I'm certainly not the first one to look at possible replacements for Steve Nicol since his departure two days ago. Several of our fellow Revs outlets (most of which are listed on our blogroll to the left) have already put some names out there, some good, some bad, and some baffling.
I'll get to that.
First, I want to address something that caught my attention two nights ago, when Stevie's departure was announced and Jonathan Kraft went on The DA Show to conduct a radio interview. Among other things (most of them frivolous that we either already knew or won't take seriously - an SSS in 12 months? Really? Like the sixth year in a row they've said that), Kraft announced that Mike Burns was going to lead the coaching search, and all hell broke loose on the #revs twitter hashtag.
I will be the first to admit that I was one of them. I, like most of us, naturally assumed that "VP of Player Personnel" put Burns in charge of scouting and acquisition operations, which would make him Public Enemy #1 in Foxboro to any fan who's been paying attention. A quick look at his bio on the website does little to dispel that myth:
"In his current role, Burns oversees the technical staff on all aspects of the club, including on-field performance, administration, player development and team operations, including player and staff personnel decisions. He also oversees the team's youth development program, which was established in 2008, and its integration into the first team."
So, he's basically the GM, right? Well, read closer. If you do, you'll realize something - that paragraph didn't tell any of us anything. It could mean that this man controls the destiny of literally every member of the soccer operations staff at Kraft soccer, current and future; or it could mean that he's the guy that signs off on stuff and that's about it.
I've recently learned that the reality places the truth somewhere in the middle. Brian's primary focus as VP of Player Personnel in the past few seasons has been negotiating contracts and signing players. I'm not going to apologize for some of the mistakes made there - for Christ's sake, we really couldn't afford $150,000 for Jeff Larentowicz? - but let's all remember, just because Burns writes the contracts doesn't mean he signs the checks. We all love a team headed up by probably the cheapest, most disconnected ownership in the league. He can only pay people the money he's given. Before we tar and feather the guy, let's give him a modicum of leeway.
The entire technical staff gets involved in scouting and such, but the reality is that Stevie identified his targets and the club signed players Stevie wanted. One of my tweets in particular looks foolish when you understand that fact:
Stevie went to Africa, and Stevie came home with Niouky. Now, keep in mind, that also means that Stevie went to Africa and came home with Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally, who haven't been great but certainly haven't been the worst acquisitions of all time. That means that Stevie is mostly responsible for bringing in Ilija Stolica and Marko Perovic, too. It means that many of the biggest player acquisition gaffes of the last half-decade have been on the illustrious manager's shoulders as well, but frankly, that's life in this game. Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest in the world, possibly of all time, and even he signed Eric Djemba-Djemba.
It does serve to illustrate, though, that the jury may still be out on Burns as a driving force in this front office. With a new manager may come a new setup and new ideas, and that could be a good thing for this team - I can't confirm how I know this because I need to keep my sources confidential, but I do know that two recent positive decisions in the personnel department were engineered by Burns. It was Mike who signed Diego Fagundez even though Stevie wasn't sold yet, and both Burns and Sunil Gulati (name drop) made the Benny Feilhaber signing happen despite Nicol's misgivings.
Did Diego really do too much to change team fortunes? Apart from creating buzz, optimism, and excitement, no. Was Benny worth his $300,000+ salary this season? Despite some really, really positive performances, many would say that's debatable. But were they among the best acquisitions the team made all year? Beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes. That's not a knock on Stevie at all, it's just the truth.
So before we write off next season as a disaster and start shouting epithets about 1998 and covering posts and all that, let's step back and see what Mike Burns can actually do, given the freedom to work. I still don't think the Revolution will be where they need to be without a bigger, more dedicated scouting department backing up this front office, but maybe this coaching search is Burns's chance to shine. At the very least, knowing now what we know, he deserves a chance to prove his competence, and I'm willing to give it to him.