A Clear Path for the Riverhounds to Become Perennial Contenders
August 3, 2017 | By Mike Sparks
During our most recent podcast (shameless plug, listen at MonGoals.com) we proposed coming up with ideas for how we can work together as fans and as a community to collectively elevate the Hounds to become an organization that Pittsburghers can be proud of. It seems likely that without outside influence the organization isn’t going to change and will continue to make the same mistakes that have lead to losing season after painful losing season.
Since releasing that show there’s been an outpouring of support, ideas, and conversations from fans, that frankly has been a bit overwhelming. It’s amazing to see the passion that exists and further illustrates that this is an issue that not only needs to be addressed (raise your hand if you’re tired of losing seasons) but is also something that we as fans and supporters are willing to do something about.
I’ve taken all of the messages and conversations, heard what many of you have had to say, and have come up with a solution that might surprise you. But we can’t just launch into it, first some background…
Since 2011 with the creation of USL Pro and subsequently the USL, the Hounds have been a mediocre team (that may be generous). During that time they’ve finished above 10th place only twice, with their best season seeing them reach 5th place in the East. That’s a lot of depressing seasons for fans.
During that time the team suffered through bankruptcy, opened Highmark Stadium, and saw a number of players come and go. One of the most consistent thing about the Hounds has been… their lack of consistency. Why have we been a revolving door of players, coaches, and philosophies each year?
Well, for starters we’ve had 4 different coaches over that time period. Each coach bringing with them their own system, own idea of what this club should be, and each needing their own unique players to help them fulfill that dream. 4 coaches in 6 years. That’s a LOT of turnover.
One fan I talked to made an apt comparison to the NFL “Right now, we’re the Cleveland Browns. They’re always bringing in a new coach (also 4 since 2011), wanting to implement their own system, with their own players. And when they don’t deliver right away, they’re out.”. I DON’T WANT TO BE THE CLEVELAND BROWNS!!!
For comparison, let’s look at one of the more successful Old Guard teams, Charleston Battery. They’ve had the same head coach since 2004, Mike Anhaeuser. In his first season in charge the team took 8th, and the following year they took 10th. In the 9 years since the team has finished outside of 5th ONLY ONCE. They are now a perennial top 5 team that keeps pace with the bigger clubs with deeper pockets like Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, and New York.
How’d they do it? By retaining a core group of players year-in and year-out, playing in a consistent system, and developing as a unit over time.
But what if the Battery would have fired Mike Anhaeuser after those first 2 years of not ending higher than 8th? Odds are that they wouldn’t have the consistency and culture of winning that they have today.
So we as fans need to ask ourselves, what do we want this team to be? Do we want to be like the Cleveland Browns with their high expectations and depressing results, or one more like the Charleston Battery with a longer term plan and consistent (although not immediate) results?
The obvious answer is “we want wins”, but that’s all we’ve wanted for the past 6 years and we see where it’s gotten us.
Collectively we need to be better than that. We need to want more.
So how as fans do we solve this? How do we help build an organization with players that we love to watch year-in-and-year-out, playing in a way that we can be proud of, and *gasp* have some winning seasons?
Two words: Dave Brandt.
(Technically that’s a name, but it sounded more dramatic that way.)
Now we’ve been critical of Coach at times on the show, and there’s no denying that he’s made decisions this season that he’d like to have back. But we need to keep in mind that this is his first FULL season in the USL. While the marketing hype of a new coach with a “win now” rhetoric is always going to play well to fans, it is likely setting unrealistic expectations for most managers to live up to.
Teams like the Battery (and the Steelers) had to take their lumps to become the organizations that they are today.
But what we can say is this: no one can deny that Coach has the right mentality. He works, and then he works, and then he works some more. Anyone that questions his passion needs to spend 30 seconds watching him on the sideline of each game.
It’s also clear that he’s learning from some of his mistakes. The old adage that “Offense wins games, defense wins championships” exists for a reason. In the Hounds past 7 games, 6 of them against current playoff teams, they have only lost twice averaging barely 1 goal against per game.
Do we need to figure out how to score? Of course. But you gotta start somewhere, why not where so many other Pittsburgh teams have found success: keeping points off the board for your opponent? It’s a trusted foundation from which you can build upon.
But let’s throw out a hypothetical: say the Hounds don’t make the playoffs this year. What do you think will happen?
Well for starters, pressure will be put on Coach by fans and the media (some of it is already happening). Beyond that, team owner Tuffy Shallenberger will start to micro-manage (multiple sources confirm this is what happened with Coach Steffens). Likely Brandt will get upset, think this mess isn’t worth his time, and will leave.
Now Tuffy is paying for wins, so I don’t begrudge him from being critical. But where does that leave us as an organization?
Simple: we continue to be the Cleveland Browns. A brand new coach with promises of “wins wins wins”, a new system with a whole new roster of players, and likely another year of mediocrity.
You know what I’d like to see instead? Another year for this team to continue to grow together, continue to figure each other out and learn from one another. Guys like Kay Banjo, Chevy Walsh, and Victor Souto back next season and developing alongside team veterans like Corey Hertzog, Kevin Kerr, and Danny Earls. There’s no denying there’s raw talent here, we as fans just need to give it some time to develop (it’s easy to forget, but we do play in a “developmental league”).
But the only way that happens, the only way we can start to develop some level of consistency is if Coach Brandt is back next season. He is the key that keeps all of this together. Considering how he’s adjusted in his first season in the USL, think bigger picture and imagine where he could be in 3, 4, 5 seasons from now.
So what am I proposing? No matter what happens the rest of the season, we should demand that Tuffy gives Coach the opportunity to come back next year and continue what he’s started. We as fans are tired of being the Cleveland Browns, tired of the revolving door, and we’re done rebuilding. In Brandt we have an architect who embodies the work ethic and culture that we respect and adore in our other sports teams, and whose resume proves that, if given time, he knows how to win.
Give him time to build and let’s see how high we can go.