In an interview with David James on Monday on KUTV, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen gave his first public statement on Mike Petke’s firing from the head coach role at the club.
In the interview, Hansen shared his perspective on why Petke was fired, speaking directly to the time it took for the decision to come down publicly.
“The fact was, we listened, and we were open to what people in our community were telling us,” he said. “As we looked at it, it really came down to that they expected us to live our values. That was the end game. I think there should be a respect that an organization, even under stress, is willing to live their values.”
Rather than parse through his comments and pick out only the particularly interesting ones, I’ll instead guide you through portions of the interview. I’d highly recommend watching, because nuance can be lost in transcription.
On RSL and the RSL Foundation’s relationship with training referees
Well, it’s really important to start with what are those values, and what would be considerations when we look at what the organization means to our community. I think there’s a great story that happens at RSL. We see ourselves as very integrated in our community. With our foundation, we do one very special program: We train 200 youth referees every year. And our partners at Scheel’s and Chevron, and then when anyone buys a license plate, $18 from that goes to training referees. We invest heavily in it.
But we find 50 of those referees from the Salt Lake and South Salt Lake potential gang units. They’re bringing us kids that need a value system built into their life, and as we train these 14-17-year-olds, we run them a rigorous training to always be in control.
When they’re on the field — and I’ve been the irrational parent at some of those trainings, taunting the referee, saying they’re stupid, they haven’t done the right thing — we teach them that they’re always in control. They raise their hands and tell a parent, “That’s enough.” Second, if the parent continues, or the irrational fan, they come over and say, “You’ll be ejected from the game if you continue.” Then they go back to their job, and they’re always in control. If they continue, the third phase is you walk and say, “You either leave the field, or I’ll end the game.” They’ve all learned that at no point do you have the right to be out of control.
I think of those 500 kids now that have gone through that program. They’ve learned that is the value, that is the learning. That is what we expect. That is what the RSL Foundation, through the referee program we’re offering, means. Obviously, when you think of the situation I’m in, you think of the 500 youth that we’ve taught, that matters.
On RSL’s values
DJ: There are probably a significant number of people who are looking at this and are thinking, on one hand, coach crossed a line, and there have to be consequences. Others are saying you’ve got to allow people to be human and make mistakes. You just talked about the referee giving three chances; to what degree was this decision influenced by the fact that this is the third year in a row he’s been suspended?
Well, we had long conversations with the league. The information wasn’t readily available at the beginning, so we went through a process of suspension and then review. And we deeply asked ourselves in the organization, “Who are we? What do we represent to the community? What do we expect our image that we project?” The longer we spent with that, the more apparent it became that we had to make a decision on those values that we hold very dear.
On Freddy Juarez
DJ: Part of the incident happened on-camera at the end of the game on the field. That was available right away. Then, there have been reports about what happened in the hallway afterward, after a presumed cooling-down period. I’m interested in this, because I’m interested in how you’re going to apply these values going forward to other players, other coaches, other employees. How much of the fact that the rage and all that continued on after that alleged cooling-off period? How much of that is a factor?
Well, I had a good meeting with Freddy Juarez, who’s the interim coach, and talked extensively about the values. Interesting enough, at the Kansas City game, he was confronted with that problem as the game ended, and the Kansas City coach had been jawboning the referees very, very hard, pleading and yelling for a yellow card against one of our players. Freddy walked and said, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just let the referees coach the game?” And the Kansas (City) coach came after him, and he had to retreat.
So I told Freddy, “I’m so grateful you had the presence to let him be out of control, but not you. Thank you.” That’s the message that we’d like to send to our organization. All of our coaches. Even though someone else is out of control, or you don’t agree with them, we always are in control. We are going to project civility, respect, and play with great sportsmanship. That’s what I told the team when we talked. I told them, “I don’t want you playing to the referees, trying to get irrational calls. Play the game. Let’s play the game. Let’s not try to win the game through a call. Let’s let the referees call the game.”
In nine years, I’ve never once complained to the league about a call. Never. The commissioner respected that, and (I) said, “I get as many going my way, as I get going against me.” It all comes out in the balance. It hurts when it goes against me in a game that’s close — I get it — but at the same time, it’s a long, long season. We expect to be here a long time.
Freddy’s a known commodity. He’s been at RSL ever since I’ve been there. The youth academy, an amazing coach, he worked at the Monarchs, an amazing coach. He was the strategy. He runs our strategy for the last three years. He’s the very soft-spoken, deliberate, and strategic coach.
