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RSL Soapbox roundtable: Mike Petke’s termination

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Our staff weigh in with their opinions on the firing of Mike Petke 

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

On Sunday evening, August 11th, Real Salt Lake announced that they had terminated the contract of head coach Mike Petke. It had been a clear possibility for several weeks after he was suspended and fined for use of a homophobic slur against a referee in a Leagues Cup game on 7/24/19, but the news still came as a surprise. Our staff responds to the club’s decision to fire Petke:

Lucas Muller

Mike Petke, by his own admission, is an emotional guy. He’s had several suspensions over his two and a half years with Real Salt Lake, but this was the worst by a long shot. Terminating his contract was 100% the right thing for the club to do. I honestly did not think he would be fired. If he had stayed on, after having serviced a suspension and massive fine, most would’ve moved on. But I think that would have tarnished RSL’s reputation further. I really don’t know if Petke knew the word he was using was a homophobic slur, but it’s also hard for me to imagine in a league that’s done so much work to stamp out it’s use, that he was unaware of the connotation. Regardless, using extreme profanity over a several minute period goes beyond a lapse in judgement. It was vile and vindictive behavior over a number of minutes. There are very few of us who would keep our jobs after such an outburst, especially given that Petke had displayed similar, though not at extreme, behavior in the past.

My hope for Mike is he gets some healing. I think anger like that comes from a place of hurt, and we as people often wound from a place of woundedness. That hope, in part, is why I felt Petke’s statement on Monday to be so disheartening. It wasn’t an apology, but a statement that lacked any real ownership. He painted himself in a light of a person who was wronged. It seems obvious that he’s gearing up for a legal fight for more money, and after preaching accountability and remorse over past actions, this shows that he has no interest in taking on responsibility in any sense of the word.

Cindy Lara

I’m not one who wants to see someone lose their job, but in this case, the club made the right move. I know people were calling for the termination to be done sooner. I think it had to be a process, and in due time, it was coming. Of course, there’s never any justification for someone using a homophobic slur, and for Mike Petke to use such a slur on the pitch is inexcusable and disappointing.

While I don’t believe this makes Petke a terrible man, there are consequences for our actions. Truth is, human nature causes us to do and say things we regret. I sure hope Petke owns up to this and apologizes.

Randal Serr

In what was a really difficult situation, Real Salt Lake did the right thing by terminating Mike Petke’s contract. It was not just an isolated incident not was it insignificant. Repeatedly yelling obscenities and what is understood to be a slur in many countries without the state of mind to know when to stop is something that a respectable organization will not stand for. Gail Miller set the bar in Utah sports in 2019 for how an organization in Utah should respond to its employees abusing others. If RSL did not let Petke go, they would be setting a much lower standard for themselves and it would not reflect well. Are a lot of fans upset? Yes. But they had to do what they had to do. What I really hope is that in the long-term, RSL has a head coach that is anchored in a vision, articulate, and confident. As part of their vision, I want them to unite the dedicated fan base and to grow the fan base. I want a consistently sold out stadium again. I want that confidence and vision to demand respect. When the coach speaks publicly and privately, I want them to be candid and explain what they think, win or lose. Most of all, I want a head coach that gets consistent performances out of the team. We have not had consistency for at least four years and it is hard to know which team will show up week to week. Freddy Juarez may very well be the guy and he deserves a chance to prove if he is the guy. If he’s not, I hope the job description includes what I’ve listed.

Ian Knighton

I look at this situation in multiple stages.

The first stage was the night of the match. In the player ratings for that match, I mentioned that I could tell the language Mike was using was not great. While I’m not a lip reader to that level, I could see a lot of mouth shapes that were pretty clear. I felt that he probably lost his cool, but I didn’t see it going much past that.

The second stage was the night it came out what he said in that tirade. At that point, I realized that this was not a good situation. The coach I supported so strongly had taken a turn that I could not in any way support. Around that time, the club’s punishment came down and, while I felt it was lenient, it seemed relatively adequate.

Third stage was when the story came out about Mike continuing to harass the referee after the match. At this point, I knew that I would struggle to be happy with any other outcome. As a referee who has been abused and badgered in all sorts of ways, very rarely does it leave the field or continue after the match. To continue after the match and after the field has been cleared shows to me a level of instability and a lack of compassion that I can not support.

Mike was and is a great coach and I truly believe this was a mistake. I don’t believe that he harbors any bigotry. However, he did go out of his way to use derogatory comments that have no place in this sport. He then went well beyond that. As a professional coach, there’s no excuse. I really do believe that he will make the best of it, but I don’t think this is something that the FO could allow him to work on here.

I think Freddy has proven so far that he is up to the task and I hope he can continue this momentum through the rest of the season and (hopefully) the playoffs.

Kreg Asay

The sad part for me is that Dell Loy Hansen, and anyone else he consulted on this; waited so long to act. If it was “clear and obvious” (to use VAR’s favorite terminology), there was no need to drag it out and make it seem like Mike Petke had a chance of returning; the decision should have been made a week or more ago.

But what’s done is done. What the whole incident has sadly revealed is the worst rift we have ever experienced in the fan base. Some applaud the decision for supporting the “don’t cross the line” theme constantly repeated by MLS, and on the other side many are threatening to never attend another game while DLH owns the team. For my part, I hope we can save the arguments and debate for the post-season and support the players when they now need really us.

Look at the picture as it currently stands. We are one win (and a handful of good results) from being 2nd place in the west! However, we are equally one loss (and a handful of bad results) from being out of the playoffs. There are more home games than away, so we have a great chance to make the playoffs, and even secure a home playoff match - but the players need the support of everyone to make it happen. If nothing else, cheer for Nick Rimando in his final year!

Can we set aside our anger for the last few months and just support the team?

Andy Graff

I remember someone writing after Petke’s incident that “he doesn’t speak for the team or the players!” Yes, he does. That’s exactly what he does. Allowing this type of behavior to slide is how racism and homophobia are perpetuated.

I honestly don’t think Petke is a homophobe. But the thing that bothers me most about this whole situation is that (as of right now while I write this) he has not once raised his hand and said “This is on me. I did this terrible thing. I’m sorry. What I did was disgusting. No one should say the things I said or treat another human the way I treated that ref.” No apology. No ownership. No condemning his loss of control. No telling fans, players, or youth that this just isn’t the way a decent person acts.

As coach, he is the figurehead of the team. What he says and what he does have weight and influence. It matters.

I’m a huge fan of second chances—hell: third, fourth, fifth. Mistakes make us better people. But if you lack the courage or fortitude to raise your hand and admit your mistake...

I believe that this was the right move. I don’t hate the guy. I’m just sad that it has become what it is.

Now what? I think RSL needs a top-notch coach. Look at Tata, Bradley, Almeyda. The coaching bar has been set much higher in MLS and RSL needs to keep pace. I would love to see a top CONMEBOL or CONCACAF coach hired. Like San Jose did with Almeyda.