CHESTER, Pa. — When Ernst Tanner was first introduced as the Philadelphia Union’s new sporting director in early August, the Union were floundering beneath the playoff line as questions about head coach Jim Curtin’s future with the club grew.
Since then, the Union have gone on a tear, riding a 7-1-2 stretch that clinched the club an Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs berth with two games to spare and has them now eyeing the No. 3 seed in the East.
It’s no surprise, then, that Tanner opened a press conference Wednesday by declaring that he’s “excited” for everything he’s seen over the last few weeks. And that praise extended to Curtin, who is out of contract at the end of the year and whose fate rests in Tanner’s hands.
“I know Jim for quite a long time, not as a coach but as a person,” Tanner said. “What I’ve seen from the last couple of weeks is good, the way he’s guiding the team. … The discussions that so far we’ve had were quite OK, so for sure we have to sit together and see how good we match and make a decision.”
Although Curtin has had his share of disappointments since taking over as the Union’s head coach in the middle of 2014 season, his third loss in a U.S. Open Cup final last month chief among them, he has the team playing as well as they ever have in the franchise’s nine-year history.
And the way he interacts with players is important to Tanner, who opened up about what kind of qualities he values in a head coach.
“Once I asked my players about their opinion about the coaches they had in their career, and it appeared that the top coaches weren’t in their brain anymore, from my standpoint,” said Tanner, whose previous stops included Hoffenheim and Red Bull Salzburg. “But the ones who created a good culture and who really took care of their players, they remember. And that shows a lot. What I want to say is that personality is important but having a good culture is a base which is mandatory for every development. And that is what’s also Jim’s point, and what he’s already created.”
Curtin said he’s had productive conversations with Tanner (who didn’t start in his role in an official capacity until last week because of visa issues) about style of play and developing into a team that thrives in transition. And even though he’s been proud of how well the team’s played over the past two months, he admitted there’s still a lot of room for improvement and growth — for both the club and himself.
“You’re always proving something,” Curtin said. “Listen, coaches are always on an interim basis, if you want to talk about it that way. It’s year by year, day by day. As much as you’d like long-term security, it’s just not the nature of professional sports.
“It is hard? For sure, it’s challenging. There’s pressure. There’s highs, there’s lows, there are emotions. But at the same time, if you believe in the work that you’re doing, if you believe in your players, if you allow them to go on the field with confidence and execute, you can have success. And that’s my focus right now.”