In the world of oxymorons, 'anticipated surprise' has to be among the most explicable - I mean, who hasn't felt that sensation when watching a horror movie, if not elsewhere? In the grisly slasher film which the 2015 Fire are currently adapting to the soccer pitch, today's news of a complete front-office makeover was both shocking and utterly expected, like a jump-scare after a moment of tense calm.
Out went Frank Yallop, Head Coach, Director of Soccer and the presumptive architect of the worst two years in Chicago Fire history, along with coaches Marc Bircham and Clint Mathis. Brian Bliss, who as technical director turned up talent like Matt Polster and David Accam on this year's roster, moves into an interim head-coaching role, assisted by club Vice President Logan Pause, who adds 'Assistant Coach' to his job duties.
Most importantly, Fire owner Andrew Hauptman named former MLS executive Nelson Rodriguez as General Manager of the club. Rodriguez was most recently in charge of US Soccer's National Team Advisory Services, but will be most familiar to MLS-heads as the guy the league put in place to oversee the now-folded club after a league takeover.
What's in a title?
Rodriguez arrives with a reputation as a guy who knows how to make players feel wanted, a network-builder and long-term thinker. What he doesn't have is a tremendous track record as a main decision-maker on the soccer side; his most direct experience along those lines was as Director of Soccer Operations for the then-Metrostars in 1998-99.
There is no doubt that Rodriguez should be considered a major hire by the Fire organizaton. His resume is replete with executive positions that specialize in the building specific aspects of a football organization - scouting networks, a referee's organization, business and sponsor relationships, supporter guidelines - with the notable exception of building a functional first-team roster.
All of which is to say that the hiring of Nelson Rodriguez sounds a great deal like hiring a team President, and less like hiring a General Manager, but what's in a title? If he functions as the President we've been begging for, no one will care what's on his business card. On the other hand, his background as The Guy MLS Sent In To Shut Chivas USA Down doesn't exactly silence the disquieting feeling that the Fire are sliding inexorably toward truly cataclysmic territory.
Bliss & Pause to manage the interregnum
Brian Bliss has been here before - in 2013, he stepped from the TD role with the Columbus Crew to take over as interim coach after Robert Warzycha was given his walking papers. As was the case then, Bliss is not seen as a serious contender for the position permanently, but will instead be asked to evaluate the roster for whoever Rodriguez names as the next manager.
An interesting note is that Logan Pause, installed after his retirement in a Vice President role, has been named his interim assistant. Both have spent a great deal of time with the Academy and PDL teams prior to today's announcement; could youth be favored in the Fire's final five games?
Finally, it's not hard to read the complete lack of 'the Chicago Fire wish to thank ...' boilerplate as a rebuke of Yallop and his hand-picked assistants, Bircham and Mathis. Failure is an orphan.