To listen to Mike Petke talk about being appointed head coach of the New York Red Bulls, you can't help thinking you were listening to one the club’s biggest fans.
That’s because in many aspects, he is.
Petke had the interim label removed and was appointed the Red Bulls’ permanent head coach on Thursday morning, a surprise development that came after the team had already begun their preseason preparations in Bradenton, Fla.
For Petke, the late decision to make him the New York manager was not an insult, but rather the fulfillment of a dream that he has had for quite some time.
“I’m honored and privileged to have been put in this situation that I’m in now,” Petke told reporters via a conference call on Thursday afternoon. “You guys know how I feel about this organization, how I always have. One thing I’ve made certain here is, since the moment in 1998 that I came to New York, the way I conducted myself has never been to me a means to an end.
“What I mean by that is, it was never for any other reason to gain anything, but do what’s right for this organization.”
The Petke appointment comes just three days after sporting director Andy Roxburgh told media that the Red Bulls did not have a deadline to name a coach. Roxburgh, however, went back on those comments on Thursday, saying New York wanted a coach in place by the time they began preseason.
Nonetheless, Roxburgh stated that he believes the organization has made a good choice in selecting the 36-year-old Petke to lead the charge.
“I worked with him on the pitch for two weeks when the players were in training [in November], although there were no games going on, and from that moment on I was impressed with Mike,” Roxburgh said. “He’s charismatic, well-organized, he has the respect of the players, and very, very important in all of this, he’s very experienced in terms of MLS.
“Mike starts with this enormous advantage in that he knows everybody, he knows the league and he’s absolutely passionate about the club. All of these things have added up to make him an appropriate choice for us.”
Petke’s coaching experience is limited, with only two years of service under his belt. The former defender ended his playing career with the Red Bulls in 2010 before being named an assistant coach that offseason and interim head coach back in November.
“The most important lessons I’ve learned, to be honest with you, is the don’ts,” said Petke. “I’ve been with so many coaches over 30 years that have done the wrong thing. It’s so much easier to do the right thing when you look around and see the staff that you have, the players you have and put the X and Os down.
“Knowing how to treat the players as far as who you can push a little bit, and who you have to pull aside and put your arm around and just getting through to them as simple and as precise as possible.“
Petke would not reveal who he is planning on hiring as his assistant coaches, saying only that the club is in advanced stages in the process and that an announcement is expected soon. He also was mum on what kind of tactics he has in mind for the Red Bulls, but not without offering somewhat of a hint.
“Most of you guys remember me as a player; one thing that we will do is fight from the first whistle to the last whistle,” Petke said. “The other thing we’ll do is we will fight for each other, not just the players on the field, but the players on the bench and the organization as well to represent them the way I’ve always represented them.
“It’s going to trickle down to these players. We’re going to be what I hope (is) an entertaining form of soccer, but every day we’re going to leave everything out on the field.”
With Petke now the man in charge, it would be natural to expect him to make some changes. But he insists he will stay true to himself, the players and the fans as he looks to help the club that is so deeply embedded in his heart win its first championship.
“When Andy announced it to the players this morning, from that moment to the second later when we started practice not one thing changed,” Petke said.“I’m not going to act differently, I’m not going to do things differently because with the opportunity that I’ve been given I’ve given my all in the best interest of the club.
“I’m very happy, excited, privileged and ready to get rolling.”