Let's take a timely trip down memory lane.
The New York Knicks introduced a new president of basketball operations Monday – a man who is perhaps the greatest coach in Chicago professional sports. Phil Jackson would bring six championships to the city and become one of the most iconic figures in basketball in the 1990s. He also ruled the turn of the century, winning five more championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite the unmatched trail of gold he blazed as a head coach, Jackson's legacy has never been that of a great coach in the traditional term. He wasn't the great John Wooden, attempting to change the way the game was played and develop new concepts. Instead of changing the game, he changed the position of head coach.
The soft-spoken mountain man from Montana was going to connect with players at a level other coaches could not. His approach was going to be a spiritual, emotional, semi-hypnotic one. His on-court playbook was a simple borrowing of Tex Winter plays. But egos and personalities like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman are not x's and o's on a dry erase board. They would not be willing pawns in a game of chess. The hand that guided those pieces had to be gentle and trusted more implicitly than most coaches.
The approach is now of the utmost importance in the superstar-driven NBA. A coach must be as good if not better at managing egos and personalities as developing a game plan.
Ego management is important in any sport - and we just may see how important it is at Toyota Park before long.
Mike Magee, fresh off an MVP season, the greatest of his career, enjoyed success in a 4-4-2 under veteran loyalist Frank Klopas – a man who would give 1,000 chances to Chris Rolfe out of respect for lengthy service before turning to his reserve team for help. Magee is no doubt a strong force in the Chicago soccer community.
On the other hand is Frank Yallop, the head of the team, which naturally makes him a strong force also. He brought early inspiration to the fan base with his tactical mind, introducing a 4-1-4-1 that promised a stronger attack. More inspiration followed with his no-nonsense, perform-or-sit approach we got a glimpse of Sunday.
While these two forces have not collided, they are setting off proximity warnings. Reports have surfaced that the two already have disagreed on playing time, with Magee insisting he is prepared to play and Yallop standing firm on slowly bringing him along. Some reports suggest a minor blow up between the two during the road trip; whether that is true or not is unclear.
What is true is Magee is now an MVP, frustrated with his contract, lack of playing time and a failed bid at a World Cup spot. In fact, part of him likely wants back on the pitch in a rush to make one final frenzied push for a spot by scoring and assisting at such a torrid pace Jurgen Klinsmann would have no choice but to look. It's a confidence, and an ego, a team needs out of its top scoring option.
Yallop, for his reputation of strong tactics on the pitch, now needs to prove to be a strong leader off it. Magee will remain the most important relationship. In a perfect scenario, Yallop and Magee are of one mind with Magee an extension of Yallop on the pitch. We don't need perfection. We will need respect and understanding to keep a united locker room, because Magee is not the only one that will become frustrated.
We've seen what could happen with longtime top-XI staple Patrick Nyarko, losing a spot and playing recklessly in an attempt to make a statement to reclaim what was lost. Chris Rolfe and Juan Luis Anangono could see more bench than pitch. Could Matt Watson eventually supplant Jeff Larentowicz? These veterans, once treated as untouchable by Klopas, are in for a potentially rude change of reality.
Yallop must not carelessly throw pieces around the board as he sees fit. He will have to gently guide them to where they each need to be, everyone accepting the role, even if a former bishop has become a mere pawn. Change can be hard, especially when it comes from an outsider like Yallop. That is why he will need Magee to be his voice and help with the gradual evolution of the team this season.
For Yallop and Magee, it's time to take a page out of that zen book Jackson made Jordan read.