We caught up with former Atlanta Silverbacks Head Coach Brian Haynes over two years after he was fired in the same season that he collected the NASL Coach of the Year award.
While Haynes may have been largely off the NASL radar, he has been busy since his time ended in Atlanta. We wanted to catch-up with the former Silverbacks coach, especially in light of the recent developments at his former team, and a budding controversy over the paucity of black coaches in American soccer.
You can read our full interview below, lightly edited for clarity and context.
Thanks for speaking with us Brian!
Brian Haynes: No problem.
Let’s start with the basics, it’s been a while since NASL fans have heard from you. What are you doing at the moment?
BH: Well, right now I’m in Colorado with a club called the Colorado Storm. One reason is that the director of the entire club is Dave Dir. He was the head coach from my first job as a professional soccer player, also in Colorado, with the Colorado Foxes. And then when Major League Soccer came around, I was also drafted by him with the Dallas Burn. So it’s kind of a—well it’s come full circle because I’m back and working with him.
And the other main reason is because my wife is from Colorado, and when the opportunity came about I called Dave and I said this is an opportunity I want to take, mostly because it’s back in Colorado. But also because it’s with someone that I know and I trust. It’s a good opportunity for me. The other thing about this is that it’s not just about having me back here, but about trying to expand my horizons and go back into the pros when the opportunity avails itself. So these two sides; one, I get to work with someone I trust, and two, I get to be back in the place where my wife is from and that makes he happy. And you know the saying goes, ‘happy wife, happy life’, and I would say it has been that way.
Tell us about the Colorado Storm.
BH: It’s a club that has about 7500 kids in four different parts, in Northridge, Castle Rock, Fort Collins, and here in Centennial. Like I said, it’s four different parts, but it’s one club. Really big, and I’m the boys’ regional director, I have to bring all the regions together to be a force in Colorado. Being as big as we are, it’s a little bit of work, but it’s not something I can’t handle.
We were just awarded as a developmental academy for the ages that I’m the director for, which is 12’s, 13’s, and 14’s. It’s a lot of fun.
You said that you have your ear to the ground with regard to pro opportunities. What kind of opportunities are you looking for?
BH: Well, the thing about it is this. I’m finally in a place right now where I can actually say ‘no’ to some opportunities. Because I would be lying to you if I said that I hadn’t had calls or an opportunity showed up in different places where I’ve said “Thanks but no”, because it would mean uprooting my family for an opportunity that gives me less than I’m getting here. So from that standpoint I’ve said ‘no’ to those things. At the same time, I’ve said ‘no’, not with a blatant ‘no’, but “No, but if something else comes in your direction that is good for me and my family, I would consider it.” So it’s not like I’ve been rude to anyone and said “No, I don’t want that job”, but it’s been me saying “No, but look I’ll keep you guys in mind.”
For example, I’ve been offered a job in Trinidad. My country, where I’m from, the places I grew up, it’s great, it’s a professional team, it’s a head coaching job. But it’s not paying me as much as I’m earning here. For me to uproot my family, even though it’s [i]home[/i], my home in Trinidad, which I would love to—I have to consider my family. Both my kids are now, 16, my son is almost 17, and my daughter is already 19, she just turned 19 a few days ago. She’s in college, and my son is getting ready for college. When they go, my wife has already given me the go, she’s said “When both of them are in college, we’ll go anywhere.” So I have to consider those things, so I’ve turned down any opportunities in the NASL, USL, or even as an MLS assistant coach. These things have been offered to me, but I’ve turned them down for the specific reason of family.
It sounds like we’re getting close to the point where we might see you make a return.
BH: Yes, and I’m getting excited about it. But at the same time, I’m patient. I’m not like, “Oh my god, it’s going to happen.” I’m patiently waiting. I’m ready to take that opportunity when it comes.
Let’s go back to your time as Head Coach for the Atlanta Silverbacks. Lets just take the season itself to start. Looking back two years, with the benefit of hindsight, what are your memories of the way your team played?
BH: My memories were, first, when I took the job, of becoming the head coach because I was the assistant to Eric Wynalda the year before, and we made a little run at the end of the year. We couldn’t make the playoffs, but we went from dead last to second last. I remember the players in the locker room at the end of the season [i]not[/i] being disappointed because it didn’t feel as though we had the opportunity to make a run from the start because I didn’t come in from the start. And when Eric Wynalda took the job, the team also wasn’t close to being in first place. The thing about it was, what the players said to me was “Man coach, if we had more time, more games, we would’ve done something.”
