. So for at least the last year we have thought that Mark, when he had the opportunity, could be a great coach in this league. We want to give him an opportunity in that interim role.”
CLS: The MLS summer transfer window opens up in early July. Will the club be active in bringing in new players that can help turn around this season, or is the plan to stay put and wait until the offseason to reorganize?
Kaval: “We are looking to be active in the transfer window. We have efforts on multiple fronts to try to acquire players who can make an immediate impact on the club. You have this opportunity to get more talent and really make a hard push in the second half of the season and go on a run. And we feel with the talented players we have, we need to piece it all together. John has been very active, burning up the phone lines, staying up late, talking to folks, his key focus for us is to find players that fit our long-term plans. We don’t just want a quick fix, we are thinking about how to build this team for many years to come, and you have got to put those big pieces in place that don’t handcuff you and that’s the way we are looking at it. We want the best players available, instead of just what is just available.”
CLS: A criticism of the club, and of Yallop in general, has been focused on the tactics and style of play demonstrated by the team. Was this issue something that came up in the meeting earlier this week, and do you see interim coach Watson making any significant changes in that realm?
Kaval: “That’s to be determined. Mark in his new role is going to have to look at the style of play and make some determinations. We are going to sit down next week, myself, Mark Watson, and John Doyle, and have a one-day retreat to discuss those issues. What I will say is that there is no foregone conclusion that we will play a direct style at all. We will see how that conversation plays out.”
CLS: Has the uncertainty of player availability made it difficult for the Quakes to play with a defined style and achieve the level of success they enjoyed last year?
Kaval: “It is important to remember that to be successful in this league you have to know your philosophy, and you have to stick with it, and you have to build a team and players around it that support it. Because if not, then having the wrong players means it will not work. We are very aware of that, and with John and his expertise, he gets that 100%.”
CLS: You have mentioned that Doyle has been working hard to identify players to bring in this summer, but might he also look at the current roster and make some changes?
Kaval: “Nothing imminent. Over time, as Mark puts his mark on the team, in concert with John and his vision for the types of players he thinks we can attract, there could be, but that will depend.”
CLS: Lastly, the club is certainly in a process of transition within MLS as it looks to achieve success with a modest budget. However, a new stadium with new sources of revenue is slated to open next season. Was parting ways with Yallop part of that process as the team looks to reshape its identity going into such an important year?
Kaval: “That the stadium is looming over us has an impact, but it is hard to say what. It wasn’t necessarily in a quantifiable or articulate way. By virtue of it existing and the new vision for the club that is occurring, having the new stadium might have played a role but it is hard to say exactly what it is.”