In a little more than three months, the Columbus Crew have changed ownership, fired a head coach and several members of his staff, and appointed an interim head coach to finish the season. Now, after filling their head coaching vacancy, they can add a front-office shuffle to their list of changes.
The Crew announced Wednesday that they have hired Gregg Berhalter to be the team's head coach. Berhalter will also fill the newly created sporting director position, eliminating the club's technical director and general manager positions.
Berhalter is a former US national team and LA Galaxy defender, and recently coached Hammarby IF in Sweden, where he spent a year-and-a-half at the helm before being dismissed by the club with an overall record of 18-11-16.
“I'm extremely excited at this opportunity to join the Columbus Crew,” Berhalter told media in a conference call with owner-operator and chairman Anthony Precourt and president Mark McCullers on Wednesday. “It's a club that I've admired at a distance for some time.”
Berhalter was not in Columbus because of a scheduled trip to visit FC Barcelona in Spain, and Precourt said the club wanted to announce the decision quickly to give other candidates time to find new positions – including interim head coach and former technical director Brian Bliss, who will no longer be with the team.
The decision was made after a long search by Precourt and McCullers, along with brand ambassador Frankie Hejduk and Andrew Arthurs, executive director of the Crew Juniors youth program.
“It's an exciting day for the Columbus Crew,” said Precourt, who confirmed that Berhalter was the club's first choice for the position. “I don't think this process could have gone any better.”
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McCullers, who said it was time “to move the general manager responsibilities off of my plate and into the competition division of the organization,” immediately stressed that leadership was important in determining the team's new head coach, and that Berhalter's long-term plan was what won the Crew over.
“His vision really resonated with all of us on the search committee,” McCullers said. “He has a clear vision, he has a detailed plan, he has a voice to communicate that plan, and he has the personality and the attitude to inspire those around him to rally around that vision and that plan.”
Berhalter said that there were “a few things that stood out” when he was deciding whether to take the job, and first credited Precourt's attitude for drawing him to Columbus.
“First and foremost is the energy brought to the club by the owner,” the two-time World Cup veteran said. “Just walking around and talking to the staff and talking to the people, you can see that they're excited about the future.”
Berhalter also noted “the tradition associated with the Columbus Crew,” as well as the fans themselves.
“I've been lucky enough to play against the Crew and play in Crew Stadium with the national team, and it's an amazing environment,” he said. “It's an environment that's very pro-the home team. It's special to play in.”
Berhalter said that a priority in the coming weeks will be to build his staff, and confirmed that he will look for a “director of soccer operations,” to help him better understand MLS rules and finances. He said he expects to make the hire within a matter of weeks.
Wednesday was the last day of practice for MLS players not participating in the playoffs, but Berhalter said that there will be plenty to keep him busy over the next few months, and he'll be jumping right in.
“Moving forward, things go quickly,” he said. “You have the Re-Entry Draft, you have college tournaments that are finishing up in November, and then you have to prepare for the SuperDraft. So there's a lot of activity that I'm going to have to focus on in the coming months.”