CHESTER, Pa. — In the middle of the 2014 MLS season, when the Philadelphia Union parted ways with John Hackworth, then-CEO Nick Sakiewicz tabbed a young assistant named Jim Curtin to replace him.
A few years later, as the Union sputtered through a rough 2017, sporting director Earnie Stewart vociferously defended Curtin before deciding to retain him for the following season.
And on Monday, at the club’s 2018 end-of-season press conference, new sporting director Ernst Tanner became the latest Union higher-up to put his faith behind Curtin, officially announcing that the head coach will return for the 2019 campaign on a new one-year deal.
“Listen, this will be my fifth [full] season at a pro soccer club,” Curtin told reporters. “That’s a long time. I recognize that. There’s been a lot of change, I’ve been involved with a lot of different people. You guys know I don’t really self-promote, but I think it is a little bit of a reflection that no matter who I’ve worked with they’ve found good qualities in what I do.”
As one of the league’s longest-tenured coaches, Curtin has dealt with plenty of job scrutiny over the course of his tenure. That continued this year even as the Union finished with the most points in franchise history, but missed out on big opportunities to win their first MLS Cup playoff game and U.S. Open Cup title.
But Tanner, who began discussions with Curtin shortly after getting hired in August, found plenty of good qualities when evaluating the 39-year-old head coach and expressed optimism about their “continued collaboration.”
“His relations to the players, from all I have seen now, is very, very good,” Tanner said. “He’s an expert in developing young players, which will be a clear focus in the future.”
Tanner, who did make one coaching staff move by opting not to retain veteran goalkeeping coach Tim Hanley, also pointed to the fact that Curtin came in fourth in the 2018 MLS Coach of the Year voting, which is an indicator of the respect he has around the league.
“I think it’s shown this year in particular nationally, a lot of people have taken recognition,” Curtin said. “I do understand the microscope in Philadelphia shines a little brighter. That comes with the territory coaching in Philadelphia. You look at our basketball team, our football team, our baseball team, our soccer team, there’s going to be scrutiny. I understand that, I’ve never really hid from that.
“I think I’ve been honest and upfront with everybody. I have a good idea where I stand. I know where I stand with people with the club. It wasn’t a surprise to me.”
But Curtin also understands how quickly things can sour, especially if the Union can’t fulfill Tanner’s vision of becoming a more pressing, aggressive team while finally capturing that elusive first playoff victory.
“I’m happy to be here,” Curtin said. “Obviously this club means a lot to me. Philadelphia is where I’m from. And I look forward to 2019.”