Eric Wynalda while coaching Atlanta
Courtesy of Carolina RailHawks

NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks eliminate head coaching post, hand duties to Eric Wynalda

MLS and US national team legend Eric Wynalda has decided to return to the sidelines and resume his coaching career.

Sort of.

In an arrangement with little to no precedent in professional soccer, the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League announced on Tuesday that they have eliminated their head coaching position and will instead hand those duties to Wynalda, the club's technical director, via a unique time-share of sorts.

Wynalda, who led the Silverbacks on an interim basis in 2012, will keep his current job as a studio analyst for Fox Sports and commute to Atlanta for matches and “key practices,” while “a group of hand-selected assistants” will guide the team through training and recovery sessions in his absence. 

“The organization has tremendous belief in Eric Wynalda’s system of play. Heading into the offseason, we asked ourselves how we could get back to following that system,” said Boris Jerkunica, the Silverbacks' co-owner and chairman, in a statement. “We’ve come to the conclusion of reengineering Eric’s role, and that will include managing the team’s training sessions and games. We believe in Eric’s vision and we consider him to be part of our long-term plans.”

While the club acknowledges that this new approach is “uncharted territory in soccer and beyond,” all involved sound eager to give it a try, expressing strong faith in Wynalda, who over the years has made no secret of his desire to coach in MLS or other top-flight leagues.

“This progressive approach to new-age management allows Eric to be more objective in his weekly review of player performance,” said Silverbacks co-owner Henry Hardin. “Having Eric as the one who directly communicates to his players and assistants will ensure that his vision and system is carried out properly.”

The Silverbacks won NASL's Spring Season championship last year, earning the right to host the league’s championship game, NASL Soccer Bowl, where they lost 1-0 to the New York Cosmos, the league's Fall Season champs. But a late-season slump prompted Atlanta to part ways with head coach Brian Haynes after the season's conclusion and paved the way for Wynalda's unusual role.

“We understand as an organization that this appears to be a less conventional approach to running a club, however, we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t expect it to be successful,” said Wynalda. “Our ethics, our principles, our tactics, and our philosophy will not change, and we believe this process is very feasible and has tremendous potential.”