When Frank Klopas took over as interim head coach of the Chicago Fire back at the end of May, it appeared as if he would only be leading the club until a permanent solution was found at the end of the season.
Turns out that permanent solution was him.
On Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Fire took that interim label off of Klopas, making him the sixth head coach in club history.
"Frank fits who this club is, who we are." said Fire owner Andrew Hauptman. "He bleeds for the organization, he knows the league inside and out (and) he has the respect of the players."
The impact of Klopas' emotional relationship with the club certainly seemed to play a bigger role in this decision than with any of the club's prior coaches. That doesn't mean that there weren't logical reasons for the hire as well, with the club winning 7 of its final 10 MLS games in what was ultimately a failed playoff run. But it is clear that this hire was different than that of his predecessor Carlos de los Cobos, who never seemed to truly connect with the players.
"I feel honored, I feel very blessed," Klopas said. "At this level, it's all about results, I know that. But I'm in a position with a lot of good people who are here to help me and support me."
The results will surely determine whether Klopas succeeds or not in Chicago. Stephen Piggott has already discussed at length why he wasn't totally enamored with Klopas' imminent hire. If the club seemed better down the stretch, it's because in addition to some of the 20 new players added at the start in 2011 (Hauptman mentioned that this aspect made the club feel like an expansion side at times), the club added new players throughout the season. While the addition of Colombian striker Cristian Nazarit failed to have much of an impact, the later signings of Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo definitely improved the club significantly. In addition, trading for Dan Gargan also helped shore up a leaky back line and allowed rookie Jalil Anibaba to move to center back.
So the Fire in 2012 on the field will likely resemble the club at the end of the 2011 season, with likely a few upgrades. It will not be the total overhaul that occurred in the 2010-2011 offseason though.
Is Frank Klopas the best technical manager in the MLS today? No. Was he the most experienced candidate out there at this time? Obviously not. But, at the end of the day, the reason the club opted to keep Klopas was consistency. Could they have brought in someone like former New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol who has more of that tactical acumen? Sure. But he, or another other new coach, likely would have wanted to put his own stamp on the club and change the direction of the club, for better or worse.
The fact that that the club has now missed the playoffs the past two years also may have helped Klopas. Starting from scratch again with a new coach would mean the chances of missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season in 2012 would have likely increased, and the decision to keep Klopas seems to have been made with both the short-term and the long-term in mind.
An interesting side story to the announcement was the appearance of Fire owner Andrew Hauptman, who had a very candid, if not odd moment at the end of the conference.
"I don't think I've had a press conference since I've owned the team, to be honest." said Hauptman. "I don't think I've participated in one, and I certainly haven't been here for a coaching announcement, so it shouldn't be lost on anyone that I'm here today."
Hauptman then stuck around after the press conference to answer some questions from reporters that weren't asked in the press conference. During that time, he clarified that Klopas would be stepping down from the Technical Director position to focus exclusively on the role as head coach. Hauptman also mentioned that the Technical Director position will be filled in due time.
Hauptman went on to say that Klopas will be 100% in control of choosing his own assistant coaches and put his full faith in Klopas for the 2012 season and hopefully beyond.
So the stage for next season seems to be starting to already take shape. If the Fire roar out of the gate and continue their run of good form at the end of this season, then Thursday will be looked upon as the continuation in the right direction for the club. If they struggle early though, questions will be asked about whether this was the right move.
Is it March 2012 yet?