Conference Call with Gregg Berhalter Transcript
COLUMBUS CREW PRESIDENT MARK MCCULLERS
Thank you Alex and thanks everyone for joining us today and being part of a really big announcement for our club. This year will go down as a year of change for the Columbus Crew. New ownership has invigorated our organization. I’ve described it as refreshing. It’s in this environment that is my pleasure to introduce Gregg Berhalter as the new Head Coach and Sporting Director of the Columbus Crew. We talked about this process being extensive. We interviewed a diverse and broad range of candidates. The assistance of Frankie Hejduk and Andrew Arthurs was invaluable in the process, and I think it was an exceptionally well done and efficient process. Leadership was an important factor in looking at candidates, and Gregg’s vision really resonated with all of us is the search committee. He has a clear vision, he has a detailed plan, he has a voice to communicate that plan and he has the personality and the attitude to inspire those around him to rally around that vision and that plan. He’s very highly respected in the industry. We talked to a lot of people in the soccer world, and Gregg was lauded as a really quality choice for this position. He has a tremendous pedigree, a vast amount of experience – European, domestic, national team and Major League Soccer. All of these qualities make him a perfect fit with our brand moving forward. We’re very excited about Gregg joining our team, and I would like to turn it over to our Chairman Anthony Precourt for his remarks.
COLUMBUS CREW CHAIRMAN AND INVESTOR-OPERATOR ANTHONY PRECOURT
It’s an exciting day for the Columbus Crew. I don’t think this process could have gone any better. I am thrilled with the announcement today that Gregg Berhalter will be our next Head Coach and Sporting Director. I also want to thank Mark McCullers and Frankie Hejduk and Andrew Arthurs for their contributions to our search committee. They did a fantastic job. Everyone brought a specific point of view – Frankie as a player who has played under a number of high-quality, high-caliber coaches, Andrew from the perspective of how our Sporting Director and Head Coach would interact with our Academy and Youth Programs, Mark with all of his perspective of being a part of the club for the last 15 years and our Senior Executive and our GM. I’m just very pleased with what Gregg is going to bring to the table. I think it’s a game-changer. We’ve got an author for our new book, which is about getting back to our winning ways, building a consistent culture, having repeatable processes in place to be a relevant team in Major League Soccer once again. I was thrilled and I would also just like to turn it over to Gregg at this point in time. This is about Gregg, so let’s get started talking with our new Head Coach and Sporting Director.
COLUMBUS CREW HEAD COACH AND SPORTING DIRECTOR GREGG BERHALTER
Thank you, guys. First of all, I want to say that I am extremely excited about this opportunity to join the Columbus Crew. It’s a club that I have admired from a distance for some time. There are a few things that stood out to me when deciding to take this job. First and foremost, I would say, is the energy brought to the club by the owner, Mr. Precourt. Just walking around and talking to the staff and talking to people, you can see that they are excited about the future. That was definitely a strong point. The tradition associated with the Columbus Crew – the Crew stands for success. They’ve had success, they’ve a championship, they’ve won Supporters Shield’s, and it’s definitely a club that has tasted success. They have a long tradition with Mark McCullers being there since the beginning. Not too many clubs have that type of stability in their leadership. The fans and the manner in which they support their team – I have been lucky enough to play against the Crew and play in Crew Stadium with the National Team, and it’s an amazing environment. It’s an environment that is very pro-the-home-team and special to play in. Finally, the current roster – I think that there is a good foundation of youth and experience on which to build. These are all items that made this job exciting to me. In terms of my role, I see my role will give me the flexibility to structure the technical side of the organization as I see fit. It will streamline the decision-making process and integrate the player acquisition with the technical department. This is, for me, crucial, because we want to be efficient. We want to be able to make fast decisions and we all want to be on the same page, and I think tying this together will do that nicely. In terms of the current roster, I believe have a good group of guys and I am excited to work with them. Watching them play, watching all of the video, it’s guys that I believe we can improve but also they share that same vision with me in terms of how the game should be played. As far as I’m concerned, I’m eager to start working with them and get going as I join the Crew.
On how the initial contact was made between the Crew and him, and how the interview process went:
It was a call out of the blue from the Owner, Mr. Precourt. He said, ‘what do you think of this idea?’ In the initial phone call, I wanted to know more about him and know more about his vision for the club. I think that was extremely important for me. Once that was communicated, I felt very confident that I wanted to continue on with the process. From the standpoint of the interview process itself, it was a very professional process. They brought me in, I was interviewed by five people and given a good tour of the club and shown how the club works. From all of that, it made a very good impression on me.
