PORTLAND, Ore. – There’s no question, John Spencer will be remembered.
The first coach in the Portland Timbers’ MLS existence was quick with wit and never shy to share his opinion or poke a little fun. There is also no question that he had more than just a working friendship with Merritt Paulson, making Monday’s announcement that he had just let Spencer go visibly difficult for the passionate owner.
“These decisions aren’t easy,” Paulson said, at times with tears in his eyes during the press conference held Monday at JELD-WEN Field to announce the decision. “There’s a human factor here, and I don’t take that lightly.”
Paulson spoke mostly in generalities when it came to the reasoning behind the move, summing it up by citing “some fundamental differences.” But when it came to expressing what Spencer has meant to the organization during his year-and-a-half at the helm, Paulson did not mince words.
“There’s nothing I like more than looking down at John when we score a goal and seeing his fist pumping and looking up at me,” Paulson said. “I like him a lot. This is a very painful decision to make.”
Paulson also took some of the blame. He stressed his desire that the organization is known for continuity in the front office and coaching staff and that letting a head coach go so soon was the last thing he expected when the team began its MLS journey.
“I’m a big believer in accountability,” Paulson said. “I like it when players take accountability, and the staff and the same is true for myself. There is egg on my face in making this decision so soon in our MLS existence, no question about it.”
Paulson made it very clear Monday that much went into the decision.
He said he had been having “candid discussions with John about the concerns for some time.”
Finally, on the heels of Portland’s 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake on Saturday – a result indicative of the Timbers' painful struggles on the road with no wins in eight games this season – Paulson made the decision. He informed Spencer on Sunday night.
“If you reach a decision that the long term fit is not right, you have to ask yourself will this club be better in 2012 if we make the decision now and will this club be better in the long term if we make this decision now?” Paulson said. “If you answer both those questions in the affirmative, then in my mind, it’s the right decision.”
Paulson said Spencer reacted in the very same way he conducted himself throughout his time in the Rose City.
“With class, he took it with class and professionalism,” Paulson said. “He’s a class guy.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.