Jim Curtin was sitting in a finance class at Villanova University when Bob Bradley called.
The head coach of the Chicago Fire at the time, Bradley told Curtin he had been selected in the third round of the 2001 MLS SuperDraft and gave him the option of joining the club in Florida for the preseason or finishing up his final few credits at Villanova first.
Curtin left the class and never came back.
“When Bob calls, I guess you go,” Curtin told MLSsoccer.com. “The rest of my career went pretty well after the decision.”
Indeed, the Oreland, Pa. native enjoyed many great years in Major League Soccer, playing for the Fire from 2001-08 (above) and Chivas USA from 2008-09. But throughout the decade, he hoped to eventually find his way back to his home city, wishing that Philadelphia would get an expansion team every time any team in the league folded or moved.
Curtin was in the twilight of his playing career when the Philadelphia Union were eventually founded in 2008 and opened their first season in 2010, but the longtime MLS defender made a quick transition into coaching and soon began working with the franchise’s academy.
On Thursday, he continued to climb the coaching ladder when he was officially hired as an assistant coach with the first team. He joins Rob Vartughian and Brendan Burke (who got a new contract the same day) on manager John Hackworth’s coaching staff.
“People in MLS circles have always known that I wanted, first of all, for Philly to get a team in MLS and then to be a part of it,” Curtin said. “I know it sounds cliché and cheesy but it’s something that’s been a lifelong dream.”
Curtin admitted he might have also liked to have played in Philly but still noted that the timing with his retirement ended up working well and that the “transition of going from a player to coach was perfect.” He cut his teeth as the head coach of the Union’s U-18 academy team and began getting more involved with the first team last season after Hackworth took over for Peter Nowak, sometimes coming in for training sessions and putting together scouting reports.
“We shared our different ideas and philosophies and thoughts,” Curtin said. “I guess something clicked, and here I am.”
Curtin believes his first game on the sidelines next season will be similar to his first game as a player, when he got a start as a rookie only because Fire teammates Diego Gutierrez and Carlos Bocanegra were carrying red cards – and felt his stomach doing jumping jacks when the smoke from the Soldier Field fireworks show subsided and he saw D.C. United star Jaime Moreno running toward him.
But he got past those nerves, playing more than 200 games with Chicago, making an MLS All-Star appearance in 2004 and helping the Fire capture US Open Cup championships in 2003 and 2006 and a Supporters' Shield in 2003.
“I was a guy that did get nervous before games,” Curtin said. “I think I’ll definitely feel the same way as a coach, with butterflies in the tunnel and feeling like I’m going to throw up once that first game is here.
“But for this opportunity to come and for John Hackworth and [Union CEO] Nick Sakiewicz to give it to me, I’m not going to let them down.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.