Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre searched far and wide for his club’s first MLS general manager.
He ended up hiring the candidate right under his nose.
Nashville’s incoming MLS expansion club announced Tuesday the hiring of Mike Jacobs as the club’s first GM. The move is a promotion of sorts for Jacobs, who was brought on as technical director of USL club Nashville SC last October. Jacobs built Nashville’s roster for their inaugural season in the lower division, which ended earlier this month with a USL Cup Playoff defeat to fellow incoming MLS club FC Cincinnati. Jacobs is set to maintain his current duties through the end of Nashville's 2019 USL campaign.
And now he’s tasked with helping construct the club’s roster for their debut MLS season in 2020.
“As I interviewed and talked and researched around, I had this guy turning up every week for games that I was attending for our USL team. And I really liked Mike’s work, looked more into Mike, and Mike wasn’t shy in coming forward with his interest in the role and I think it almost became a case of it being Mike’s to lose from a certain point” Ayre told MLSsoccer.com.
“He did an incredible job in being involved in assembling the team for the first season in USL, and I just kind of had this view, I’d met a lot of people, interviewed a lot of people, researched a lot of people and felt like my best option and an option that brings continuity was right here in the building.”
A longtime college coach, Jacobs came to Nashville last fall after three seasons as assistant technical director of Sporting Kansas City. His time working under Peter Vermes stood out to Ayre, who ran Liverpool FC for six years and spent part of a season with German second-division club 1860 Munich before joining Nashville this summer. The CEO said he formally interviewed six other candidates.
The three seasons at SKC proved formative for Jacobs, who helped build the inaugural roster of SKC’s USL outfit, Swope Park Rangers, assisted with scouting and recruitment for their first team and helped design Sporting's process for moving players from their academy to USL to MLS.
Perhaps most importantly, Jacobs was exposed to a strong organizational structure in Kansas City. SKC are known for their defined style of play, for their front office’s ability to find bang-for-the-buck in the transfer and trade markets and for their productive academy. Sporting have had sustained success because they’re strong in all three areas. Jacobs is hoping to recreate that model.
“The experience I had working at Sporting Kansas City, really at a flagship club in Major League Soccer, to kind of see how it works and to work in that capacity there, I think helped prepare me to take on the task of doing the same thing at a USL club here in Nashville and got me enough of a reference point to draw from to be prepared to do the same thing here for an MLS club,” Jacobs told MLSsoccer.com.
Ayre and Jacobs are a somewhat unique marriage of CEO and GM. Their backgrounds are wildly different; while Ayre was running one of the biggest clubs in the world, Jacobs was coaching the University of Evansville Purple Aces. Ayre, who has overall responsibility for the technical and business sides of the organization, brings a level of experience at the game’s highest-level and a network of European contacts that’s largely unmatched in MLS. Jacobs wields specialized knowledge of the league and the American soccer landscape that feel prerequisite for MLS success.
“Ian and I, we have probably as unique a reference point as you could have at this stage of expansion for an MLS club,” said Jacobs. “From Ian being able to draw from experiences from one of the top clubs in Europe, from all facets, soup-and-nuts about how to populate a staff and run a club, you’re not going to find someone with a more well-versed background. And for myself, conversely, I think specific to our own league and MLS, I think having experiences from one of the top clubs consistently in Major League Soccer, I think we offer probably a unique reference point for what it’s supposed to look like and what it’s not supposed to look like.”
Ayre and Jacobs will continue to set Nashville MLS’s direction over the next few months. They’re hoping to make another big announcement early in 2019, with Ayre reiterating his September comment that the club hopes to have an MLS head coach in place by the end of March. Ayre has already begun having conversations about potential coaching candidates. He confirmed that Nashville SC USL manager Gary Smith, who led the Colorado Rapids to their 2010 MLS Cup title, will be considered for the MLS job.
Ayre is also hard at work on finalizing the club’s MLS identity, which they hope to have completed early next year, filling other senior front-office positions and developing Nashville's stadium and training facility. Jacobs isn’t as uniquely focused on MLS. He’s walking the line between 2019 and 2020, working simultaneously on improving Nashville SC’s USL roster for next year, targeting players for their first season in MLS and building out his technical staff with scouts and assistants.
“We need to bring everybody along on this journey,” said Ayre. “Whether it’s supporters or sponsors or ownership or staff, it’s about bringing everybody in the same direction to the ultimate sort of target, which is to launch our MLS team successfully in 2020.”