Former Rochester Lancers coach Alex Perolli was fired at the airport and once coached two teams at once. (Photo by Deborah Bernstein)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
Beware the Ides of March, that ominous warning in Julius Caesar.
And we all know what transpired on that fateful March day some 2,000 years ago as the boss of Rome was murdered by his own senators.
In memory of that incident and to “celebrate” the day, let’s look at when coaches are fired and sometimes stabbed in the back, whether it is by their owner, general manager or by even their own players.
Here are one writer’s most memorable and sometimes forgettable coaching firings through the years:
How quickly they forget
Let’s start with something quite recent. On Feb. 23 (Thursday), Leicester City gave head coach Claudio Ranieri the unceremonious boot only nine months — 298 days, to be exact — after guiding the club to the English Premier League crown in the Cinderella story of the young century.
Ranieri was given the pink slip by the team’s Thai owners after six consecutive scoreless EPL matches and a UEFA Champions League loss. Despite 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the crown, Ranieri and Leicester defied expectations last May. However, City was a point about the relegation zone with 13 matches remaining in this season.
‘The board reluctantly feels that a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the club’s greatest interest,” a club statement said.
Added vice chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said: “This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since King Power took ownership of Leicester City. But we are duty-bound to put the club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.
“Claudio has brought outstanding qualities to his office. His skillful management, powers of motivation and measured approach have been reflective of the rich experience we always knew he would bring to Leicester City. His warmth, charm and charisma have helped transform perceptions of the Club and develop its profile on a global scale. We will forever be grateful to him for what he has helped us to achieve.
“It was never our expectation that the extraordinary feats of last season should be replicated this season. Indeed, survival in the Premier League was our first and only target at the start of the campaign. But we are now faced with a fight to reach that objective and feel a change is necessary to maximize the opportunity presented by the final 13 games.”
None of the Leicester players came to Ranieri’s defense.
City, as it turns out, is the lone English team still alive in the quarterfinals after its 2-0 home triumph over Sevilla Wednesday. It won the aggregate goals series, 3-2.
The reign of terror
That’s what they called Jesus Gil’s regime as president of Atletico Madrid (Spain). During his 16-year tenure as club owner, Gil hired and fired some 36 coaches, sometimes employing as many as four in a season. Antonio Briones wound up as the caretaker coach four times. Radomir Antic, and Luis Aragones each coached the team on three occasions. Some familiar names that directed Atletico during Gil’s reign included Arrigo Sacchi, Cesar Luis Menotti, Alfo Basile and Javier Clemente. Gil passed away at the age of 71 in 2004.
Even first place isn’t safe
In 2004, the LA Galaxy gave high successful coach Sigi Schmid the heave-ho, even though the team was in first place in the Western Conference with a 9-6-7 record and a league-best 34 points. Three of the losses were to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, who were in the Eastern Conference. The only time the teams would meet in the playoffs would have been in MLS Cup. But Galaxy general manager Doug Hamilton was not satisfied. The Galaxy was 3-3-4 in its last 10 games and he felt the team was not going in the right direction. “The reaction from the players and the staff was as you might expect,” he said. “We talked about the expectations this club places on players and how we are going to go forward.”
He’s in, he’s out, he’s in, he’s out
Hamburg coach Skoblar did not know if he was coming o0r going over a three-day span in Germany in November, 1987. After only 132 days as coach, Skoblar was fired by the club, which announced that Willie Reimann would take over. On Nov. 10, Skoblar was back in charge because Reinmann could not get out of his job as St. Pauli coach. A day later, Reimann was named coach was Skoblar was given his walking papers again.
The revolving door
Novara, bottom dwellers in Italy’s Serie A, sacked Emiliano Mondonico after only 37 days as coach and replaced him with his predecessor on March 6 of this year – Attilio Tesser. Despite a win at Inter Milan several days prior, Novara was 1-3-2 under Mondonico. Italian teams have been known to rehire fired manages because they are still paying them. What’s there to lose except games?
A low five
Ecuador had five coaches before its qualifying run for the 1982 competition began. Ecuadorian Hector Morales resigned, followed by Argentine Miguel Ignominielo, who also quit. Brazilian Otto Vieira then took over, but complained that the team was playing in too many matches in a short period. He was replaced by Ecuadorian Juan Araujo, the country’s national youth coach. Then, three weeks before the opening game, Eduaro Hohberg, an Argentine-born former Uruguayan international forward, assumed control. Not surprisingly, Ecuador did not qualify.
A low three
Cameroon went through three coaches within four months before the 1982 World Cup. Yugoslav Branko Zutic, who directed the team through qualifiers, had a disagreement with national association officials during the African Cup. He was replaced by West German Rudi Gutendorf, who had guided Australia in the 1974 World Cup. But Cameroon tied all three games in the African Cup, scoring only once. Gutendorf was replaced by Jean Vincent, a former French international forward who played in the 1958 World Cup, who directed the team in Spain.
