TORONTO – Shortly after Greg Vanney spoke with the media upon stepping down from his positions as head coach and technical director at Toronto FC on Monday, club president Bill Manning and general manager Ali Curtis too addressed his departure.
“As good of a soccer man he is, he’s a great family man and so I have ultimate respect for him and what he's done for our club,” began Manning. “I look back to five years ago, when I took on this role as team president. I was faced with a team that had some special players and a very young head coach who at the time had a record of 18-23-6. A number of people recommended to start fresh with a clean slate.”
“One of the most important decisions I've ever made in my career was that I believed in Greg Vanney and Tim Bezbatchenko, at the time as general manager,” he continued. “That they had what it took to bring this franchise to new heights.”
“[Vanney] more than paid back that decision with a number of trophies. I want to thank him for that. All the respect that he's been given has been earned and I wish him nothing but the best for the future,” Manning said. “Now we have to take another step forward and I'm excited for Ali and the club to make the right decisions.”
“Greg is going to be a very difficult coach to replace,” he added. “But as he said, we are in a much better place than when he started. And so we look forward to this next chapter.”
Curtis extended the gratitude to the matriarch of the Vanney clan.
“I also want to single out Amy Vanney,” he began. “We're a big club, but we operate as a family and she's been so supportive of Greg, she's been supportive of the club. It’s important that we mention Amy in the same context that we mention Greg.”
What looked like a relatively quiet off-season of minor tweaks and adjustments was in an instant transformed into a question about the future direction of the club. And it comes in a very uncertain time with the 2021 season also to be impacted by the continuing pandemic, though to what extent is unknown.
“I'm excited about the opportunity and what's in front of us,” said Curtis. “We'll be embarking on an off-season unlike any in the history of the club because the club has never gone through what we've gone through over the last nine months or so.”
“There's a big opportunity with these challenges and we'll move on, but it's important that that movement is forward,” he stressed. “There's been moments of change ever since I've been here. We've been able to adapt in a positive way and that process has begun. But today it's best to take a moment to give thanks to Greg and give thanks to his family. He's meant so much to the club.”
While even the most ardent watchers and interpreters of TFC were totally caught off-guard by Vanney’s decision, Manning was not.
“When he notified us, I was not totally taken by surprise,” he levelled. “I respected him for the decision that he made. It was sad because we wanted him to continue here, but we now have to move forward.”
In the final year of his contract, talks had been ongoing throughout the year. But just as it seemed everything had been settled on, the process stalled.
“As it went longer, you wondered,” said Manning. “You say, ‘Wow, is Greg going to step away?’ You prepare yourself because it was a long time, there were long discussions. There were times I thought that tomorrow morning he's going to sign; you emotionally prepare as well for the alternative.”
“In these situations, you think about some alternatives,” he continued. “Ali and I did not have very formal discussion of that because our intention was to retain Greg. It was when he made his final decision on Sunday evening, Ali and I collected our thoughts and shared some short lists. We just need to digest this, give Greg his due respect, and then turn the page going forward.”
The futures of the rest of the coaching staff – Dan Calichman, Nick Theslof, Jason Bent, Jon Conway, Jim Liston, Michael Rabasca, to name but a few – is open-ended.
“They were all a part of Greg’s staff and close to Greg,” responded Manning. “We're going to have discussions with them all. The goal would be to find roles for them within the club if they want to stay.”
“A new coach coming in, we have to give the opportunity to them to have a staff and so some of it will be a little open-ended, but we care about our people,” he added. “We'll have those conversations and we will try to figure out a way for all of them to continue here with us.”
When the 2021 season kicks off, for the first time since August 2014, there will be a new coach on the sidelines for TFC.
The search has begun.
“As much as we were looking for Greg to be with us moving forward, and for his family to be with us moving forward, we'll have to find a new leader, a new voice,” said Curtis. “And we'll attack that with a lot of energy.”
The GM was loathe to put specific criteria in public.
“What we don't want to do is influence or bias those conversations, those interviews, those meetings, those candidates,” he replied. “But it's important that you have an understanding of what the objectives of the club are. The criteria that we're looking for, in that, Bill and I will align.”
“People understand what type of club we are: we're a big club. We want to win championships, investing in the types of players that we know are important and necessary to winning championships. We also invest in our community and that's why you’ve seen some of the young, exciting players that started to really get opportunities this year and we anticipate that that will continue moving forward,” Curtis detailed. “We're going to have to hire a new leader, a new coach that can balance those objectives. We have our scorecard in terms of who will check the boxes; that's something that we’ll keep internal.”
Manning was willing to specify a touch more: “One thing Ali and I always agree on is someone of high character and someone who is a winner and matches the ambitions that we have for the club.”
The phones are already vibrating with prospects.
“Right now I have both my phones on silent because they've been pinging with emails and text messages and WhatsApp and those types of things,” said Curtis. “We'll take those incoming calls and messages. In our business the timeline is now. You try to do things as quickly as possible.”
“With that being said, sometimes you're not in complete control of the timeline,” he elaborated. “There's different availability of different coaches and different people in different moments. I would like to have someone in place sooner rather than later, to be part of the process of next year.”
“We're a club where it's greater than one person, it’s a collective,” Curtis stressed. “If anything this year has taught all of us every single week that it's about the collective, it's about all of the players, all of the staff, all of the fans, all of the community. It's about all of us. And so sooner is always better.”
“We'd like to have someone in place to help with that process of how we can get better,” he added. “Our objectives will be the same next year. We want to win trophies. There is the Canadian championship, there is MLS Cup, there's the Supporters’ Shield. Those objectives will remain the same.”
“In order to achieve those objectives it’s important to get somebody in place as quickly as possible, but at the same time you can't rush these things,” he summed up. “We'll start the conversation today and tomorrow and over the coming weeks we'll have a clear idea as to how close we are with someone.”
“It'll be a collaborative process between Bill and myself, but in terms of the timeline it'll be before the season starts, but also we want to make sure that we honour the process in the right way and we get the right person,” he concluded. “We're a big club, we need someone that can handle that.”