FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – After watching their club slip to the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season, the key figures in the New England organization looked inward for answers.
The poor results of 2011 and the downward trend of the past few seasons inspired a period of introspection to determine the root causes of the problems and the solutions required to fix them.
“I think the Kraft family was looking at this, frankly, over the last couple of years, in terms of the direction the team was going on the field,” Revolution president Brian Bilello told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “They weren't happy about it. We started talking big picture about it. What are the causes for that? What do we need to do better? What are we doing well? What aren't we doing well?”
Those discussions ultimately prompted a somewhat evident and wholly disconcerting conclusion: The problems weren't confined to one area or one person. No single personnel change – like the departure of longtime coach Steve Nicol last month, for example – would slide the Revs back on track. In order to move forward, the club needed to reassess its approach to building a team and sketch out a new way to operate in the future.
“When we looked at it, it wasn't just one person's fault or one thing going on,” Bilello said. “There are a lot of things that we need to be doing better from an everyday operations standpoint, but also from an accountability standpoint. That's why the change was more than, 'OK, we need a new coach.' There are a lot more things that need to be looked at [as a club].”
Revolution investors/operators Jonathan and Robert Kraft ultimately decided to revise the management structure of the club to facilitate those potential improvements and announced those changes on Wednesday.
Former chief operating officer Bilello ascended to the role of president, a job that will allow him to oversee business and technical interests. Vice president of player personnel Michael Burns will supervise all technical concerns in his new role as general manager. Former Kraft Soccer president Sunil Gulati will now serve as a special advisor to The Kraft Group and the Kraft family.
The changes clarified a complicated setup – Bilello reported through Gulati to the Krafts on business matters, while Burns and Nicol each reported directly to Gulati on technical issues – and established a revised pecking order to implement changes during the offseason.
“I think it probably clarifies some of the ambiguity that exists out there in terms of the organizational structure and who is responsible for what,” Burns said. “I think there's more accountability now. That's a decision that the Krafts made. I don't want to speak for Brian, but I think it's a great opportunity for both of us. On and off the field, we're looking to make a lot of changes.”
Naming a new coach looms as the most pressing issue at the moment. The new boss will enter a club with its entire management team on-site (a change from previous years) and with plenty of work ahead to make the cultural and structural changes required to compete once again.
“Understanding what we want to be as an organization, we get to hit the reset button on that, to a degree,” Bilello said. “Throughout the head coaching search that I've been doing with Michael, we're not just looking at a guy and saying who is going to be the best coach. We're also understanding what we want to be as an organization and then applying it to the interview process.”
The mixture of candidates – Bilello said the Revs have spoken to 12 potential options and hope to have a new boss in place in a week – encompassed a range of different backgrounds and experience levels. The final choice will work with Burns to build a squad capable of meeting the club's expectations on and off the field.
“There are certainly some philosophies that we've talked through that apply to what we want to do on the soccer side,” Bilello said. “Specifically, the best way I can describe [it] is that we never want to get outworked and we never want to get outsmarted by anyone in the league in any of the decisionmaking that we do. That, to me, is very important. There's a lot that we need to put in place from a culture standpoint on the team side, but also [on the technology and match analysis side].”
All of these alterations are designed to place the Revs in the best possible position to improve heading into 2012. There are no guarantees of success despite the internal reshuffling, but Burns said he believes the revisions give the club's reshaped management team the necessary latitude to do what it can to make the team better next season.
“It starts from ownership,” Burns said. “They've given us the green light to go out and do what we feel we need to do better on and off the field. Brian and I have talked at length [about those potential changes]. We just feel that we do have a lot more freedom to make changes that are going to hopefully result in more wins and putting a better product on the field next year.”