Tim Leiweke: Ryan Nelsen will stay on as Toronto FC's coach, but salary "capologist" needed as new GM
With Toronto FC officially announcing the departure of president and GM Kevin Payne on Thursday, the search for a new general manager has kicked off in earnest.
Tim Leiweke, president & CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, spoke with the media via conference call on Thursday and immediately made it clear that the incoming general manager will have to accept the club’s decision to retain TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen, who was Payne’s handpicked choice to take the helm of the Canadian club.
“The search for a new general manager has begun already,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to try and fill that role as quickly as possible, but we won’t rush it. We will wait until we find the right person and move on from there.”
“What I will tell you flat out is that the only conversations we are having with anybody and everybody is about the GM position,” Leiweke added. “They have to respect our decision and our support of Ryan Nelsen. That is the only restriction we will have on the general manager position, other than making sure they are on the same page philosophically with respect to how we are going to build a team here.”
When asked to explain why Nelsen has been retained while the man who hired him has now left the club, Leiweke spoke of a management team that had not been completely in sync in recent weeks.
“We’ve got to get everybody on the same page at TFC,” Leiweke explained. “Kevin and us had some differences of opinion on direction. Over the last few weeks we realized it was best to ultimately part ways in order to try to get everyone on the same page here. Some of the differences in direction relate to decisions that need to be made in the near future. Those decisions are going to be absolutely critical to the future success of the organization.
“We had to make a decision on Ryan as well,” he added. “What I am certain of is that with respect to the way that we need to go as an organization, Ryan sees the world exactly the way we do. I’m supportive of Ryan. He will be our coach next year.”
Leiweke was quick to praise to Payne for not only the job he has done with respect to improving TFC’s salary-cap situation and creating roster flexibility for the incoming GM, but also for recognizing Nelsen’s potential as a young, up-and-coming head coach.
“I think we have to go through a process of training wheels with a new coach,” Leiweke said. “We have certainly done that and there has been a learning curve for Ryan. But I think that Kevin was right in that Ryan is going to be a good coach. He is on his way and as the season has gone along he has gotten better. I’m comfortable with Ryan and I believe he deserves a chance.”
As for the qualities he is looking for in Toronto’s next general manager, Leiweke admitted that prospective candidates must be equipped to function effectively within the parameters that make the league somewhat different from others.
“I think one of the unique aspects of Major League Soccer is the salary cap,” Leiweke explained. “Learning how to balance the cap, manage the cap and, I say this in a nice way, exploit the cap (are vital). Managing your money and your contracts and working with the other general managers on a daily basis trying to find those teams that have cap issues and then taking advantage of those opportunities.”
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“I think we will steal a page from the NBA book here and say that whoever comes in, one of the disciplines and skills that they will have to have will be that of capologist,” Leiweke continued. “The good news is that we get the league. We understand who is out there. I don’t think we are going to do anything dramatic and outside the box. We are looking for someone that has experience. We’re not afraid of someone that is young and green.”
While Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey was described as an early favorite to become TFC’s next general manager in the Toronto Star article that broke the story on the management changes at Toronto FC on Wednesday, Leiweke also spoke briefly about the possibility of hiring another veteran MLS manager who is currently without a club.
“Is Frank [Yallop] somebody that we are talking to? Yes,” Leiweke said of the former San Jose Earthquakes and Canadian national team manager. “We are talking to a lot of people. Frank and I know each other well. I had the distinct privilege of hiring and firing Frank [at the LA Galaxy in 2006] and we actually get along quite well. I like Frank. Whether or not he is the right guy for the general manager position, I don’t know.”