Analyzing MLS coaching changes

and still barely snuck into the playoffs, eventually losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals as the fourth seed.

Two other dramatic turnarounds were achieved by letting coaches go in 1998, both with clubs no longer in existence, though one with more success than the other. After getting the Tampa Bay Mutiny off to a 3-12 start, John Kowalski was fired and replaced by current Colorado coach Tim Hankinson, who posted a 9-8 record over the remainder of the season.

But the Mutiny still finished out of the playoffs in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, nipped at the wire by the Miami Fusion, who effected an equally dramatic turnaround a month later. Mired in last in the East with a 8-11 record under Cacho Cordoba, Ivo Wortmann was handed the reins of the club and guided them to a 7-6 record over the second half of the season and a playoff-paying fourth place in the conference.

Of course, two of those coaches later found themselves on the back end of the same treatment, Wortmann released by the Fusion after a 1-3-4 start in 2000 and Fitzgerald let go by the Crew after a 1-3-2 start a year later.

Yet there is a common theme through all of those turnaround stories -- that they were clubs needing turnarounds, teams all found in last place in their conference and trying to pull themselves back into the playoff hunt.

Just once in MLS history has a coach been fired in midseason with a winning record -- in 1999, Brian Quinn was fired by the San Jose Earthquakes with a 15-12 record. But when he was let go, the Quakes were in fifth place in the Western Conference -- and they were unable to rise above that place over the final six games, finishing out of the playoffs despite the coaching change.

On eight occasions, a coach who took over during the season has guided his new team to a playoff berth. On the first five occasions, from 1996 to '98, the postseason experience was short-lived, each club crashing out in the first round.

But in 1999, when Schmid took over the Galaxy seven games into the season, they were fourth in the six-team Western Conference. By season's end, he had the club atop the conference and then guided it to a second MLS Cup Final in four seasons -- though once again D.C. United ended their title dreams.

In 2002, Steve Nicol took over a Revolution club in last place in the East after seven games. He guided them to second place in the conference by season's end, eventually ending a magical late season run with a first-ever MLS Cup appearance at home, only to also have those dreams dashed on a Carlos Ruiz golden goal.

Schmid's firing marks just the third time that a coach in a major U.S. league was let go with his team in first place - and the first time ever that a coach was dismissed with his team holding the best record in the league.

It's happened once in Major League Baseball, in 1983, when Pat Corrales was fired by the Philadelphia Phillies at literally the halfway point of the season when leading the National League East. The Phillies were 43-42, percentage points ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals; three Western Division teams had better overall records in the NL.

It also happened in 2000 in the National Hockey League, when Robbie Ftorek was let go by the New Jersey Devils with his team atop both their division and the Eastern Conference.

IN-SEASON COACHING CHANGES - MLS HISTORY

1996

MetroStars: FIRED Eddie Firmani 3-5-0 ... REPLACED BY Carlos Queiroz 12-12-0*

Columbus: FIRED Timo Liekoski 6-16-0 ... REPLACED BY Tom Fitzgerald 9-1-0*

Colorado: FIRED Bob Houghton 11-20-0 ... REPLACED BY Roy Wegerle 0-1-0

1997

San Jose: FIRED Laurie Calloway 5-10-0 ... REPLACED BY Brian Quinn 7-10-0

Los Angeles: FIRED Lothar Osiander 3-9-0 ... REPLACED BY Octavio Zambrano 13-7-0*

1998

Miami: FIRED Cacho Cordoba 8-11-0 ... REPLACED BY Ivo Wortmann 7-6-0*

Tampa Bay: FIRED John Kowalski 3-12-0 ... REPLACED BY Tim Hankinson 9-8-0

MetroStars: FIRED Alfonso Mondelo 14-17-0 ... REPLACED BY Bora Milutinovic 1-0-0*

New England: FIRED Thomas Rongen 8-18-0 ... REPLACED BY Walter Zenga 3-3-0

1999

San Jose: FIRED Brian Quinn 15-12-0 ... REPLACED BY Jorge Espinoza (interim) 2-0-0; Lothar Osiander 2-1-0

New England: FIRED Walter Zenga 10-20-0 ... REPLACED BY Steve Nicol 2-0-0

Kansas City: FIRED Ron Newman 0-4-0 ... REPLACED BY Ken Fogarty (interim) 0-3-0; Bob Gansler 8-17-0

Los Angeles: FIRED Octavio Zambrano 2-3-0 ... REPLACED BY Ralph Perez (interim) 1-0-0; Sigi Schmid 17-9-0*

2000

Miami: FIRED Ivo Wortmann 1-3-4 ... REPLACED BY Ray Hudson 11-12-1

2001

Columbus: FIRED Tom Fitzgerald 1-3-2 ... REPLACED BY Greg Andrulis 12-4-4*

Tampa Bay: FIRED Alfonso Mondelo 3-12-1 ... REPLACED BY Perry Van Der Beck 1-9-1

2002

New England: FIRED Fernando Clavijo 2-4-1 ... REPLACED BY Steve Nicol 10-10-1*

2003

Dallas: FIRED Mike Jeffries 4-16-4 ... REPLACED BY Colin Clarke 2-3-1

* = reached playoffs

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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