We had the conversation, that as the interim coach, I really want to know that if we ask him to be the interim, you can show the civility that we expect from our coaches. I truly believe that is Freddy’s nature. He’s a great coach, so we have the luck of having a coach that’s grown up in our organization, he’s coached most of these young Real players that have come from the academy. They respect him, they’ve been with him nine years. He’s the right man at the right time.
On the decision-making process
DJ: RSL Soapbox had a story, and Brad Rock picked up on it and wrote a column in the Deseret News, about some of the feedback you’ve gotten, and 90% of the millennials wanted a new coach, 90% of the older fans wanted to keep Petke and give him another chance. Talk about the feedback you got and to what degree did that influence your decision?
The decision was 100 percent ours. I think it’s important if you’re an organization like Real that you listen. We took the time over the two weeks to listen. Absolutely, though, the decision did not come down from one group of the other. It wasn’t because we wanted millennials, the others. That’s not at all the fact. The fact was, we listened, and we were open to what people in our community were telling us. As we looked at it, it really came down to that they expected us to live our values. That was the end game. I think there should be a respect that an organization, even under stress, is willing to live their values.
On passion and retribution
DJ: You’ve got academy teams, you’ve got an NWSL team, you’ve got the Monarchs, and you’ve got RSL — which is the most visible — but anybody can lose their cool at any moment. You kind of set this up now, there’s the line that can’t be crossed. What happens now if a player blurts something out in a game when they’re mad because somebody kicked them or took a cheap shot at them? How do you handle this going forward for everybody else?
There will be passion. If we even daydreamed that we wanted to take the passion out of the game, that’s wrong. We have anger that requires retribution. That is wrong. You can be angry, you can be frustrated. But you can’t carry out retribution. From the players, I’ve said, if someone fouls you, great, we’ve got a foul, we’ve got a free shot. But it’s really, really stupid to back in with retribution and do that.
I’m not saying all players don’t do that, but we clearly are teaching, we don’t respect that. It probably will have consequences from the league, and us, if we see that your behavior has retribution as opposed to pure talent and playing the game with passion. We are teaching that. We teach it to the youth, the academy, we teach it at the Monarchs level, the women tend to play that way naturally, the men a little more play to the referee and the penalties. Sometimes, if you kick me, I’m going to kick you here in 10 minutes — which I think we saw in Kansas City. “I got a bloody lip, I came in with cleats.” Thank you for a red card. That’s really foolish. Retribution usually comes at a penalty to the team, so let’s get rid of it.
DJ: As you look at this going forward, how do you expect the team to react to this? Have you got any feedback from players?
No. We spoke with them two weeks ago, we had a direct conversation. I had a chance to talk to them about the values that I expected them to see on the field. I said, “Winning is interesting, but how we play the game is much more interesting.” And the civility.
We play with great skill. We are one of the greatest passing teams, ball control, and we look beautiful when we do that. We look foolish when we go in with stupid fouls, when we think we can elbow them in the back when nobody’s going to look, do foolish fouls. I said, let’s do away with that. Let’s be the team that plays clean, let the other guys do the foolish fouls. We’ll beat them on that. Control. Play with passion, but play with a sense of control, that you’re always in control of your emotions in a game, and I think we’ll get there.
That’s a message I’d like our players to hear, I’d like our staff to hear, and I’d like our fans to know that we believe in that. That doesn’t mean we’re not loud, doesn’t mean we’re not proud, doesn’t mean we’re not energetic. We just don’t cross the lines. That’s a line we’re putting in the sand, and we just don’t cross that one.
On the word Petke used
DJ: I hear you talking about the rage in that. You held a pride day, you’re aware of LGBTQ issues in the community. How much is the specific Spanish word that he used — how much did it factor in the decision, and how much of it was the rage on multiple occasions?
Obviously, the league has its policy, don’t cross the line. I’ve heard it now at every level within Major League Soccer. We are an open, embracing community. We embrace gay players. We embrace LGBTQ. We are embracing the whole community, be it Hispanic, be it any form of ethnicity.
That’s who RSL is, and that’s who MLS is. When you come to it, anything that anyone says that denigrates another race or sexual preference has no place in our game. Even if it’s a long-term taunt toward goalies, that’s been barred.
I so respect Gail Miller. Last Sunday, I opened up the Sunday (Salt Lake) Tribune and had the joy of reading she was voted the number one sports figure. For what? For standing up and encouraging our community to carry a higher value. I just love the lady for that.