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Should RSL hire Jason Kreis as coach and general manager?

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MLS - FC Dallas vs Real Salt Lake - June 14, 2007

With news breaking last week that Real Salt Lake will be interviewing Jason Kreis for the vacant head coach and general manager positions, we thought it would be prudent to dive in to some of the arguments for and against hiring the RSL legend.

I’m here with Randal Serr to break things down. He’s taken the position against his being hired as coach, and I’m taking the position of being for it.

I think you’ll find there’s no real clear-cut answer, and as with any hire, there are more questions than answers. Let’s talk.


The case for Kreis

Jason Kreis is an experienced American coach with an identity and integrity. He is tactical-minded, and he is straightforward. Moreover, he is the sort of person who inspires loyalty in his players and staff.

But personality traits don’t make a coach. They’re an important quality, certainly, but they don’t create winning teams and they don’t win playoff games.

Arguing for Jason Kreis on the back of his Real Salt Lake results from 2007 to 2013 is something, but I’m inclined to think that this isn’t going to be a winning argument. While that time was truly great in periods, his most recent season with Real Salt Lake was six years ago. As good as it was, MLS has changed. Targeted Allocation Money was just a glint in Don Garber’s eye. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela in MLS seemed like an insane proposition. It was a different league then.

To make the case for Kreis, then, we need to look beyond results. I’d also lean away from looking at results from his tenures at New York City FC and Orlando City SC.

The former, NYCFC, is in some ways because that team clearly had issues in its construction and player makeup — and it played (and still plays) in a baseball stadium, which defies all normal tactics. It also took a rising star of a coach in Patrick Vieira taking control of player recruitment and player selection to bring the team success.

The latter, Orlando City, is a team that’s yet to put together a successful season, with or without Kreis, and whose ownership has been a consistent negative talking point.

Now, you could argue with both of these cases that a better coach would have succeeded. I think we saw that in Vieira and Domenec Torrent, but we clearly haven’t seen that in Orlando.

Let’s be honest: Few of us really paid close attention to both teams during Kreis’s tenure — certainly not like we did here. It’s easy to look back at his results and see a coach that failed. But without digging in deep, I think we can say two things definitively. First, the organization failed. No coach exists in isolation. Second, Kreis did not overwhelmingly succeed despite any headwinds facing him.

For that reason, I can’t rule out Kreis. But I should also make the case for him, rather than simply making the case against not-him.

First, Kreis is capable of developing teams with an identity. While we shouldn’t look at results too closely, positive or negative, I think we are justified in looking at how he dealt with the resources in front of him. We can see clearly that during his time at RSL. I would maintain, however, that he deals less well when he is told to place a player directly in his lineup — say, Andrea Pirlo at NYCFC or Kaka at Orlando City — rather than players he was involved in recruiting and scouting. In that way, Kreis serving as general manager may work to solve some issues. Regardless, teams with identity — at least to me — are vastly preferable to teams without one, and we’ve spent far too long lacking.

Second, Kreis represents his teams very well. To my knowledge, he has never improperly thrown his team under the bus while still acknowledging faults. That’s a difficult balance to strike, and he’s generally done well. This contrasts well to, say, Jeff Cassar’s overly positive approach, and with Mike Petke’s tendency to blame referees or to refuse to answer questions. In some ways, Freddy Juarez is the most similar here, but without Kreis’s trademark intensity.

Third, if we acknowledge that Kreis presents a fairly massive unknown, it’s worth noting that potential represents a similar unknown. We are unlikely to attract an already-successful coach to our ranks, especially with internal chaos. This rules out people like, say, Tata Martino or Bob Bradley.

Finally, while I don’t think we should consider past results, I do think Kreis represents the most experienced coach we can bring on board. While that experience mostly comes in Salt Lake County (and maybe Summit County, though I can’t remember if the club trained in Park City while he was coach), we can’t discount that. Just one player remains from that period: Kyle Beckerman. Kreis has coached big names — Pirlo and Kaka, for example — and small names, and he’s rarely ignited firestorms with them over playing time. He’s brought players to levels of success that wouldn’t have been predicted in their career. He’s maintained levels of success for players that might have otherwise been on a downward trend. His experience shows he can do that.

Now, hiring him as general manager is a bit of a risk. He absolutely couldn’t do the day-to-day required in the GM role while still completely filling the role of coach. I would imagine that if this is the approach we decide to take, he will have to delegate heavily. For someone who has typically been heavily involved in operations, there’s certainly a question mark there.

I think in the end, Kreis is a good option for Real Salt Lake coach. However, if he’s to be successful, we must divorce ourselves from Jason Kreis of 2007 to 2013. That man is gone. Some philosophers would argue that he’s still the same person through psychological continuity, but I would side with the ones that say he’s a different person. At least, I would take that position when evaluating him, because it’s clear we won’t succeed if we treat him like the man who left.

— Matt Montgomery


The case against Kreis

To be clear, I am not completely against Kreis coming back to RSL. He gave me the best sports years of my life including a championship. That does happen in Utah very often if ever. He took RSL from zero to hero in a matter of just a year-and-a-half and was as big of a part of growing the club here as anyone. There was an energy and excitement around RSL that I think we all miss just a bit. However, if he were to make a return, there would be some very real and considerable risks involved.

When news broke that Jason Kreis will interview with Real Salt Lake to explore the possibility of taking on the General Manager and Head Coach role, I scrolled through social media to see what people’s reactions were. Most were somewhere between shocked and exuberant. There was a clear sense that this would be a return to RSL’s glory days if it were to somehow come to fruition.

I’m not at all convinced that would be the case. MLS is such a different league now from what it was about eight to ten years ago with faster pace of play and more talent across the field generally. More importantly, RSL is a very different club from what it was when Kreis was at the helm. It is difficult to say “the team is the star” at this point with a pretty big disparity in players’ salaries as well as the egos attached to some players. RSL is no longer a team made up of castaways with a chip on their shoulder. It’s a mix of international players, veterans, and young homegrowns carefully constructed to strike the right balance of play on the field. Kreis would have to start over in many ways with a whole new philosophy.

Without question, the biggest difference between the RSL of then and the RSL of the present day is the owner, Dell Loy Hansen. Various sources reveal that Hansen is a very hands-on, sometimes irrational owner. He has invested a lot in the club, but the tight-gripped control has led to so much chaos in the front office that many high-level personnel decided to leave.

It’s also no secret that Kreis left in 2013 at least in part because Hansen did not want to pay Kreis what he felt he deserved. It seems logical that they likely butted heads for other reasons due to lack of chemistry.

How could Hansen and Kreis coincide at this point? Unless Hansen, and Kreis for that matter, have a big change of heart, I don’t see it working.

How many coaches can you think of that left their team for other opportunities, then later returned to bring that same club back to prominence? If it has happened, it is extremely rare.

All that aside, the expectations from fans that would accompany Kreis’ return to where he had the most success in his career would be through the roof. Anything less than RSL consistently competing at the top of the league would result in fans’ disappointment and an inevitably at some point a sour departure.

I simply cannot see how this ends well. Why risk all of that to compromise Kreis’ legacy?

— Randal Serr