This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Short answer to your question is, 'Hell yeah.' It's a lot of pressure, but there's pressure at every job if you allow yourself to want to be the best. I've never operated non-competitively."
That's Craig Waibel. That's part of his answer to my question of how a guy who a little over a year ago was an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Washington. A guy who now is in charge of following in the footsteps of Garth Lagerwey. There's no getting around the rapid ascent of the 39-year-old former right back. He played 11 years in Major League Soccer, retired and began coaching at the college ranks. First at the University of Michigan and then back home with the Huskies. After one year on Jeff Cassar's coaching staff, Waibel's intellect and demeanor has him succeeding who he says is "the best GM our league's ever had."
The question was of pressure and how he imagined it relating to his playing days or his coaching, at the college level or in MLS.
"Pressure for me is the struggle to improve," Waibel said. "I never played the game or coached the game with any other attitude. I think you're always trying to get better in what you do. Everyone sees it different, interprets it differently for me, it's trying to master your form of art, how are we piecing it together is our big question."
RSL's new technical director just a de-factor European soccer term has been compared to Lagerwey. Waibel seems self-effacing and quick-witted, as RSL president Bill Manning said Tuesday. When asked to elaborate on why he hasn't been able to operate "non-competitively," Waibel summed it up as "genetics."
He told a story of how when his mom and dad were dating, his mom flipped over a board of Risk in anger while the two played. He went on to explain the reply of "genetics," and did so somewhat existentially.
"You have to be gracious in winning, you have to be gracious when you lose, but you don't have to accept the losses, you have to solve them," Waibel said. "Being able to look people in the eye and admit you're wrong and you made a mistake, that's what makes the elite, elite. That's where most elite athletes, coaches are great at."
As a new man in charge of a club's player personnel moves, Waibel said simply, "Right now I don't know what I don't know. The first lesson is to learn what I don't know. The second is to start attacking those things and really improve upon them."
Manning said Tuesday that several different people within the organization would bring up Waibel's name when reality set in that Lagerwey would not be returning to RSL. He's been mentioned by folks around the league as a up-and-coming mind, a tactician with an eye for talent and style.
"I think I've always had a bigger picture vision of how a player fits in technically, socially and tactically," he said. "Those are important aspects of the locker room. For me, it's working hand-in-hand, working to continue to work with Jeff both tactically and technically and socially. Without those three components, you're not putting a championship team in the field."
He markets himself as an honest guy who's always wanted to explore the business side of professional sports. With Lagerwey reportedly on his way to Seattle to join the Sounders' front office, Waibel made an impression in less than a year at RSL.
"I enter this position with the serious expectation to succeed," he said. "I don't enjoy failing. I'm not a good loser and I hope I never become one."
Prior to speaking with Waibel, I met with RSL president Bill Manning to discuss the moves. Along with Waibel being named technical director, Director of Soccer Operations Elliot Fall has been elevated to assistant GM (although there is no GM). Manning said Fall's role will be strongly based in analytics, which both Lagerwey and Waibel are supposedly big proponents of.
Some small non-Lagerwey/Waibel-related tidbits before the interview transcript.
» Manning said Cassar has two coaches in mind to replace Waibel, who coached the defenders during his one season as an RSL assistant coach. No official timetable on that announcement.
» RSL will be making an acquisition at left back soon. Manning said he expects the announcement to come within the next couple of weeks. He also said the club is in the market for a reserve center back to play behind Chris Schuler and Jamison Olave. Manning added that RSL was hoping to hold onto Chris Wingert, who eventually went to NYCFC in the Expansion Draft.
» I asked Manning if there was a status update on Carlos Salcedo. The 21-year-old defender took to Twitter late last month to voice his discontent with the club and Lagerwey and asked his 2015 option not be picked up. It was, and RSL pulled Salcedo off the unprotected list after NYCFC took Ned Grabavoy with its first pick. "What I would say is that we're working with Carlos to have a win-win for both sides," Manning said.
» Manning said Waibel will sign a new contract with RSL after assuming this new role. Per MLS policy, clubs don't disclose terms, but a source told the Tribune it's a multi-year deal.
Here the the transcript in which Bill Manning and I discussed the hiring of Waibel and Garth Lagerwey moving on after eight seasons with RSL
Could you explain how things played out from the RSL side of things? Were you surprised?
Manning: "Not so much. I think for the better part of a year, Garth has been pondering his future and wanted to look at some other opportunities, had been here a long time and this is actually been in the works for a little bit. The news just kind of broke last night."
So you were clued in as to what was going on the whole way?
