Are the San Jose Earthquakes making a move to bring Dominic Kinnear back as head coach? According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the only head coach the Houston Dynamo have ever known has been given permission to leave at the conclusion of the season if the Quakes were to offer him a job.
With San Jose mired in a 10-game winless streak, and the almost certainty that the team will miss the MLS postseason for the second straight season, current head coach Mark Watson has found his seat just a little bit hotter than a year ago.
Watson, who became the interim head coach of the Quakes in June of last year following the departure of long-time leader Frank Yallop, had the interim label removed from his title following a spectacular run of results to end the 2013 season -- 11 wins, 5 losses, and 3 draws in 19 games -- that brought the team to within a tiebreaker of qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs. In addition, he led the Quakes out of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League group stage and into the knockout round of the tournament.
However, 2014 has not been as kind to the rookie head coach, and the Earthquakes have languished at or near the bottom of the Western Conference for the entire season. Injuries, suspensions, and international duty absences have decimated the roster of players available to Watson this year, but the pressure to put a winning team on the field ahead of the club's move into its new stadium ahead of next season has been high.
So when news broke that Kinnear had received permission to talk to the Earthquakes, dots were quickly connected that Watson might be on his way out and Kinnear could make his return to San Jose. And after a weekend where pundits debated the potential move -- even Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas broached the subject during ESPN's coverage of the LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls Sunday night -- the club released a statement addressing the issue.
"All decisions regarding our technical staff and players will be made at the conclusion of the season." -- San Jose Earthquakes
Critical to remember in all of this is that Kinnear is currently the head coach of the Dynamo and Watson is currently the head coach of the Earthquakes. Neither club has a coaching vacancy, and both head coaches are under contract for the 2015 MLS season. Dominoes, even ones that already appear to be set precariously in formation, still would need to fall.
The Dynamo, as is also the situation for the Quakes, appear set to miss the postseason -- the first time since 2010. Kinnear's record in nine seasons in charge of Houston is an impressive 111 wins, 86 losses, and 86 ties, and the Dynamo captured two MLS Cups, in 2006 and 2007, while finishing as runners-up twice, in 2011 and 2012.
An impressive footnote to that list -- one that the Quakes will make special note of -- is that Kinnear's team earned an MLS-record 36-game home unbeaten streak following the opening of the new BBVA Compass Stadium in 2012. His team plays with a tenacious style, one he has developed since his first coaching job back in 2001, as an assistant to Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop.
When Yallop, following two MLS Cup championships in three years, left the Quakes to coach the Canadian national team, Kinnear was elevated into the head coaching role in San Jose. He compiled a record of 27-14-21 in two seasons, including the 2005 Supporters' Shield winning campaign, before the franchise was uprooted from the Bay Area and moved to Houston. Kinnear has coached the Dynamo ever since.
Kinnear's all-time MLS regular season winning percentage tops out at 0.555, while Yallop's is 0.510. In 48 games in charge of the Earthquakes, Watson has a record of 17-17-14 -- a winning percentage of 0.500. The trio, so intricately linked in a coaching tree that began in 2001, make up the top-three in Quakes head coaches since the league's inception in 1996.
Kinnear has always had his name come up when the coaching job of the Earthquakes has been in question. He was a candidate for the position when the franchise returned to MLS in 2008, and he was mentioned as a replacement for Yallop following his departure last June. Adding to his connection to the club, Kinnear is a long-time friend of Earthquakes general manager John Doyle, and the two were teammates on the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks and U.S men's national team in the years prior to MLS.
While the future is uncertain for both Kinnear in Houston and Watson in San Jose, the possibility of a spin of the MLS coaching carousel makes for a spirited conversation. Are the Earthquakes better off keeping the status quo, or should the club welcome the return of a proven leader? Maybe a third option is to emerge from the shadow of the Yallop coaching tree and change course altogether? It appears, for the time being, that those questions will not be answered until the end of the season.