Jim Curtin doesn't seem to enjoy talking about himself. Particularly so when the occasion calls for it.
After the Philadelphia Union announced another contract extension for their local boy turned second-longest tenured head coach in MLS on Wednesday, Curtin deflected praise at every turn while on a virtual news conference, assembled to talk about the news. His news.
Instead he eagerly turned the spotlight on almost everyone but himself.
Sporting director Ernst Tanner and technical director Chris Albright are two of the best in the league at their jobs and have given him a fantastic squad, Curtin quickly pointed out. He thanked owner Jay Sugarman for his belief throughout the years. The players make him look good, he offered. His coaching staff deserve the credit, as does everyone else involved at the club from top to bottom, he mentioned.
Try as he might, the 2020 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year couldn't completely deflect the spotlight.
“I really enjoy the collaboration with Jim," Tanner told media on a virtual press conference. "He’s a great coach. … We are very, very lucky to have a leader like Jim. It’s totally difficult to find people like him.”
Despite the club having one of the youngest rosters and a payroll toward the bottom of the league, Curtin guided the Union to their first-ever trophy last season, lifting the Supporters' Shield amid a global pandemic. All the while, he helped continue the development of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, who earned multi-million dollar transfers to European clubs in the winter. They stand, easily, as the club's two biggest sales. Meanwhile, the undervalued acquisitions unearthed by the front office blossomed wonderfully under the coaching staff.
The success did not go unnoticed; It wasn't just his players being watched with wandering eyes. Curtin noted that Tanner was subject of interest from some of the "top clubs" in Europe and that Albright had teams looking at him, as well. Curtin, too.
Despite the overtures, the club's leadership triumvirate remains intact.
“Even when there was interest in myself this offseason, there was only one choice: And that’s the Philadelphia Union," Curtin said.
Tanner skipped over waxing poetic on Curtin's expert tactics and in-game management, and opted instead to discuss qualities seen mostly when the cameras are off. He credited Curtin's ability to be a role model to all his players, particularly the younger ones taking their first steps in the professional game. Tanner called him a teacher and a leader.
“It was just logic," Tanner said matter-of-factly of the contract extension.
“The leadership at the top from Ernst has helped me the most," Curtin added. "I’m forever loyal and grateful to him for believing in me.”
The Union haven't missed a beat this season, despite losing Aaronson and McKenzie, who were both named to MLS Best XI last year.
Philly have picked up 14 points from their first eight games, sitting second-place in the Eastern Conference, while also guiding the club to the Concacaf Champions League semifinals in their first year in the competition, all while integrating additions and the next wave of homegrowns into the first team. Of the new signings, only midfielder Leon Flach has played a major role in the first team so far, with Daniel Gazdag and Stuart Findlay delayed by visa and travel complications. Remaining competitive on the fly is the now standard the club have set for themselves, with the ultimate goal to add to their trophy-cabinet.
“After the Supporters’ Shield, another title would be nice," Tanner said. "But we have to be realistic. We sold players, we are competitive again. … We’re doing our best to win as many games as possible. There should always be a title, but there might be a period where you don’t win a title. We want to be competitive at all times.”
It wasn't always this smooth and efficacious, of course. Until recently, the Union struggled to find footing in MLS. There were difficult times in Curtin's first few seasons in the job and crowds in Philadelphia have never been shy in vocalizing displeasure. Not even Curtin, who grew up 15 miles north of Philly before starring at local institution Villanova University, was immune to that.
Curtin began his coaching career with the Union academy in 2010, rose to assistant coach by 2012 and took over as interim head coach in 2014. They missed that playoffs in two of his first three seasons and didn't win a playoff game until 2019, though the club marked steady improvement year-after-year, culminating with the Supporters' Shield last season. Curtin also guided the club to three US Open Cup finals.
“Without the struggles, without learning what it’s like to be booed by an entire stadium in certain moments, it makes you eager to grow," Curtin said. "Eager to learn. It makes you not want to let people down, it makes you want to improve. Without the hard moments, I don’t think any team, player or coach has success or grows without hard times. I wouldn’t give up any of it.”
Curtin is the all-time Union leader in total wins, regular season wins, playoff wins, and matches coached for the Union.
"Philadelphia is home to me, everybody knows that," Curtin said. "... Thank you to everyone for believing in me. I’ll work as hard as possible to bring more trophies to Philadelphia.”