All I said to them was “Look, if we have the opportunity to do this again next year, I’m going to remind you of those words.” At the beginning of the next year, I brought out three newspaper articles that showed where they predicted us to be. Last, dead last, and they don’t have a chance. I said to the guys, “This is what the people are saying about you guys. We haven’t kicked a ball yet, we haven’t played a game. It’s not going to be on me, it’s going to be on you guys to take what you said last season, that if you had the opportunity, you would make a run.” We had the opportunity, nine games for us to prove that we’re good enough to be up there or not. That’s what I said to them. Forget about the entire season. Make the championship game. Nine games and you can prove all your haters wrong.
And they pulled it off…
BH: Now, my view was, I never ever told them about what our budget was. That was not something I concerned myself with. I wasn’t being paid what some other coaches were being paid—it didn’t matter to me. What I had was an opportunity in front of me, and what I said was that look, I’m going to take what I got. I’d say, I’m going to take this lemon and make it into lemonade. I really didn’t have many high paid players. But I did have a lot of players with heart. What I wanted to do was fuel them with the passion to play this game that they love to the best of their ability. I never ever asked for anything else. Give me your best and that’s all I can ask for.
So we went into it, and we made the run, and I remember the last game being in Minnesota where we had to win by four goals and have a tie by Carolina and we’d win the spring season. I said to the guys, “We’re going to go out there and try to win to the best that we can do. However if we fall short of the four goals, or whatever, and we win the game, I will be forever thankful to you guys for giving me that effort.” We won three to zero, and I remember us going into the locker room, and people were wondering about the other game. I told them “I don’t care what happens in San Antonio. You guys have given me everything I could’ve asked for. You guys have given me your best, that was your best tonight and I’m thankful for it.” And we were fortunate in the end that Carolina lost the game and we won the spring season.
What happened in the fall, when your team really seemed to lose their form?
BH: Well, after that, we were told that we were going to host the championship. All I did was that I went to the management and said “Look, these guys have done this, can we give them something to play for?” Because we found out in the second part of the season that there was one player on New York’s team that was making all of our entire team’s budget. We found out. I’m not being mean, it’s just honest. It was tough for my boys. I wanted to give these guys something. The bonus structure was what it was. All these guys had to play for in the second half of the season was the final, and it was difficult to motivate them. I tell my kids all the time, if you’re an idiot and you get money, you become a bigger idiot. If you’re a good person and you get money, you become a better person. The thing with my players is that they didn’t have much and I was trying to get more for them, and it didn’t work.
In the final, when we lost the game, one to zero, I felt for these players. For me, whatever. But for the players, I know they were trying their best. And it just so happens that the guy who was making our entire team’s salary…
…scored the winning goal…
BH: …yes. And look, I’ll never blame Joe Nasco for that. The way the ball was hit, I mean, full credit to Senna, full credit to him. New York was the better team. We had a couple of chances that could’ve gone in, but I don’t like to go back and say coulda, woulda, shoulda. New York was the better team on the night, they deserved to win, but I was proud of my boys. But I felt something inside of me. I thought, “Give me one more chance at this thing.” You know, you don’t need to give me a million dollars, but give me a little bit more to try and make this happen for these guys. I was excited because I knew what could happen.
Instead, they went in a different direction entirely. Tell us about what it was like to be dismissed the same year you won the Coach of the Year award?
BH: The team, and the management I would say, went in another direction. It surprised me. It hurt me, yes. But I remember now, getting a tweet after that happened, and it was a picture of a heartbeat. You could see the line going up and down, and the caption said “If there are no ups and downs in your life, it means you’re dead.” And that was something that I used. I told my wife that I’d never forget this caption. Because this was a down in my life. But when you look at the heartbeat, the up is so much bigger than the down. I said to my wife that my up is coming, and when it comes, everybody will know about it. I’m alive. This is just a part of life and I’m going to have to deal with it.
So trace the line from leaving Atlanta to ending up in Colorado again.
BH: It took a while for me to stop ‘drinking poison and expecting someone else to die’. I didn’t want to forgive anybody, I hated everybody, I hated this game and what it did to me. That took some time. Once I came out of that, I realized that everybody involved, the owner, the technical director, it didn’t matter to me as much. I was alive and I wasn’t going to mix friendship with business. This was business, it wasn’t about friendship. I gave myself the time to grieve a bit, but I didn’t put down my tools and say I’d never use them again. No, I went to Texas, where I had a relationship with a soccer academy there, they needed an academy coach and I told them, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I wanted to keep my tools sharp. I’d plan my sessions just like a professional coach would, I just kept doing the same things and waiting for my opportunity.
Then what happened was that my brother passed away, in Trinidad. And I had gotten an email before from the Colorado Storm telling me that they’d love to have me. When I went to Trinidad for my brother’s funeral, that was the thing that changed my view. Because I thought about family. I thought, “I’ve taken my wife from Colorado for more than thirteen years”. The least I could do is take her back home. When I called her, I could hear the spark in her voice, I could hear her grin from ear to ear because we were going back to her family. That made it official for me.
We’re coming full circle in this interview, with a return to the pro ranks at some point in the future.
