Sunil Gulati

Opening comments:

“Yesterday we made a difficult decision regarding the direction of the National Team and decided to make a change there. Over the next days and perhaps weeks, we will decide on who is going to take over the National Team on a permanent basis. On an interim basis, Jill Ellis, as I said yesterday, who has done this once before after Pia Sundhage left, will coach the team against China and until we find a full time replacement.”

On what changed over the last 18 months that led to the decision:

“We thought Tom (Sermanni) was the best candidate when we hired him and in terms of the record, it was quite good….I think it’s probably three or four things. One of those is the subjective evaluation of where the team is going and heading and that’s something that (U.S. Soccer CEO) Dan (Flynn) and I talked a lot about. Two is talking with people in and around the team. Whenever we have changes or possible changes or directional changes, whatever one you want to call it, with our National Team program we do that quite a bit. We talk to players, we talk to staff, we talk to people who observe the team and we also rely on our own assessment. Third, of course, the results at the Algarve weren’t what we had hoped for. The standards for this team are very high. That doesn’t mean one loss or even two losses would necessitate or, in our view, push us toward a change, but it’s all of those factors and assessing based on talking to all the people I’ve mentioned and looking at things ourselves, that we needed to go in a different direction, whether that’s stylistically or whatever you want to call it.”

On how much input was received from the players:

“Our dialogue with the players is pretty much on-going, both on the Men’s side and the Women’s side. Sometimes that is at a higher decibel than other times, but pretty regularly, when Dan or I are around the Women’s team especially, but also the Men’s team, we’ll talk to players and sometimes it’s more formal and sometimes it’s informal. There have been discussions on both those fronts and I don’t want to get into specifics of who reached out to whom. We’ve had discussions with players, with staff, with people around the team and observed ourselves, so this isn’t a group of players coming to seek us out and saying, ‘There’s something wrong and we need to do something.’ That’s not what the underlying issue was here.”

On speaking with people around the program and how much that impacted the decision:

“In all decisions when we are evaluating our program, certainly with senior teams – with youth teams it’s a little bit different because of the obvious reason of the age of the players – we talk to players and we talk to people who are involved in the program and a number of other people who are in position to help us assess the program. We did that again here. I’m not in a position to say what percentage or influence. In the end, I had to make a decision and it’s almost always a decision that’s made in concert with our CEO Dan Flynn, and we felt this was the best decision to make. I’m not going to talk about the specific elements of how much influence and particular individual or group had. The players are always consulted and that’s as much as I would say. However, this wasn’t a collective group of players coming to us and saying we need to make a change. Absolutely not.”

On whether or not Jill Ellis is a strong candidate for the head coach position:

“Jill is, I think, a strong candidate for virtually any job in our program. She’s done a terrific job as Director of Youth Development. She took the team for seven games a couple of years ago and when we were in the search process two years ago, Jill took herself out of that process. We think very highly of Jill, I think it’s safe to say.”

On if the process used to hire a new coach will be the same as the previous process:

“It was virtually the same process we used in hiring Pia and she obviously won two gold medals and lost on penalty kicks in the World Cup final, so I’m not sure it’s about the process. We think we made the best decision at the time. It hasn’t worked out the way we had hoped, the way Tom would have hoped, but I don’t question the process that we used to get to the final decision regarding Tom or Pia. It was the same group that was involved in the process. I guess we added one person in the second coach search, another former National Team player, but no, I don’t doubt the process.”

On the timing of the decision and if there was any specific event that led to the change:

“Let me answer the second part first. There is no specific event, both Dan and I think very highly of Tom at a personal level and at a professional level, so there’s nothing like that whatsoever. While these decisions always end up being announced in a specific moment, this has been a process for us in assessing things, in watching the team perform, and talking to people over time. I don’t know of any good time to make decisions like this. We’re in between games, which is true. We also have a friendly against Canada at the beginning of May and the players only have three days of training before that so this actually represents half the training time between now and then. The Women’s World Cup is 15 months away. Qualifying is six months away and we don’t do things based specifically on whether it’s an individual game and I think people that follow U.S. Soccer understand that. We don’t walk into the locker rooms and make decisions based on individual games, so this obviously wasn’t a result of yesterday’s game. So I don’t think there was haste in this involved. This was thought out; we had discussions even yesterday. It’s the end of a process which concludes with a decision, but it’s not a hasty process.”