Manning: "Garth and I have worked together every day for seven seasons. We have a great relationship. We knew what was going on. It actually allowed us to start making preparations, and actually over the course of the last few weeks, Garth has actually been transitioning out with Craig as part of that transition … that's what we've done. That was actually one of Garth's guys and he was like, 'Man, this is a great choice.' An ex-player, very bright, has won championships. Garth has actually over the last few weeks has been working with him. We've just kind of kept that quiet. It's as we evolve as an organization and similar to Jeff Cassar, like when we said, 'OK, Garth was saying, Hey I have these opportunities, I think I'm going to take one of them,' we started thinking about candidates, we looked outside and looked internal and Craig Waibel came up off everyone's tongue. We were like, 'Wow, we've got this guy right here and we can think he can transition from being a player to a coach to an executive."
Something that stood out in those conversations about Craig?
Manning: "He's actually, in a lot of ways, like Garth in terms of his personality. He's kind of quick-witted, a little self-effacing the way Garth is and I think that's a really good quality. The one thing that stands out for me was, Craig was always a guy that against all odds kind of achieved a lot as a player. He was always a champion. He won six major trophies, four MLS Cups and had that winning pedigree. For me, when Garth says, 'Hey, I think he's going to be really good,' then you've got a guy who's arguably been the best general manager in the league for the last six, seven years, who says, 'Hey, I think Craig's going to be really good.' That's a pretty good endorsement."
So there wasn't any hesitation to pick a guy who only a year ago was an assistant in college?
Manning: "What we looked at though too, was that we played for 12 years in the league, went the college coaching route, but what we talked about was, Garth was an attorney. He was a broadcaster, then he was an attorney with no MLS experience and then walked into this role. The thought process was, Craig already knows the situation having already been here a year and can kind of step into that role that Garth had played with us with his knowledge already in tact of MLS. Garth had knowledge of MLS, but I think it would have been difficult to bring someone from the outside. I think Craig already knows our system, he and Jeff know each other well and so again, it kind of fits that mold of how we ... look, good people leave all the time, in any organization. It just happens through time. It's kind of your bench strength on how you replace them. I thought Jeff was a good transition from Jason. Hopefully Craig is a good transition from Garth. It's hard to replace someone who's really good. It really is."
Is it hard to quantify losing two guys like Kreis and Lagerwey in back-to-back years?
Manning: "It is. I'm a student of the sports game. I use the example [of] the San Francisco 49ers, I used to like them. Joe Montana, greatest quarterback ever, who's going to replace that guy? All of a sudden a named Steve Young comes in and continues to win championships. So you just never know. Garth is as good as it gets in the business. Hopefully Craig can step up. From Day 1, Craig's got a lot to learn, but hopefully he can step into that role and transition well for us and that's all you can ask."
How does the club handle the negative narrative that it can't hold onto important guys?
Manning: "I've just learned, in this business, there's always going to be people that are negative. At the end of the day, it comes down to winning and results. The good thing about Real Salt Lake is the results have always spoken for themselves. We've only won one MLS Cup and we've gotten really close to winning a few other championships, but 50-plus points for the last five years, seven years in the playoffs and Jason was a big part of that, Garth was a big part of that, but obviously there's others that were a big part of that … just down the line. I just look at it like, do you want to lose people? No, of course not. But when it happens, be prepared. It's just like our players. Eventually, Kyle Beckerman is going to retire, eventually Nick Rimando is going to retire how do you replace these guys? This year, we're also transitioning out with some players as well. How do we replace these guys and continue to play at a very high level? The one thing, and Dell Loy really challenged us when we started talking about the player personnel moves this year, he said, 'I don't want to take big steps backward, I want to take steps forward.' That's been the mantra. It allows us to do some things with some acquisitions we're going to make, like last year with Sebastian Jaime. The good thing is because of our financial set-up and with Dell Loy, we don't have to act like a small-market team. I just think sometimes opportunities present themselves and it just happens. I love Garth, I love Jason and I wish them all well. It just happens."
Don't know if you can speak for Dell Loy, but were there offers made to Garth before this decision?
Manning: "Garth and Dell Loy talked. They had breakfast together a few weeks ago, very amicable. Look, Garth's a friend of mine and Garth kind of looked at an opportunity. Sometimes, it's flattering to be approached by these other teams and he took it. It's sad, because I loved working with Garth, but I also wish Garth tremendous success. He'll do well there."
Was there a specific timeframe when he let you know he wasn't going to be back?
Manning: "I kind of always had a hunch, although I never really knew. And even last night, he was like, 'I still don't have a written offer,' which is true. But you kind of know. Over the last couple weeks, I asked Garth, we sat down and I just said, 'Hey, if you're going to go, help us out.' That's when we started talking about people. That's when Craig's name came up and about two weeks ago, Garth really started helping Craig into that role and I think Garth … it's not like it was said [that he was leaving] but we kind of knew. I just said, 'If Craig's going to be the guy to replace you, let's transition him in,' and it was actually done very professionally, not very quiet, it's not our style to make a big hoopla out of it. I think Craig's pedigree is pretty good."
