Jason Kreis was so insistent that his players and staff lived by the mantra “Fortune Favors the Bold” during his nearly seven years as the head coach at Real Salt Lake, he famously had its original Latin phrasing “Audentes Fortuna Juvat” painted on the wall outside the team’s locker room at Rio Tinto Stadium.
But it appears that for all his bluster, Kreis never lived by the words himself. Not until now.
In his first public comments after leaving Real Salt Lake for the head coaching position with 2015 expansion franchise New York City FC, Kreis told Bill Riley of ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City on Tuesday that his biggest motivation for accepting the job was to make amends for playing it safe during his playing career.
Kreis – who was the league MVP in 1999 and is the league’s fifth all-time leading scorer – spent nine years in Dallas before joining Real Salt Lake as the franchise’s first player in 2005. He told Riley that he and his wife, Kim, “always took the safe route” during his career, opting for a steady contract and community support, even as he became one the league’s most dynamic players.
“We have some angst about that, honestly, through my playing career, and looking back and saying, ‘What if?’” Kreis told Riley. “What if I had taken the chance to go on some trials in Europe? What if I had not made the safe choice? As this opportunity became available through the summer … I think we both thought that it was kind of eerie, that we were being faced with this opportunity, and we’ve always looked back at [his career] and said, ‘What if we had made a decision the other way?’”
“As we thought about that, we both came to the feeling that now’s our time to go after that thing we didn’t do,” Kreis added. “For all those days in our playing career, now’s our time to really see if there’s another big mountain to climb. And so in the end, that’s the decision we made, and that’s why we made it.”
Asked specifically about his “Fortune Favors the Bold” calling card, Kreis added: “Maybe it had never really been there for my personal life and my career. This, I think, is a pretty bold decision to throw myself into the unknown a little bit, and take what could easily be viewed as a pretty large risk.”
Kreis is set to be unveiled as NYCFC’s first head coach during a press conference next month, but he deflected questions about what his new role with the club will entail, simply calling it a “extremely exciting” opportunity.
Kreis also said that his biggest hesitation about taking the NYCFC job is the cutthroat sports environment in New York City, especially after thriving in a small and supportive market in Utah.
“You can’t help but hearing about … how pressure packed it is around New York City, and around New York sports franchises in particular,” he told Riley. “That, in and of itself, easily gave me the biggest pause.”
Kreis also discussed the future for the coaching staff of Real Salt Lake in light of the fact that the team expects to name his replacement sometime next week.
“They’re not going to hire a coach that’s going to come in here and change this culture,” he said. “They’re not going to hire a coach who is going to come in and view the game differently. They’re going to find someone who fits the ethos and philosophy of Real Salt Lake.”
In a separate video interview with Real Salt Lake color commentator Brian Dunseth posted Tuesday on realsaltlake.com, Kreis reflected on his legacy at Real Salt Lake and the team’s six straight postseason appearances, the longest active streak in the league.
“For a team to be as consistent as this team has been over the past five-six years – and especially over the past four where every year I felt like we were competing for a Supporters’ Shield – there’s something to be said for that consistency,” he told Dunseth. “There’s something to be said for a club that can continue to put themselves in a place to win things. I want people to remember that.”
Despite RSL’s success, they also came up short in the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final, the US Open Cup final in October and, in the last game of the Kreis era, the MLS Cup last weekend in Kansas City.
“I think it will be easy to remember that we were so close on so many occasions to so many things and didn’t win,” he told Dunseth. “That’s certainly the negative viewpoint, and people can have that. I’m fine with that. But I hope everyone remembers how consistent this team was, and how we stuck to who we were.”
“In this last Kansas City game, it would have been easy for an opponent, in that weather, on that field, in that stadium, to have a very negative approach,” he added. “And we didn’t. We just went out there and went for it.”
Kreis told both Riley and Dunseth that the decision to leave RSL was both “emotional” and “trying,” and recounted the story of having his players and staff to his house in Park City on Tuesday night to break the news officially.
Kreis told Riley that it was the first time he had hosted such an event, since all team dinners used to be held at the house of former owner Dave Checketts, who first signed Kreis and anointed him head coach in 2007.
“To announce it to them [Tuesday] night was probably the culmination of all the emotions,” Kreis told Dunseth. “And to see all their faces and get their responses and spend time with each of them was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had as a person.”
Asked by Riley about any mistakes he may have made during his tenure at RSL, Kreis insisted he has no regrets upon his exit from the club he helped build.
“There’s a game here or there where I would have made a different decision … but if I had made that decision, would I have learned a lot about myself and this group?” he told Riley. “Would I have seen the other side and been reaffirmed in my beliefs and philosophies? I don’t think so. You have to make mistakes along the way, and I made plenty of them.”
“I know I’m a much, much better coach than I was in 2007,” he added. “I know I’ve improved drastically. And I have this city and community and fantastic leaders to thank for that.”