On if the results of the Algarve Cup played a factor in making the change:

“We monitor our teams, especially the senior National Teams pretty carefully throughout so I think there’s been a longer period than just the Algarve. The Algarve obviously, in terms of the actual results, didn’t go the way we wanted it and it’s been a long time since the U.S. team lost two games in a row or went three without winning. So, that might have brought some of the issues that were of concern to the forefront or they had a public vehicle in terms of the result. But no, this entire process was not just over the last two weeks.”

On the factors that would impact the next hire, e.g. development vs. getting results:

“Well, I think it’s both. Obviously there’s immediacy as there was when Pia came on. So the person won’t have the luxury of a couple or three years before qualifying, but the World Cup is 15 months away and obviously there are some young players who come into the squad over the last 17 months that Tom has brought in. And I’m sure a number of them will continue and play for whoever the new coach is going to be. So that process will continue. The developmental process, regardless of who is coaching, even if it had been Tom, I think you would have seen that narrow as we got closer to competition as we focus more on the results in qualifying and eventually, hopefully, the Women’s World Cup.”

On the discussions that took place before making the decision:

“Well there are conversations that happen throughout. But, a conversation specifically about X, Y, or Z or we need to change A, B, or C did that happen? The answer is no, not in the last few weeks. We had one conversation between Algarve and now, so I certainly understand Tom’s comments on that. I think he also made some comments saying that maybe he should have seen some of these issues. He’s an absolute class guy and we had to make a decision without the luxury of a lot of time. And I don’t mean a lot of time in the decision-making process, but in terms of where the team needs to be for October and where it needs to be for next summer. And we made the best decision we could under those circumstances.”

On the scheduling of friendly opponents:

“We’d be happy to take any help in trying to get Germany, Japan, Canada, England, Sweden, Norway or Brazil to come more often. The fact of the matter is that with the European leagues going on, there are fixture dates and teams can’t play on many of those dates. South American teams generally don’t travel and the level of some of those teams is not where we would need to be in terms of a challenge. There aren’t but maybe eight, 10, 12 teams that we could play and have the sort of competition that we get at Algarve or that we might get against Canada. We play as many of those games as we can and that’s where this team gets tested, that’s where the most assessment comes because in a very real sense, where this team gets tested is every three or four years in the World Cup or the Olympics. That doesn’t mean that it’s automatic that we qualify. Last time we had to go through a playoff, but the assessment of this team, given where our program is, happens at a very high level in top-flight friendlies when we can get them and in international competition of an official nature.”

On the timeline for a new hire:

“The ideal timeline would be as quickly as we can, but with the usual caveat to that; as long as we make the right decision or the best decision we can. That process has already started. We have a little bit of a luxury in that the players are going back to their NWSL teams after this week and Jill [Ellis] has had the team before. We have a couple weeks but then we have a game against Canada. Certainly by the summertime schedule we’d want to have this in place if not sooner.”

If Jill Ellis has made any indication that she would like to be considered for the head coaching position:

“We haven’t really addressed that with her. We asked her to take the team this week and we’ll have a discussion with her. In the last go round, she made it very clear even before we started the formal search process that she didn’t want to be considered. It wasn’t that she was in the process and then pulled out. We haven’t had a discussion with her that I can provide any information on at this point.”

On the shortlist of candidates:

“We’re following that sports adage of having a very short list; yes.”

On if the gender or nationality of the new coach will be factor:

“You’re absolutely right about Pia Sundhage’s success, and the two male coaches before also had quite a bit of success with several world championships and Olympic medals. Should a woman coach this team? I’ve said in the past that if we have a choice between two equal candidates and one is male, one is female, then my preference would be to go with a female candidate. But rarely is the situation where you have two exactly equal candidates. The same would be true of an American coach. If we’ve got two choices between and international coach and an American coach, my preference would be to hire an American coach. That’s true whether it’s the men’s side or the women’s side. Is it a consideration? The answer is yes, but the first consideration has to be picking the person we think can best lead the program to keep it at the level that we’re all accustomed to.”

Source: US Soccer

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1 Comment
  1. Author
    WSU 8 years ago

    Tom Sermanni shares his side of the story in a Women’s Soccer United exclusive –

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