Voices: Andrew Wiebe

No speculation needed: Charlotte FC need stability after coaching change

“We had no choice. We had to do it.”

Barring leaks – never ever bet against those – or a tell-all interview from Miguel Angel Ramirez, I suppose we’ll just have to take Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta at his word for why dismissing the club’s first manager after 17 all-competition games was “a decision for the best of the club.”

“There’s not much point to speculate to what exactly happened," added Krneta, who it bears noting didn’t clear up much in what was, at best, an opaque virtual press conference on Tuesday. Inevitably, point or no point, people will speculate, and more details will trickle out in the coming days and weeks.

In the immediate aftermath, this was about as plausible a publicly reported explanation as we got.

The Athletic then published a rundown Wednesday morning that shed light on what went down behind the scenes and partially answered some of the burning questions. My takeaways from the piece: Ramirez was promised things he didn’t get, Ramirez and Krneta didn’t see eye to eye and Ramirez rubbed some of the squad the wrong way.

I’m not here to speculate, though I’ll gladly attempt to sort through any theories, rumors and reports from plugged-in reporters and anonymous Twitter accounts alike.

I’m here to tell Charlotte that they’d better get their house in order or risk becoming the butt of expansion jokes. Ask Inter Miami CF and FC Cincinnati about the short-, medium- and long-term misery brought on by a carousel of leadership and front-office turmoil.

That’s a worrying trend. Departures, especially hasty ones, often say more about the culture of an organization than any arrival ever could.

Key questions

Tom Bogert reported that the decision to fire the Spaniard wasn’t exclusively performance-related, which makes sense because the results (eighth in the East, 5W-8L-1D record), all things considered, were pretty darn encouraging given the inaugural roster build! So what’s that say about the choice to hire Ramirez in the first place, after what the club claims was an extensive and scientific search process?

What did Charlotte and Krneta miss? What about the culture around the team and the personality of the manager made Ramirez’s job untenable? What went wrong so quickly?

For leaders, nothing matters more than hiring the right people. For sporting directors, those people are managers and players. Krneta may not have said it out loud, but in making this move three months into the club’s expansion season, he’s tacitly admitting that he got his first coaching hire wrong.

Say what you will, but at least Krneta had the courage to make a change when it was clear that the fit wasn’t right, even if, as he claimed, there were no major issues between himself and Ramirez. That despite the latter’s habit of publicly sharing his unvarnished thoughts about the quality of the squad available (“right now, we’re screwed”) and realistic expectations for Year 1 (“I can’t do magic”). We’re left to draw our own conclusions about the role those comments played in the decision.

What now?

So what now for Charlotte? Avoid drama and upheaval at all costs, for one. Unify the locker room, for another. Creating stability and continuity is harder than it looks, clearly, but it pays dividends over time in MLS.

Look at Austin FC and the progress they’ve made since settling the squad and empowering Josh Wolff. Look at Nashville SC, who haven’t deviated once from their chosen path and have been repeatedly rewarded for it under Gary Smith. Look at LAFC, whose leaders have demanded a lot from themselves and learned from mistakes. Look at what happened in Atlanta after Tata Martino left. Look at the price Orlando City SC paid for firing Adrian Heath when they decided a change was the path that would take them from pretty good to great.

Charlotte FC must now look at themselves through a critical lens, figure out what they got wrong and rally around an identity, culture and leaders that reflect the values they want to define their club. They’ve got a sizable fanbase brewing at Bank of America Stadium that’s hungry for just about any signs of a clear path to Audi MLS Cup Playoffs soccer, now or in the future. They’ve got some talented players to build around, but still plenty of work to do.

They’re not “screwed,” to borrow a phrase from their outgoing manager, but they’ve got to find a way to navigate a crisis of their own making.

It starts with interim manager Christian Lattanzio, who will have the job for the rest of the season after being an assistant on Ramirez’s staff. It starts with the summer transfer window, during which Krneta will be under pressure to improve the squad. It starts with a new coaching search that must return candidates and a hire with more staying power than just over 40% of a season.

It starts with making choices that create a culture that makes people want to stick around and where they don’t wear out their welcome. For 2022 and beyond in the Queen City, it starts now.