HOUSTON – Training in the snow isn’t exactly any player’s idea of fun. They can hate it, for all Owen Coyle is concerned.
Snow or not, it’s just another chance for Coyle – who this year takes over the Houston Dynamo head coaching duties – to do what he loves and get on the field and mix it up.
“It would be really bad snow and he’d still like to train,” said Coyle’s long-time assistant Sandy Stewart, who joins him in Houston. “People coming in said, ‘We can’t train in that.’ He would get them in and get them ready and it was, ‘Yes you will be training in that.’ We’d end up building snowmen and playing football. That’s the type of person he is, he just wants to train seven days a week.”
That attitude has followed Coyle throughout his career as a player and coach entirely spent entirely in the UK prior to his move Stateside, and it’s part of the formula the Dynamo are hoping gets them back in the MLS Cup title hunt.
For all of his on-field successes – and failures – one constant has been his outlook on the game. Coyle approaches his job, a descriptor he rebuffed when asked about it, with a vigor that’s tough to miss.
Walk into a training session, and his level is rarely in neutral. Either he’s heaping praise on a player, screaming “good shot lad” in his typical Scottish brogue, or making it clear to his team he demands more from them.
Stewart knows Coyle better than anyone in the game having played with and worked for Coyle through their travels. Wherever Coyle has been, Stewart has been there right alongside him. And so it was no surprise that once Coyle – who said he turned down six offers between his leaving English Championship side Wigan Athletic and signing with Houston – took the job with the Dynamo he asked his right-hand man to join him.
“Obviously we’d spoken about it before, but all of a sudden it became a reality, and I must admit I was a little bit shocked myself,” said Stewart, who was an assistant for Coyle on three previous English clubs. “He brought [Wigan] to the US in preseason. It didn’t come right out of the blue. There was an incline there, but he was very keen.
“When we spoke about it last year, he was always telling me, ‘I love it in MLS,’” continued Stewart. “He definitely had this in his head that if he was going to go for a change in culture this is where he’d come.”
After six weeks of training, Coyle’s enthusiasm for the game has now filtered through the Dynamo locker room. And while Coyle is not reinventing the game of soccer nor bringing with him a tactical revolution, Dynamo players have taken to his methods.
And the goal for Coyle is simple: He is looking to push his players and create an environment that blends the club’s trademark guile with an attack that can put opponents on their heels.
He’s already said he’ll widen the field at BBVA Compass Stadium. And while the formations and projected starting lineup may not be much different from his predecessor Dominic Kinnear, with the main exception being Mexican striker Erick "Cubo" Torres when he joins the team this summer, Coyle’s drills – which he leads by example dressed more as a player than a coach, in shorts and soccer socks – are geared to allow players to express themselves with the ball.
“He’s a very enthusiastic guy and a strong personality. His trainings are great. It makes it a joy to be around the soccer field and club,” said Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark. “He’s always encouraging us to enjoy what we do when we come to practice.”
But Coyle’s charm hasn’t always worked.
After success at Burnley and Bolton, he was tapped to take over for Roberto Martinez at recently relegated Wigan in 2013. A gutted roster that lost 11 players after the team dropped out of the English Premier League made things challenging on the field, but Coyle was making the most of it and had his club in the hunt for the promotion playoffs despite winning six of 23 games. But after less than six months with the Latics, Coyle departed.
“Wigan was a great experience. When we left Wigan, we didn’t leave because of results. We were six points off the playoffs with three games in hand,” Coyle said. “When it was all said and done, myself and the chairman [Dave Whelan] never saw eye-to-eye.
“I wish Wigan well, but obviously since I left it’s not went great for them,” Coyle continued. “I always pride myself in working with good people. I’m not just talking about soccer but talking about family dynamics.”
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That demand shines through for Coyle, so much so that he has to remind himself that not everyone will share it all the time.
“I remember being a player-coach, and my manager would tell me, ‘Owen, when you become your own man you’ll have to understand not everybody’s as enthusiastic as you,’” Coyle recalled. “That was something I couldn’t get my head around because I thought surely everybody loves the game the way we do.’”
Coyle was out of the game for nearly a year after leaving Wigan, and he was in no rush to jump back into a bad situation. He’d have discussions with clubs about taking over, and each time he’d come away from an interview not believing he was on the same page as club brass.
“I turned down six jobs after I left Wigan, and I just didn’t feel the connection was right when I sat with people. But it felt right when I sat with Chris Canetti [Dynamo president of business operations]. And it didn’t matter to me where it was, whether it was the USA or somewhere else, it had to be the right challenge,” Coyle said. “I had to know what the chairman-president was about. I knew what it was about so I knew it was everything I wanted.”
In less than two weeks he’ll look to bring his trademark enthusiasm and hope to lead the Dynamo back into the playoffs – all with a smile on his face, of course.
“Whenever you’re around him or at the training field or talking over a meal, his love for the game is very obvious,” Canetti said. “They say organizations take on the personality of its leader, and you can see the group taking on his personality. From my perspective, that’s the personality you want your group to take on.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.