On what he has been doing since leaving Hammarby IF, and what specifically about Anthony Precourt’s reinvigoration and vision that made him decide to take the job:
After I was dismissed from Hammarby, I took a step back and I evaluated basically the year-and-a-half work to see what was good and what could have been improved, and then after that I went throughout Europe and studied different clubs. I met with a lot of different people in Europe. I studied youth academies, I studied first team, I studied the structures within the teams and within the clubs. It was a good time. It was a good time to get away. After my (playing career) and starting to coach I haven’t had a break like this in over 20 years, so that was beneficial for both me and my family. Then, after talking to Mr. Precourt, right away I think we were on the same page in terms of where he wants to go with the Crew and how he thinks it needs to be done. This is something that obviously we have first team success as a first and foremost goal in mind, but it’s also developing the whole structure of the club. We’re looking forward to doing that, bringing a real structure, a real professionalism in to the Columbus Crew.
On how Gregg’s plan for the structure of the Crew jives with the vision he has for the club:
I mentioned that for several years now we’ve been talking about the need to move the General Manager responsibilities off of my plate and into the competition division of the organization. This was the time and Gregg is the right person to do that. We’re always looking at ways to improve the player experience and to provide the resources that are necessary to make our club a success and to give our coach the opportunity to succeed. Gregg is an innovative person. He is a progressive coach, so he brings a lot of those ideas and concepts to the table. It just makes since for an organization to have him guiding that part of the club.
On how he plans on adjusting to MLS rules when it comes to management:
I have someone in Mark McCullers that has been doing awhile will help assist me with that and helps teach me with that role. Also, I’m looking to bring someone in in a different position: Director of Soccer Operations. That person will be responsible for working with me to take advantage of some of the rules and to maximize efficiency in that area. That’s something that we’ve already been studying, and it’s obviously crucial to the success in MLS.
On how far away he is from hiring a Director of Soccer Operations:
I think there are a couple candidates that we have in mind, and I am looking for someone that I can work closely with and I think is perfect for the job. It might take a couple weeks.
On why Berhalter is not in Columbus for the announcement and what is unprofessional that needs changed:
We had initially planned on making this announcement in mid-November – next week – but we started to think about treating our other finalist candidates with respect and the fact that we didn’t want to hold them up anymore from pursuing other opportunities, specifically Brian Bliss. We just felt a decision had made that Gregg was our guy and we wanted to contact the other candidates that we were speaking with. Also, time is of the essence for us as a club. By making a public announcement this week, it will enable Gregg an extra week to start to build his staff ahead of other MLS clubs who are in the process of identifying their new head coaches and building out their staffs. From a timing perspective, Gregg was wrapping up a trip in Barcelona. He was visiting FC Barcelona for several days, touring the club, the first team, and we felt that was a very good experience for him and will benefit our club. From a travel logistics perspective, for ourselves and for Gregg, Gregg will be moving to Columbus by next week, getting his family out here and getting settled. We just felt like it was appropriate to make an announcement this week and have an introduction next week, which is a little bit different than the way we ultimately would have liked to have done it, but those were reasons why we did it.
On his philosophy and what he is planning to bring to the Crew on the field:
My philosophy has been developing over the last years. You can pick up things here and there, but that’s pretty much individual. That’s something that I’m looking forward to expressing with the team. What you can learn a lot about at these clubs is their structure and how they work and how they communicate between each other and how they make decisions and how the academy is formatted and little things within the first team you can pick up – operational things. That’s what I was focusing on the most. I think that for me to go to Barcelona and pick a training exercise, you might not have the same context when you bring it back to your team, so you have to be careful with that. From the other aspect of how they’re structured, it’s really impressive and it’s really good to see high-level clubs at work because it’s a good model to study.
On how his philosophy has developed and what he envisions when he puts a team on the field next year:
I see good pieces, to be honest. I see some good quality within the team, and I think that the team can be relatively successful in a short period of time because the pieces are there. There’s technical players, there’s players with speed, there’s players with strength. It’s a good mix. Of course we’re going to look to improve the roster, but I’m pretty pleased with what I see already.
On his who his biggest coaching influences, and who he has emulated most, and the “Gregg Berhalter” style of play:
That’s a good question. Thanks for asking that. I think that’s important. In my time at Hammarby, you have these ideas of how you want the team to play,and then you get there and work with the team and some of the players fit a little differently and you have to change that a little. You have to be willing to adapt to what you are given. I would say that my style is a style of ball possession, of quick attacks, looking to get behind the defense and moving the ball quickly. I know that’s easier said than done, but by putting players in the right positions and getting them to think about their positions on the field you can achieve that. It’s an offensive orientated style. I want fullbacks to get forward and really push the attack, and finally when we lose the ball I want to create pressure so that we can win the ball back quickly. I think that’s an important aspect of it. In terms of my coaching mentors, I was lucky enough to play for some good coaches in Europe, and I think I took something from all of them. However, I’d say the coach I took the most from was Bruce Arena in Los Angeles. You’re all familiar with him and he’s had tons of success in the MLS and with the national team, and it’s his man-management style, it’s his ability to make the hard things simple and to really get his teams to perform when they need to. That’s been something that’s been an inspiration to me, and because of that I keep in contact with him regularly for advice and to pick his brain on certain things.
