TORONTO – Thanks Greg.
Toronto FC announced on Tuesday that Greg Vanney has stepped down from his role as head coach and technical director.
“This was a difficult decision, one that I processed for an entire year, an entire difficult year, and come to a conclusion at the end that it's the right time for myself, for my family, to move forward and take a different step,” explained Vanney on a Zoom conference call shortly thereafter. “Soccer, this profession, is about a journey. And in this journey we have different experiences, we try to learn in every step and every relationship along the way. I've taken every ounce of what I can from this experience and it's time for myself and my family to move on, take our lessons here and try to apply them somewhere else and have a whole new set of things to learn and keep growing.”
“For anyone who followed my playing career, I was six years with the LA Galaxy and then at that point I also made a move to try to grow again as a person, as a player, and through those experiences I am who I am today,” he continued. “The same reason I am where I am today is realizing that it's time to make that step.”
Vanney leaves as both the most successful and longest tenured coach in club history. If there is a record, it is his.
The decision was formalized on Sunday night, but was long in the making.
“When this contract was coming to an end, I was, especially as the year grew on, I was wondering if this was going to be and thinking is this going to be the last year,” Vanney said.
“To be honest the last three years have taken a lot of energy and emotion. Starting in 2018, post our incredible run through Champions League and having the second half of the season we had, trying to keep our head above water and all of the things that went into that season. Beginning of 2019 and the middle trying to still build off of the struggles – a lot of things going on. And then to hit this season with a pandemic and be away from family and in the struggles,” he recounted. “This year was more about mental health than it was about soccer in many ways for all of us who were involved and we still found a way to excel.”
Contract talks were ongoing throughout the season, but this wasn’t about terms.
“We haven't talked money, years, or anything since July. It was never ever going to be about any of that, for me, for the club,” Vanney explained. “It was trying to reconcile where our family is with what I felt was the right thing for me growing as a young coach.”
“The club has done nothing but try to get this done and try to make the best situation and circumstances for me,” he continued. “I'm a builder. I like to build things. I like projects. And this club is in a really, really good place. There's not a lot of building. There is an incredible club that is positioned, from where we started to where we are, to be great.”
That was the aim all along.
“My objective when I arrived here – I used to talk about this with everybody – was to leave the club in a better place than where I picked it up. And if I did that then there is some success in that,” Vanney added. “Along the way we had a lot of incredible memories and we did a lot of incredible things. And I think the club is destined to keep doing that, so I think it's time for somebody else to take that.”
He goes out on his own terms.
An MLS Cup, three cup finals, three Canadian Championships, three Eastern Conference crowns, a Supporters’ Shield, and a Concacaf Champions League Final. Even through all the success, there were those that wanted #VanneyOut.
“So I guess this day will be a happy day for some people, right?” joked the now former coach, finding a moment of levity in an otherwise emotional day. “What's funny, and I didn't know if I would tell this story or not, but might as well. The first game that I walked out for Toronto FC as the coach, I remember a fan behind me, who I'm sure is now a friend because I've interacted with most of those guys at some point, they yelled out, ‘Hey Vanney, I hope you're renting.’”
“That was the first voice I heard in my stretch as a coach at TFC,” Vanney continued. “And I remember thinking, ‘I am renting, but I'm going to be renting for a long time.’”
In a result driven industry, it is rare a coach gets to make that decision for themselves.
“I'm proud of that because that shows sustained success and it shows, especially with the history of this team before, that we've been able to accomplish some things. It's a good thing,” replied Vanney. “I want this little era to end on some level on a positive. I know we didn't finish the season the way we wanted, but usually coaches end by getting fired.”
“I'm by no means doing this because of that, but I am proud of the fact that I have made this run,” he added. “Proud of being at this point, but sad at being at this point too.”
It’s always hard to say goodbye.
“I’ve played in a lot of places. I haven't coached in many places, but I've coached games in many places,” began Vanney. “The fans of Toronto have a unique understanding and passion for the game, as it relates to any club in this league. The environments that they have created on the biggest nights in Toronto and the emotions. I've said to the guys that ‘they’ll always remember how you make them feel.’”
“This is something we always talked about,” he referenced. “The emotions that we've shared together with the fans over the years will forever be cherished.”
The list of thank yous was long.
“The gold that is Toronto FC is just... it's the people, it's the relationships, it's how everybody looks out for each other – we take care of each other, the humility, the willingness to work together, to agree and push towards a common end,” summed up Vanney. “And just to put everything behind and look at the club as the most important thing and how it moves forward.”
He leaves a few days shy of exactly seven years to the day he joined the club, first as assistant general manager and academy director in 2013.
In six-plus seasons as head coach, there were a lot of moments, a lot of memories.
The big ones – trophies and finals, victories and defeats, signings and departures – have been well documented. But through it all there are the smaller, private ones too.
“I don't even know if I could pick one and be fair to any one of the hundred of those moments,” replied Vanney. “But from a sentimental standpoint, I'll pick one.”
It was a big one, experienced by the entire TFC family, but there was a personal element to it too.
“The second goal of the MLS Cup winning game when Victor [Vazquez] tapped it in. There was a brief moment there in 2017,” Vanney shared. “When my mom passed away and all of the energy and work that had been put into trying to bring the team and the club forward and all the championships lost and everything that happened before that.”
“It was a moment to reflect on her,” he said. “That moment was probably the one I will remember the most.”
There will always be the one that got away. The one major trophy available that the club has not lifted in the past five seasons.
“Win Champions League,” responded Vanney quickly, asked if there was anything left undone. “We were so close, one play or a shootout, which never went our way here – something that I will have to improve upon as a coach is how to win shootouts, for sure.”
“Winning Champions League,” he repeated. “That's the one thing that we really didn't achieve. Wanting to be the first MLS club to have done that in the modern era was the one thing that I wish we would have accomplished on the soccer side of things.”
The Greg Vanney era is over. What a time it was to follow TFC.
“As players and coaches, our legacy is about winning championships,” Vanney ended. “The other important thing is the fans, the people who don't have the opportunity to be on that field, who lived those experiences with all of us every single day.”
“It's about the journey with them, to bring them the joy and emotion, for all the support and love that they give back to the players and the coaches to be able to do what we do. To have that kind of support, it's our responsibility to try to bring that joy,” he continued. “But it's not always joy, it's just the emotional roller coaster that is sports. You can't have joy if you don't have the disappointment sometimes. It's just not the same.”
“That the club had gone through so much of the struggle at the beginning and just trying to get it right, which is not uncommon for teams that are coming into a new league,” Vanney added. “But we found our footing and we turned that around and after all of that disappointment we had to have brought the highest of highs and the greatest of emotions to the city and to our fans to balance that out.”
That he leaves without a proper sendoff is not right, but it’s also very much his way.
It was never about him. It was about everyone.
“We so incredibly missed playing in our stadium, in front of our fans, this year and ultimately I think it was the difference down the stretch where we needed that boost of energy and passion and excitement behind us because we didn't have it in a moment where we were fatigued and not at our best,” Vanney lamented. “That's when the fans change the game. We missed them this year.”
“One of the things I'm proud of is that there is a legacy of winning, there's an expectation of winning and winning championships and competing for championships every year from our fan base, and the support is there,” he signed off. “And that's a far different place than we were when we started.”