This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Less than an hour after receiving the news that his run at Real Salt Lake was over, Jeff Cassar explained that every coach wants more time. But the results, lingering goal droughts and the missed chances at home in recent months stacked up higher and higher against Cassar.
On Monday afternoon, the 43-year-old coach was informed by RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen and general manager Craig Waibel that he was fired, three games into the 2017 season. In the wake of Saturday's 2-1 home loss to the L.A. Galaxy, RSL has now gone 11 straight matches without a victory in a drought that dates back to last August.
The 0-2-1 start featured just one RSL goal. As the pressure mounted on Cassar, Hansen and Waibel decided to make their move Monday, an off-day for the club. It marks the first mid-year coaching change for the team since 2007. Assistant coach Daryl Shore will serve as interim head coach, but Waibel said the RSL front office already has a list of candidates whom it plans to start checking in with immediately.
"There is no exact timeline," Waibel said.
Cassar went 38-37-30 in his three-plus seasons as RSL head coach, leading the franchise to MLS Cup postseason appearances in two out of three seasons. RSL also qualified for CONCACAF Champions League in 2014 and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the tournament before falling to UANL Tigres.
"It was a surprise," Cassar told The Tribune by phone on Monday. "Obviously we always want to get off to a fast start, and I understand that three games without a win is not ideal and no one should ever feel confident after that. But behind the scenes, with the staff and with the players and the roster changes, I was really excited about where we were heading."
RSL's slump from 2016 winless in its last eight across all competitions carried into the first few weeks of 2017.
In a conference call with reporters following Cassar's dismissal, Waibel said the decision to fire the coach was a "cumulative decision" by Hansen and himself. Waibel, who called Cassar one of his closest friends, said the decision was made based on an evaluation period that began on the day players reported for preseason this January, not just on the listless three-game start.
"We're very, very close to where we want to be," Waibel said, "but we do feel that a new voice and a change in the leadership may be able to push us over that edge and get us to where we want to be."
Cassar was given a contract extension after the RSL's early playoff exit last season. The deal was for three years, but the club had options on the last two seasons of the contract.
Cassar described his termination as a "shock."
However, he added, "I'm a realist. At no point, even when I got the contract extension, am I sitting there, resting on my laurels and saying everything's great."
Cassar continued, "This is a results business. … I don't think the way we ended the year last year really boded well for starting the year like that, which is kind of a double whammy."
Cassar, who took the head coaching position prior to the 2014 season, was hired as an assistant coach under Jason Kreis in 2007 and served in that role through the 2013 season, including in the team's MLS Cup winning season in 2009.
Following in Kreis' footsteps, Cassar saw the club change ownership, presidents and general managers. He marvelled at his long run in the Salt Lake Valley.
"Eleven years at the same club," Cassar said, "I've made some amazing friends, relationships that I will carry on for the rest of my life … I'm going to miss it all."
RSL defender Tony Beltran told The Tribune on Monday that the news floored him.
"We weren't off to an ideal start this season having not found a win in three games," the veteran said, "but that being so, I did not expect the club to make this decision this soon. We are in a results-driven business, so here we are."
Tribune reporters Aaron Falk and Brennan Smith contributed to this story
Jeff Cassar's coaching timeline
2007 • Joined Real Salt Lake as assistant/goalkeeper coach.
2013 • Hired as head coach in December after former coach Jason Kreis left for NYCFC.
2014 • Led RSL to 15-8-11 record, 56 points and third seed in West.
2015 • RSL's seven-year postseason streak snapped in 11-15-8 season.
2016 • RSL returned to postseason at 12-12-10 but went winless in its final eight matches, including first-round playoff loss to L.A.
2017 • Fired after 0-2-1 start that featured just one RSL goal in three games.