On his immediate priorities:
My first priority is to reach out to the players. Because of the collective bargaining agreement, the players have off as of today, so it’s going to be difficult for me to physically be there and talk to them, but I want to reach out to all of them either through phone or email and hear from them and talk to them a little bit. That’s the first thing. The second thing, obviously I want to put together a staff. I’ve had a little bit of time to start gathering my thoughts and thinking about that, but that’s going to be my focus in the next month. Then, moving forward, things go quickly. You have the re-entry draft, you have the college tournaments that are finishing up in November and then you have to prepare for the SuperDraft, so there’s a lot of activities that I’m going to need to focus on in the upcoming months.
On what areas of the roster need to be addressed this offseason:
I don’t think it would be right of me to start calling out individuals on the team this early in the game. We’re going to look at the whole roster, we’re going to evaluate the whole roster up and down and look to improve it obviously. I think that some positions could need more improvement, some need less, but we’re obviously going to determine that as we move forward in the next couple of weeks.
On the how he plans to further develop the Crew’s youth system:
I’m going to be working with Andrew Arthurs on that. He’s doing a great job already. When I look at the players coming out of the Crew it’s exciting, and I think it can only improve. I believe in this area, I believe in the area surrounding Columbus, I believe in Ohio and its ability to produce players. I’m excited at that process and my first thing will be to evaluate the work that’s being done already and then move from there. With guys like Wil Trapp, Matt Lampson, it’s definitely quality guys to move forward with.
On what offensive changes he sees being made and what gives him confidence that he can be more successful offensively in Columbus than he was at Hammarby:
First of all, in Hammarby, to understand the situation a little bit, every opponent that we played, that’s their biggest game of the year. We’re facing 11 guys in their box trying to defend to prevent goals. Having said that, in the 15 games this year that I’ve coached we’ve outshot teams by 150 shots. We were an offensive power without actually getting the goals. That comes down a little bit to quality. I believe that there is quality in the team to score goals. Obviously, we’re going to look to address that a little bit, but there is some quality when you look at guys that have put up decent numbers – Dominic Oduro and Federico Higuain – there are some guys that can score. I’m excited to work with these guys. There’s some things you can’t teach players, and we have guys that have qualities that you can’t teach, which is a good thing.
On how he plans to get up to speed with the roster, given that players have departed:
This happens all the time when a coach comes in the offseason. Coaches are presented a lot of times during the summer break or winter break, so they haven’t been working with the guys. Having said that, I’ve watched over 15 games of the Crew this year and I’m somewhat familiar with the players and their style, I would say the most familiar I could be without coaching them live. I feel like I have a good grasp on the roster, and although this does come quick you rely on sources you have in the MLS, you rely on a staff that’s going to be in place to help you out with that. Moving forward, I’m pretty confident that I know what I’m working with.
On how the hiring process unfolded:
We started out by reaching out to a number of people we respect within the soccer circles, people at the [United States] Soccer Federation like Dan Flynn and Sunil Gulati, Hank Steinbrecher; speaking with folks that know the Crew well – Brian McBride, Brad Friedel, (Guillermo Barros) Schelloto. Andrew Arthurs has a perspective on high quality college coaches and Mark (McCullers) has a perspective as a GM knowing about high quality MLS assistants over his 15 years and Frankie (Hejduk) as well as a player. We called a lot of people, we brainstormed as a group and put together a broad list of candidates that covered former MLS head coaches and assistant coaches, international players, international coaches, college coaches, and we just started the process of building that list and making phone calls. We set up a scoring system, a rating sheet with a bunch of criteria that we wanted to make sure we had a filter for evaluating our candidates and we had a number of interviews in person in New York and Columbus and a number of other places. We had a very, very thorough process, talked to a number of people and cross-checked and referenced all of our candidates’ backgrounds, met with them in person multiple times.
I think you covered it. We had a broad list. We had a filter and we continued to whittle the list down, and we talked to a lot of people that we trust in the industry to get feedback. At the end of the day, our search committee was very effective and clearly as we sit Gregg emerged as the clear fit for us.
I’m really honored. There was tremendous interest for this job. We had a number of truly exceptional candidates, and it says a lot about Gregg that he emerged as our first choice, our number one choice, our first offer. It’s wonderful that we were able to have him be our new Coach and Sporting Director.
