Only a half year removed from being named the MLS Coach of the Year, Frank Yallop is out as head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes. According to press release from the team, Yallop and the Quakes "have mutually agreed to part ways."
Such language is often used to allow both sides to save face in a situation like this. Instead of the team saying Yallop was fired, or Yallop saying he quit, the potential contentiousness of the coaching change is diffused. Alarm bells typically sound as accepting the veracity of such an explanation can seem overly simplistic; however, given the unexpectedness of yesterday's announcement, perhaps there is something to this supposed mutual agreement.
In an interview with Center Line Soccer, team president Dave Kaval explained that any such plans to fire Yallop were never considered, despite the team's poor performance thus far this season. Kaval described the meeting where the decision was made as one intended to discuss plans moving forward. Only after the conversation started did the "aha!" moment occur that those plans did not include Yallop.
"We had a collective ‘aha' moment and in doing so we understood the gravity of what it meant but we also understood it was the right decision." -- Dave Kaval
Kaval also suggested the Earthquakes eighth place standing in the Western Conference did not directly influence the decision, which suggests that the disagreement possibly stemmed from what the team was going to do to improve its situation. After all, the Earthquakes still fancy themselves an MLS playoff team. Is it coaching or is it the roster that is responsible? That question probably framed most of the debate.
One thing is certain: this was a decision that was made solely in that midseason meeting and not one influenced by the locker room. Yallop is well liked and respected by his players, many of whom have been given a second chance to succeed in their professional careers. None more than Chris Wondolowski is thankful for the opportunity given him by Yallop, as he told reporters: "I feel disgusted. I feel gutted. For me personally Frank has meant so much. I wouldn't be where I am without him."
"I feel disgusted. I feel gutted. For me personally Frank has meant so much. I wouldn't be where I am without him." -- Chris Wondolowski
The Earthquakes are generating plenty of scoring chances this season, but their conversion rate has been poor. It's hard to put that solely on the coach, but his preparation of the players is an important factor too. Are the Quakes missing an ingredient from last season's delectable concoction? Certainly a player like Simon Dawkins would be able to help this squad, but he wasn't an option to this point in the season.
Just last week, Yallop expressed that a deal to get Dawkins was not going to happen because the club was not prepared to pay a transfer fee for his rights. San Jose in the past has been reluctant to splash the cash on players, but just this year should their willingness to spend money when they elevated Wondolowski to Designated Player status. Money out of pocket and not from the MLS salary budget - this was a relatively new development for the Quakes. Did Yallop want the Quakes to do more?
Yallop did not make himself available for comment following the announced mutual parting of ways, so his personal opinions on the state of the Quakes remain with him alone. And whether or not the decision for his departure was truly a group decision won't be known until he elects to speak more on the issue. One thing that is certain is that his accomplishments as coach of San Jose were impressive, and all but the most hardened fans will mourn his loss.
So what is next for the struggling Earthquakes? With the announcement that Yallop was stepping down came word that assistant coach Mark Watson was elevated to interim head coach through the remainder of the season. Watson has worked with Yallop for many years, and the team is not expected to undergo any radical changes with him leading the way. In an interview with Center Line Soccer, Watson reiterated that idea, but did add that he will seek more balance between being organized defensively and flying forward into attack. Tactical balance was a big part of what made the 2102 season so successful.
Will Watson's tutelage under Yallop be enough of a foundation to rescue a foundering team from missing the postseason? The expectations from Kaval are clear: the Earthquakes are "committed and focused on making this season a success, and success for us is making the playoffs."
"The season is far from over. We are committed and focused on making this season a success, and success for us is making the playoffs." -- Dave Kaval
15 games in and 15 points earned; 19 games left to turn things around. The plan moving forward is uncertain, and the hill to climb will be steep, but perhaps the parting of ways with Yallop will prove to be the low point. For Watson and the Quakes, they will have to hope that is true.