BH: Just recently my wife said to me, “Get an agent”. I didn’t have one after the whole fiasco. And Ron Waxman has been really helpful in helping me out with all that stuff. But I know she’s serious about this, serious about what she’s said, so I think it’s all going to be a lot sooner rather than later and I’m a excited about that.
Let’s break away from your story and talk about some of the things have been happening since you left the NASL. Obviously the season after you left Atlanta did not go as planned. And of course, just a few weeks ago, we learned that the Silverbacks would be disbanded. what’s your feeling about this recent history?
BH: Well, I think they tried to do something that was a bit ridiculous, but I felt, more power to you, more power to the organization, I hope it works. But it didn’t. I can imagine what would happen if I said that I wanted to fly in on Thursday from Houston for the games and then fly back out. It was Eric Wynalda trying to do something that hadn’t been done before. When it didn’t work, the sadness I had was for the players, because I felt they were dealt with unfairly. They weren’t given what they should’ve been given. I know those guys tried their best. When it didn’t work, I was hoping that something would work out for them.
But after that, and the team was taken over by the league, and that’s the worst situation to be in. Because you’re hoping that things will work out. And then with Gary Smith, great coach, great man, I felt sorry for him, because now he’s faced with that task. Not only was there not much money for us as a club, but now you have to work with the budget from the league. Difficult situation. It’s like telling him, “Here’s a six-pack of beer, make this champagne.” And it worked for a while, but it couldn’t run anymore.
I always feel for players and coaches when that kind of stuff happens. As I tweeted out, I was really sad that the Silverbacks won’t be around, because that’s where I got my first opportunity to coach. But it’s not there anymore. It’s really sad. When I saw those things happen, I didn’t know what to expect to happen next, but when I saw what happened these past couple weeks, I’ve sent texts and emails extending my sympathies. With the MLS team coming to town, it didn’t help the situation. They didn’t have any sympathy. They didn’t want to get together, or anything.
— Brian Haynes (@brianwayn) January 12, 2016
Having coached in the NASL, how do you view the course and the growth of the league in these past few years? The level of play and professionalism just seems so much higher.
BH: There are no blowouts. There’s no team beating the other teams six or seven to zero. Every game is competitive. That’s the challenge of coaching, I love that kind of challenge. And it’s fun to watch. It’s much more viewable now.
I wanted to get you to talk about another issue, a bigger issue that has come up recently—that of black coaches in American soccer…
BH: Ahhh yes…
…There’s only one black head coach in the top three tiers of professional soccer, Patrick Viera of NYCFC…
BH: … and he’s not American.
Well yeah, exactly. That’s what makes it even more awkward. So I was hoping to hear your thoughts on this broader issue.
BH: I really and truly think somebody has to be brave. When I say ‘somebody’, I’m mainly talking about in MLS, and I’m talking about an American. Or someone who has been in the league. A black coach, a coach of color who says “I am going to be brave.” I know all of these coaches who are not coaches of color who hire as assistants people that they know as friends, people who are close to them. When I took the job in Atlanta, I wanted to work with someone who I trust, someone who I know I can depend on. It doesn’t matter if they’re white, black, green, or whatever. But we need coaches of color to make sure to bring along with them other qualified coaches of color to do the job with them. Take that chance and don’t be afraid to do it.
Now, I know it’s also going to take some specifics like someone saying “You need to interview more black coaches for jobs.” For example, a coach gets a job in Ottawa, who I know, I know Paul Daglish, but I was never called about the job. Do you see what I’m saying? Tony Meola gets a job in Jacksonville. Good guy and I wish the best for him. I was never called about the job. Now, I know Ricky Hill. I know him really well. I would like to work with him someday because I know he has played and understands the game at the highest level. He shouldn’t be in America without a job in soccer. That’s a waste. Eddie Pope, another guy I know. He should be involved. I don’t know if they don’t want jobs in the NASL or USL or not. But there are a lot of guys who are ready, they have their license and they’re ready to coach. I remember a time when I was going to a convention and speaking with the Black Soccer Coaches of America, and saying “There are not enough black coaches who have their license.” That’s not the case anymore. I really think that black coaches need to speak up and be clear that we want these jobs, and people should be asking through social media, “Why is this happening?”
Would you support something like the NFL’s Rooney Rule, where you must interview one coach of color for every vacancy?
BH: I think that should happen. Every time there’s a job. Make it public, let’s see who you’re interviewing. When a coach is hired, you know, I’m happy for them, do I want their job, no I don’t want their job. But I’d like to be interviewed. I want to be in the conversation, yeah.
Well, that’s all we had. Thanks so much for speaking with us!
BH: Alright, thanks!
Thanks again to Brian Haynes for his time and answers! You can follow the 2013 NASL Coach of the Year at @brianwayn.
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