FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Monday's sudden news of Steve Nicol's departure from New England hit his Revolution players hard.
But that it happened so quickly after 10 seasons was only the first part. The longer-term process of accepting that the biggest presence in many of their careers is now gone from Gillette Stadium will take longer to digest.
The former Liverpool star formed a tight bond with many of his players, both current and former. He knew how they ticked because of his extensive experience as a player and then placed them in the right position to succeed on and off the field.
“He's the ultimate players' coach,” Revolution defender Darrius Barnes told MLSsoccer.com. “He's someone you want to play for. He has a good time with you. He's not one that's hard-nosed 100 percent of the time, but he knows how to get at his players and manage his players well. That's the biggest thing about Stevie: He knew how to interact with his players.”
Nicol's style of management – a mixture of interest in and honesty with his players, with plenty of application involved and a dash of levity on the side – won him a host of admirers in the Revolution locker room.
“It was a lot of fun every day coming in and working with him,” Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph said. “He was always there for me, no matter what was going on in my personal life. I came to him many times to talk to him about whatever was going on. He had my back. He's a players' coach. Everybody loved playing for him. We'll definitely miss him and we definitely wish him the best in whatever he'll do.”
For many on the Revs roster, Nicol played a vital role in their development and their introduction to MLS. Several of the key figures – including Joseph – progressed under Nicol's tutelage over the years, while many of the younger players have known no other coach at the professional level.
“Personally, Stevie's been great for me,” Revolution midfielder Chris Tierney said. “He gave me a shot to be in this league and do what it was always my dream to do. I'll be forever grateful for the chance he gave me and the things that he taught me. He was a great guy in terms of a soccer guy, but he was an even more solid person in general. I'm disappointed to see him go, but a coach of his quality is going to have plenty of opportunities elsewhere.”
Those chances, however, will not arrive in Foxborough. For Nicol and his former charges, it means parting ways and figuring out the next step for the future. It isn't an easy task, but it is one all sides must embrace in order to grapple with the impact of the decision.
“It's definitely hard for us,” Joseph said. “My heart goes out to him and his family. There's going to be a lot of stuff lined up for him, I hope. He's a great person and a great coach. Players want to play for him and fight wars for him.”