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The Head Coaching Dichotomy

The more Andy Roxburgh waits, the more embarrassing it gets for the Red Bulls. The more embarrassing it gets for the Red Bulls, the harder it becomes for Roxburgh's "appropriate" candidate.

Maybe they'll just let this guy run practice?
Maybe they'll just let this guy run practice?
Mike Stobe

The Red Bulls bought themselves some time when Toronto FC named Ryan Nelsen their next head coach.

Nelsen, in case you haven't been paying attention, currently plays for Queens Park Rangers, who are locked in a battle to stay in England's top flight. Emphasis on "currently plays." The New Zealand international went the full 90 this weekend against West Ham United as the Reds (the Canadian ones, not the Liverpudlian ones) open training camp. He won't be with the team until QPR wrap up their season in May.

This debacle passed the buck on any embarrassment the Red Bulls might suffer from their head coachlessness, (plus, some added schadenfreude as Kevin Payne, the guy who hired Nelsen, was the long time D.C. United head). As Toronto waded through their head scratching hire, the Montreal Impact filled their coaching vacancy with Marco Schallibaum, leaving the Red Bulls as the sole team without a permanent head coach.

Now that Toronto's situation has settled a bit, and the Red Bulls opened training camp the Canadian club can step out of the shame spotlight and the Red Bulls can jump in their place. But what's worse, is the longer this drags on, the harder it becomes for whoever does take the reins.

Today's conference call with Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh and Interim Head Coach Mike Petke was mostly ceremonial but there were a few big points coaching-wise. The Scot is holding out for a head coach that's "available" and "appropriate for the club" but he won't put a timeline on when that will come to pass, he hopes he'll do so soon, though and that (it seems, anyway) he's still looking at candidates.

No one can fault Roxburgh for not doing his homework, or at least not wanting to. In fact, suspecting Gerard Houllier and his reported insistence on Gary McAllister holding the whole thing up probably ins't far from the truth. But when you open camp and it's been 73 days since you've parted ways with your old head coach and the season's a little more than a month away, your homework's late and an extension isn't likely.

In those 73 days, the entire thing has gone from relief to ridiculous in short order. What was once the new regime marking their territory has become a cause for concern for fans already used to jumping the gun. Where McAllister was looked at as a bit of cronyism, Paulo Sousa, the latest man to be given the SERIOUSLY GUYS ANY MINUTE NOW treatment from the Red Bulls/MLS press corps, was a welcome relief. "Well, at least there's a coach now," everyone told themselves, "We can rest assured he'll have an entire camp with the team." Not so anymore. Unless Roxburgh is pulling a reverse surprise party and the next head coach will jump out of a trashcan in the team's Florida locker room he'll likely meet up with the team sometime in the middle of pre-season.

The timing of which makes it all the tougher. Roxburgh won't hire a guy to save face, that much is clear, or else the McAllister saga would've ended in a waiting game Houllier wins easily. But in doing so, Roxburgh inadvertently hands whatever candidate deemed appropriate a tougher and tougher challenge. Regardless of the guy's resume it's going to be tough to take the reins of a team mid-pre-season where the expectation is still "win now" -- as it always is with the Red Bulls -- not "save our ship," an advantage mid-season hires usually have.

Again, vetting process: Important, good. But there comes a point in time when a hire needs to be made, lest Roxburgh put his first season in charge in jeopardy. Though, some could argue that's already happened.

Embarrassment is one thing, and organizations are more teflon-like than individuals in dealing with it, anyway. Harming the team's "win now" attitude that seems to intensify year after year after year is another thing entirely. And, as an organization, that's the kind of thing that sticks.