On his soccer network and how that affects where he may seek out future players:
It could affect it, because you rely on quality information. When you have an established network, you get quality information. That could be an aspect. I know that there will be a lot of agents from Europe reaching out to me to recommend players and we’ll take a look at that. I believe that we want continue to focus on Central America, South America and Europe in terms of where we’re looking for foreigners, but then you also have domestically. A lot of the players are coming from America in the league and we want to focus on that and we want to know the American market as best as we can to be able to make good decisions on players.
On whether or not he contacted Eddie Gaven before his retirement, and if he will be allowed to sign another Designated Player:
I didn’t have a chance to reach out to Eddie. I know him from playing with him on the National Team and I respect him. I think he had a great game and he’s the type of player that I wanted to work with, but if a guy’s heart isn’t in it anymore, you can’t force him. He’s a good guy, he’s been around awhile and he knows what he wants at this stage of the game. I wish him all the best, and he’ll be fine with whatever he does. In terms of the Designated Player, we’ll look at that situation. I don’t think it’s something that’s a requirement right now, but we’ll certainly look at it. We want to bring in someone that can make an impact, and that’s what’s most important. If it happens to be a Designated Player, then so be it, but we’re going to look at a whole bunch of options to come up with the right person.
On Eddie, Eddie was a decisive individual. He came in that morning and told everybody that he was retiring. Told the team, told the coaches, and he wanted a press release out that day. He was ready to make it final, so we didn’t really have much time to try to arrange for a call with Gregg.
On the candidacy of Brad Friedel:
We don’t really want to get into conversations around other candidates. We want to talk about Gregg, but Brad (Friedel) was a serious candidate, and had formal conversations with him. We have great respect for Brad, he was an excellent candidate.
On Gregg Berhalter being described as “data driven”:
I would first say that as a coach you want to get as much information as you can about what is happening on the field, and a lot of that is with your eyes, a lot of that is with video and a lot of that is with data. I believe it is an underdeveloped area in soccer right now. Some of the bigger clubs are starting to use that and starting to look at this more intensely, but if you look at pro sports across America, they are virtually all using data to help get more information on players. That’s what we’ll do. We use data from a physical standpoint, from a performance standpoint, across all boards for the simple reason of just to get a better picture of what is happening.
Across our entire organization, one of the themes is that we want to be more scientific in our approach. We’ve made great strides in the last several years in being more scientific in our marketing approach and our marketing analytics, so that resonated in terms of Gregg’s vision and using data, using technology, using analytics to help provide information in context to make our club more successful. He’s very plugged into, I’ve used the term progressive theory in soccer, so I think that’s part of the buy-in to what he brings.
You’re only as good as your information, not to mention our owner is steeped in analytics from his own background.
On if his plan was always to come back to MLS and if he talked to Bruce Arena at all about this opportunity:
I think as a coach, you look at opportunities. For me, I never looked at what country it is and that was as a player and as a coach. I was looking at the opportunities. Like I said, I wanted to find a lot out about the Crew, a lot about what direction they’re headed before I decided it was something that I would be interested in. In terms of Bruce (Arena), I absolutely talked to him about it. I rely on conversations with him a lot, and he had a lot of positive things to say about the organization and about the people working there. We talked about a whole variety of things in terms of me taking this job.
On why he felt giving the Head Coach the role of Sporting Director was a good move for the organization:
We talked a lot about different structures, and the structure needed to match the person’s skill set. I feel overwhelmingly confident that Gregg was the man to handle both. Just the way his soccer mind is and when you talk to him, you can just see that he has the perspective of a Sporting Director and a Head Coach. I think it is efficient in terms of making decisions, it creates a sense of accountability and I talk a lot about our culture. Culture is everything to me, and with Gregg to be able to hand pick his assistant coaches, the scouting department and build out the soccer operations for our club and be able to have his touch all over it will be I think ideal over the long run in building a culture that will help us be a consistent winner and have repeatable processes year in and year out. I feel very comfortable that Gregg has the right skill set to assume both of those roles.
On his feelings about the 2013 season and his expectations for 2014:
To me it’s been an absolute thrill and a blessing to be a part of the Columbus Crew family and the Columbus community. It’s been the most exciting period of my entire life, and I’ve just had a lot of ideas bubbling and circulating. I’ve been on the road a lot working hard on behalf of this club to position us for a very successful season next year going into 2014. I’d like to thank Brian Bliss at this time for dealing with the adversity of going through an interim coach in the middle of the season. It’s been a tough year. We didn’t make the playoffs, we let go of Robert (Warzycha) and Brian brought some energy to the club and they played pretty well. They had some adversity with Pipa’s injury and the red card, which led to a 4-4 record, but we saw signs. The club played hard to the last game. I was very proud of our guys, and we have a tight, solid locker room. We’ve got a lot of very good players and now we have, I think, the brightest young soccer mind in Major League Soccer and a very strong roster and we’ve got some exciting players in the offseason to build and improve upon our roster and improve upon our fan experience and our player experience, and I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about.