Brazilian Jorge Silva Vieira qualified Iraq for the 1986 World Cup, but he was replaced on short notice in May, 1986, barely a month before the tournament’s start, by Evaristo Macedo, the national coach of Qatar, who was loaned to Iraq until the end of the World Cup.
Too close for comfort
Costa Rica employed four coaches over 13 months and still qualified for the 1990 World Cup. The Costa Ricans eventually wound up with Bora Milutinovic, who was named coach less than three months prior to the competition’s kickoff. It certainly worked because Bora directed the Ticos into the second round, the best showing by a CONCACAF country in Europe up to that time. Bora replaced Marvin Rodriguez, who directed the team into the cup. Rodriguez had replaced Antonio Moyana of Spain, who took over for Uruguayan Gustavo de Simone, who had been given a $125,000 buyout.
Undefeated and unemployed
Despite having an unbeaten record at 2-0-4, Mario Beretta was sacked as Como coach of the Italian Third Division in October 19997. The team was in fourth place at the team. Club president Enrico Prezosi wanted to the get promoted to the Second Division and he felt the team had little time to lose, though there were seven months remaining in the season. Obviously, Prezosi forgot that Rome and Como, for that matter, were not built in a day.
Was the third time the charm?
Former New York Cosmos star defender and Brazilian World Cup champion Carlos Alberto had a love-hate relationship with with Botafogo (Brazil). He loved to coach them (three times) and hated to be fired (three times).
Some coaches can’t last their first year, some their first pre-season. Take, well-traveled English coach Malcolm Allison, for instance. Five weeks prior to the kickoff of the 1978 North American Soccer League season, Allison had not signed a player for the expansion Memphis Rogues. So, it should not be surprising that his departure from the club was mutually agreed upon.
Fifteen and counting
No team in Major League Soccer has employed more coaches than the New York franchise, first as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the Red Bulls). The club has employed 15 coaches as it has begun its 22nd season. Can you name them all in chronological order? Let’s go: Eddie Firmani, Carlos Queiroz, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Alfonso Mondelo, Bora Milutinovic, Octavio Zambrano, Bob Bradley, Mo Johnston, Richie Williams, Bruce Arena, Juan Carlos Osorio (Richie Williams as an interim coach again), Hans Backe, Mike Petke and most recently, Jesse Marsch.
Fired at the airport
I covered the Rochester Lancers in the original NASL for six season and they seemingly changed coaches as fast as some people changed underwear. In their first season in 1967, they went through five – that’s right, five – coaches. They used 21 during a 14-year existence, which included a public relations director calling shots, and two owners running things on the sidelines on four different occasions.
My favorite coaching change came at Rochester International Airport before the team departed for a game in Kansas City in 1970. The Lancers were struggling and co-owner Charlie Schiano did not like the way things were going under coach Alex Perolli. The interaction between the men went like this:
Schiano: “You look sick.”
Perolli: “No I’m not.”
Schiano: “Well, you are sick. I’m taking your ticket and you’re staying home. I’m coaching the team tonight.”
The Lancers won, defeating Kansas City Spurs, 6-2, with Schiano in charge. Honest.
They hired Sal DeRosa. He brought in some new players and the Lancers won their first and only championship.
No Ray of hope
Speaking of the Lancers, former Cosmos coach Ray Klivecki was given the heave-ho by the management in May, 1980 as he was caught in a civil war between warring factions of the team ownership. The Rochester controlled a majority of the vote (66 percent) while the New York faction had pumped in the new money. The Rochester faction fired Klivecka, who was backed by the New York faction, only hours after his team defeated the archrival Toronto Blizzard, 3-1. “They told me I was the greatest coach the Rochester Lancers ever had,” Klivecka said at the time. “They said I was great for the community and great for the public relations aspect of the job. Then they said I was fired. At first I thought they were joking, but after a few seconds it sunk in.”
After he was dismissed as Dutch coach only several months prior to the 1990 World Cup, Thijs Libregts sued the Dutch Football Association, claiming he was unjustly let go. Libregts had been under fire from the Dutch media and his players, star midfielder Ruud Gullit in particular, for his conservation tactics. Needless to say, Libregts was not restated as Leo Beenhakker directed the Netherlands at Italia ’90.
OK, let’s top this column off on a positive and humorous note. Believe it or not, sometimes coaches actually have the last laugh. The aforementioned Perolli, who guided the San Antonio Thunder and Rochester Lancers in the original NASL, once coached two teams in the same city in the same league at the same time. Perolli managed to pull off this sly move in the National Soccer League of Canada in 1968 when he directed the White Eagles and the Greeks in Toronto.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Perolli told me years ago. “The presidents of the teams were friends of mine. I coached one team in the morning, the other in the afternoon.”
However, when these two clubs met on the playing field, Perolli had a unique solution so he would not have to make a difficult decision on which team bench on which to sit. He sat in the stands with the two team presidents. Fortunately for Perolli, the match ended in a draw.