Frank Yallop isn't cut out for the modern office environment – the new Chicago Fire coach and director of soccer made that much clear last Friday as he sat in an upstairs office at Toyota Park, where he moved after realizing how lonely the downstairs coaches office would be with no other soccer mind on staff.
After leaving his post in San Jose and taking five months off, the longest he's been away from the game since he began playing professionally at the age of 14, he's itching to get onto the field instead of behind a desk, which is filled with stacks of paper, a computer on which he's watched hours of film, and a landline phone he hasn't completely figured out how to work.
“Sitting in here, this is terrible. I mean, it's fine, he does it all day,” Yallop said with a smile, nodding to the communications director sitting nearby. “But I want to get out on the field, booting around with the guys. I'm a soccer coach.”
But so far, he's made the most of his time inside the cramped walls as leader of the Fire's soccer operations.
This is the first time Yallop has been the top soccer man at a club since his first head coaching job with San Jose from 2001-03, and right away he started whittling down a roster that was projected to be well over the salary cap in 2014 while putting together a technical staff. Until he hired technical director Brian Bliss on Dec. 6, Yallop was tasked with making every decision by himself, which included cutting ties with Arevalo Rios, Paolo Tornaghi and Daniel Paladini while declining options on several other players.
He still has plenty of decisions to make to get the Fire under the cap, but he seems to feel good about the prospect of re-signing Chris Rolfe and Logan Pause at reduced rates while bringing in unsigned Homegrown player Harry Shipp, who was named Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA Tournament, and maybe another attacking addition after his scouting trip to England.
“In the end, I thought I made some good decisions early about who I was keeping and who I wasn't keeping,” he said. “It's not hurting us now, Brian's not coming in and saying, 'Why did we keep this guy?' I felt I made some good, strong decisions early, but now it's really starting to get going, so I thought, eventually I'm going to need some help because I want to start looking at some new players.”
Yallop's road back to a job with absolute power has been a long one, especially considering he could have stayed on much longer in his first stint with San Jose, who moved to Houston and are still managed by his successor, Dominic Kinnear.
Instead of staying with his maiden head coaching job, where he won two championships, he elected to coach Canada, for whom he played 52 games, and then headed to LA after a disappointing stint coaching his home country. His time in LA coincided with David Beckham's arrival, which piled on the pressure and limited his control of the organization.
“[Taking the Canada job was] not the right decision in the end, but you know, it was a good experience for me,” he said. “[The LA job] was a testing time for me. In the end, I think I came through it pretty well. The results weren't quite there, but the team never turned on me, which is important for any coach.”
Finally, he found his way back to San Jose, where he was hired by general manager John Doyle. After winning a Supporters' Shield and Coach of the Year in 2012, the duo decided to part ways after a slow start in 2013.
The next few months were akin to a giant exhale. He visited family in Vancouver, took a vacation to Mexico, and spent time with his two boys, aged 10 and 14, with whom Yallop said he grew much closer.
“I think what happened after I moved on, it was a bit of a relief,” Yallop said. “I had been working in the game since I was 14, and I never had a break. I'm not saying that I took an extended break on purpose, but the way it worked out, I needed that. I realized I needed that. Now I can't wait to get going. I'm gunning to see a player. I should take one for coffee or something. I can't wait to get going.”
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And in Chicago, he's back in charge.
With the Fire, Yallop does the hiring. He has the final say on decisions, and he's fully accountable for any success or struggles the team has this season.
To Yallop, that makes all the difference, even if it means he has to spend a little extra time behind a desk in a small office at Toyota Park.
“Now I have total control,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “You don't have to explain your decisions. When you're in control but you've got to go through other people to get to that point, people have opinions. You don't want to be swayed. That's important. You want to discuss it. I'll discuss it with Brian and [assistant coach] C.J. [Brown], but in the end, if I don't want to do it, I'm not going to do it. Not to say I didn't have that, but now that there's nobody that's going to question anything, it feels a lot better for me.”