CHESTER, Pa. – As a proud, born-and-bred Philadelphian, Jim Curtin had once dreamt about playing for the Philadelphia Union.
He’ll have to settle for running the team instead.
On Thursday at PPL Park, Curtin was introduced as the Union’s interim manager, two days after the former MLS All-Star was promoted from his role as an assistant following Tuesday’s firing of John Hackworth and technical director Rob Vartughian.
“It’s been exciting,” Curtin said. “My phone’s never rang so much before … little things like my buddies texting me joking that I’m up there on Comcast SportsNet with [Philadelphia Eagles coach] Chip Kelly and all that. That stuff’s special. It’s cool.
"Was it something that I thought was going to happen at the beginning of the year? No, it’s not. And it’s probably not the way I wanted this to go. But that’s the reality of it, and I’m going to take it and run with it.”
Curtin, who emphasized his Philly roots throughout Thursday’s press conference, first moved back to his native city in 2009 after playing two seasons for Chivas USA – this after starring for the Chicago Fire from 2001-08. But he did not get a chance to play for the Union during their expansion season in 2010 as he had hoped, instead transitioning into a role with the team’s youth academy as the U-18 head coach.
Three years after that, prior to the start of the 2013 season, he was hired by Hackworth as an assistant coach – which set the stage for his ascendance to the interim manager position this week.
“I never thought it would happen this fast,” said Curtin, who played collegiately at nearby Villanova. “It’s quick. But if you look around the league, it’s kind of the trend where younger guys are getting a chance in this league.”
Curtin added that former MLS players are well suited to be managers because, “We all have the same quality that we’re all the most competitive guy in the room.” He does not think that being only 34 will be a detriment, even if he is the same age as Union midfielder Fred and only a couple of years older than key contributors Brian Carroll and Conor Casey.
“Fred tries to get me to come out of retirement every training session,” Curtin laughed. “I’m still young. I know that. But if you’re firm and honest with the guys, they understand what you’re trying to get done. They don’t care how old you are. I want their respect first. That’s the most important thing for me, and I think I have that with all of them.”
If there is one way in which his age could hurt him, it is that the Union may opt to bring in a more experienced manager. Sitting at the same table as Curtin on Thursday, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz reiterated his comments from earlier in the week that some big-name coaches have expressed interest in the job and that the team will conduct a global search.
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Curtin said he understands the process but added that he hopes he will get a fair shot to coach his city’s MLS team on a permanent basis.
“I know I’m a 34-year-old coach – that’s the reality of the situation,” Curtin said. “I have things to learn, but I do think I know what it takes to win in this league, that’s for sure. We joked about it, but I understand there’s going to be a search for a coach to come in here. That’s going to happen, and if it’s Alex Ferguson leaving his Harvard classes to coach, I’ll oblige that.
"Obviously I’m joking, but I’m going to work as hard as I can. And I’m going to make it as difficult as I can by winning.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.