Give the Front Office A Break
One Rapids supporter’s take on why the Rapids Front Office deserves a little bit of trust
Brian McCarthy
Nov 23rd 2011
Give the Front Office A Break

Before I say anything I want to make this clear. I liked Gary Smith, and Im disappointed to see him go. I thought he was a good manager and he did great things for our organization. I wish and all of his staff the best in their future endeavors.

The Rapids front office and fans have had a pretty tenuous relationship over the past few years. The fans have not been shy to share their displeasure on multiple issues, including but not limited to: the on field product, spending money on players, issues with stadium security, properly marketing the team and outright incompetence. While these issues aren’t exclusive to the Rapids as a sporting organization, I’ve gotten the sense that there is a heavier sentiment of negativity than most professional sports teams.

The negative tide has risen to historic levels since the Rapids parted ways with Gary Smith. In every media venue associated with the Rapids, vitriolic fans are lambasting any and all actions associated with the front office. The PR nightmare has spun out of control for the Rapids, whose staff are not equipped to deal with it.

In a recent article by Stephanie Gardner on Goal.com Jeff Plush signed off by saying “He wants to see more unity in Colorado, from the employees right down through the fan groups.” Reading between the lines, it sounds like Jeff is asking for some mercy and some trust from his fans.

So I decided to analyze the story from another angle. Why should we trust this decision by the Rapids Front Office?

While I dont have a lot of inside information on Gary Smith’s merits as a manager, he appeared to be a charismatic, man manager who consistently stuck up for his players. I wouldnt classify him as a tactical genius, but he coached a style of play that was effective, particularly with a club that lacked the resources to spend for creative players. I also liked Steve Guppy and some of his staff, who appeared to have a knack for developing players and getting the best out of their skill sets. A manager is ultimately judged by the results on the field, and with a record of 39-31-35 in three years Gary was above average but by no means stellar.

By all accounts released publicly, Gary Smith wanted more power in player and tactical decisions. How much? We dont know, but one can assume he wanted to be the final decision maker on all key decisions. The Rapids Front Office, specifically Paul Bravo (Technical Director) and Jeff Plush (Managing Director), didnt want to hand over the reigns. Gary played his hand to put them under pressure with the press. Clearly this irked the Rapids FO who thought it better to let Gary go on his way.

It was a tough decision but not altogether irrational for the Rapids Front Office. Had they gone the other way they would have placed the Rapids future and thereby their careers directly in Gary Smith’s hands. For all of his merits Gary was still a young, largely unproven manager with just an above average track record.

On top of that the MLS is a complex league, especially when it comes to the personnel management side of things. We have rules that most international leagues do not; college drafts, expansion drafts, supplemental drafts, designated players, international players, Generation Adidas players, homegrown players, and most important salary caps. No doubt Gary Smith is a bright guy, but I doubt that he has a truly in depth grasp of all the varying factors that it takes to build a great team in the MLS with less than 3 years of experience in this league. The MLS is riddled with foreign coaches whove been given too much power without an understanding of the American system. See Ray Hudson, Oscar de las Cobos, and Rudd Gullit. For a real time example check out how Hans Backe and Erik Soler are doing since theyve parted ways with MLS vet and personnel mastermind Richie Williams.

Ive seen a lot of praise being lobbed towards Gary for the 2010 Cup success, but anyone who knows sports knows that it takes an organization to win a championship. So I ask everyone which decisions does Gary really deserve sole credit for?

• Casey, Cummings, Pablo, and Koske, were all brought in before his time, and were pretty much starters by the time he took over.
• Do you think Gary was orchestrating all the key trades and acquisitions last season? Corey Gibbs for Larentowicz / Thompson, Labrocca / Petersen for Wynne, an injured Clark into Brian Mullan, Medhi Ballouchy for Mac Kandji or Wallace and Quincy Amerikwa for a sack of potatoes.
• Do you think Gary Smith had the MLS draft experience to shrewdly make the move that kept Anthony Wallace and Wells Thompson on the Rapids, and brought Sanna Nyassi to our club in 2011?

Personnel wise Im only sure that there are two player moves that we can attribute to Smith and his management squad. Caleb Folan (given Garys experience with lower Division English Football), and Danny Earls (based on Guppys relationship with Earls in Rochester). As much as it pains me to criticize fellow Irishmen, these guys have made a good case for the two of the most underperforming assets in the club.

At the start of 2010 the Rapids were not a championship club, but through wheeling and dealing they became one. Who was behind those decisions? The power struggle situation suggests that it was lead by Bravo and his staff, not Gary and his. That does not take away from Gary Smiths role. He managed the team well, got them hot at the right time and with a bit of luck brought us home our first and only championship.

But the issue at hand is that Gary wanted more power with personnel and he had not necessarily done enough to this point to earn it. Management and coaching skills does not automatically make you a great personnel strategist. Remember Mike Shanahan Denver? He won a couple of championships, and then drafted and dealt the Broncos into an entirely mediocre franchise for years.

As easy and satisfying as it is to dismiss the Rapids Front Office as idiots, I encourage you to give them a little leash here. Theyve made some pretty good decisions in the past 24 months, and if we show a little faith they may make a few more that put us in a good place to be competitive for years to come.

Brian McCarthy
Just another fan with a keyboard

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