Was Craig involved with all the transactions that's been going on?
Manning: "All the coaches would get together and then Garth would get together with the coaches, then Jeff and Garth would come sit with me and the coaches and then me and Garth would go to Dell Loy. It worked that way with Dave. The only structural change is, the way it's always worked was the coaches report to Garth, Garth reports to me, the only change we're making here are both Craig and Jeff reporting to me now. Craig is essentially taking Garth's job with the exception that he'll no longer be responsible for the first-team playing, for lack of a better word. He's still in charge of player personnel, though. That decision lies with Craig, but Jeff is in charge of putting the team on the field to win games. They're going to work together, they're going to collaborate. I don't see it being any different … the thing we've always done is, in my role, kind of supervising the soccer operations, I've always wanted unanimity. What I mean by that is if Jason or Jeff are in one place or if Garth was in a different place, if I was with one of them, we'd try to get the other one over. If we didn't all agree, we didn't do deals. There were multiple deals over the years in which we didn't agree and we'd walk out of the room and that was it. Whenever we did something, it had to have unanimity. That won't change. The only reason we made this structural change was because last season, Craig was on Jeff's staff. Jeff brought Craig here and talking about this, I actually went to Jeff when we talked about Craig. His first thought was, 'Wow, I'm losing one of my best coaches.' And his second thought was, he's someone I can really work with. From that standpoint, nothing will change."
This may be a dumb soccer question, but why the term of technical director and not GM?
Manning: "The Technical Director is actually a European term and really what it is it's player personnel. A general manager in my mind, similar to football or baseball, is in charge of the entire soccer operation. So the reason we didn't go with general manager title is because both Jeff and Craig are going to work with me and they're going to work collaboratively. What that means, we'll agree on everything. And if we don't agree on everything, we won't do a transaction … basically, Craig's going to be in charge of player personnel for our youth, our academy, our USL team, our first team, cradle to grave. With player personnel decisions, coaches are always involved. Jason was involved, Jeff was involved, but Craig's going to be the guy dealing with the agents, dealing with the players, salary cap management, all that stuff. And Jeff's going to be training them and putting them on the field and trying to get results."
Craig is the guy calling the shots now, correct?
Manning: "Yes. What I'll say is, and this is such a credit to Garth, Garth has been involved in every transaction that we've had still today. Literally, we're going to make a move today and probably announce it Thursday. But Garth is involved in it. There's another transaction we're working on where Garth is still involved with us. He's such a good guy. He's too good of a guy."
What about you, Bill? With Jason gone, with Garth gone, your contract is up next year, I believe.
Manning: "Contracts are contracts. I guess in my role, it's a little different from coaches and GM's. For me, I work here and this is what I do. I actually don't even worry about that. I don't want this to be about me, I really want this to be about Craig."
Did you interview anyone else?
Manning: "No. Not at all. What we did was we gathered internally. What I really liked was that Garth was like, 'He's got it.' When he says this guy's good, I feel pretty good about it."
I think this is probably going to be one of the more interesting seasons in 2015 similar to that of 2007 when the club was trying to assert itself and find an identity.
Manning: "Garth and I talked about this a lot, that there was going to be a time when we needed to transition out of what we called this core group of guys we've built around. Garth's motto was we better be a year early than a year too late. He very much believed in that. Part of the situation we were in with expansion, we knew with Jason we were probably going to lose two players. We looked at our salary cap situation, we looked at age and we looked at how we can transition forward and this was kind of the perfect storm to say, 'OK, this is another opportunity for us to get cap-complaint and what we say is better our team and create our new core.' Hopefully we got it a year early rather than a year late. At the end of the day, results always speak for themselves. Everybody thought it was going to be all doom-and-gloom last year when we lost Jason, we had a pretty good year. After the 2012 season when Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola went … we had a pretty good year. I hope at the end of the season I can sit down with you again and say, 'Hey, it was a pretty good season again.' At the end of the day, the players provide the answers always. I still think we've got some pretty good players. Jaime, Sabo, Plata, in the midfield, I think Luis Gil is going to have a really big year, you still have Kyle, still have Javi, you've got Luke Mullholand. In the back, you've got Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, bringing back Jamison, question mark at left back, but we have Abdoulie Mansally who is still a seasoned pro and we still have the best goalkeeper in the league. When I look at our 14, 15 guys, that's still a really good team. Now I think bringing in a little more depth, I'm very excited about the futures of Justen Glad and Jordan Allen in particular. We'll see what happens. I think we're going to make a pretty good acquisition at left back, and again, sad that we're losing Chris. But we actually had someone identified in that scenario and we're at the contract [stage] right now."
Long post. Long day.