Arnie Ramirez (right) and former Mexican national coach Juan Carlos Osorio. (Photo courtesy of Arnie Ramirez)
By Michael Lewis
It happens like clockwork every 20 years.
News emanates from the LIU Brooklyn athletic program that just boggles the mind.
On Saturday, Nov. 7, 1998, Arnie Ramirez, the winningest coach in school history, admitted he was a bit surprised when he picked up the New York Daily News that day and discovered he had been fired. He read about his dismissal in the transactions column.
Honest. I should know. I wrote about it.
More on that in a minute.
Fast forward two decades to Oct. 3, 2018 when, in a stunning and earth-shattering announcement when university officials announced that all of its athletic programs will be unified into a single NCAA Division I program at the start of the 2019 academic year next September.
“Long Island University is a nationally recognized teaching and research institution,” LIU president Kimberly R. Cline said in a statement. “We understand the importance of athletics in enhancing our brand nationwide by unifying our university community and our 200,000 alumni around the world. Our student-athletes competing at the highest-level plays a major role in this. We are extremely pleased that the NCAA has embraced this vision for our university’s future.”
Translated: the storied soccer program won’t be around after this season. It will be merged with the LIU Post soccer program and will call the Brookville, N.Y. on the north shore of Long Island its new home next fall. Details on how they are going to merge Brooklyn’s Division I program with Post’s Division II team. has yet to be finalized. But there probably will be some bumpy roads ahead.
The school that gave us several high-profile coaches who made an impact through the years, including Gary Rosenthal, National Soccer Hall of Famer Joe Machnik, former Cosmos head coach Ray Klivecka, Dieter Ficken, who went on to direct the Columbia University men’s team, and Ramirez, who was the technical director of the Puerto Rican national team during qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. T.J. Kostecky is the current men’s head coach.
LIU Brooklyn has produced some damn good players as well. The best known is probably Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese, a scoring terror in school and then with the Long Island Rough Riders, MetroStars (now the Red Bulls), New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes on this side of the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side as well (he also starred with the Venezuelan national team).
The Blackbirds’ list of outstanding players can go on and on with the like of Jorge Acosta, Roger Chavez, Walter Bustamente, Mickey Kydes, Maicol Antelo, Richard Chinapoo, who performed for the Trinidad & Tobago national team, Nick Megaloudis, Emmett Trinity, John Stavros and John Grasser, among others. Most, if not all, had professional soccer careers.
“We had terrible facilities, we even had to line the field ourselves, but we loved what we did,” Ramirez said. “Many immigrant players came from the city, graduated and became successful in their professions. Soccer coaches, accountants, physician assistants, medical doctors, financial experts, teachers. You were a very instrumental part of our success. In the good times and in the not so good times [they] were always there.”
Ramirez and former LIU players won’t take the end of the Brooklyn program lying down. They plan to wear black in solidarity and in protest of the merger at the men’s alumni game Sunday, Oct. 14 at 10 a.m.
“We should all wear black in protest of what the administration has done to move the teams to another university which we don’t have any love for,” Ramirez wrote on his Facebook page.
And about what transpired two decades ago.
Ramirez said he would be allowed to resign after 20 years at the helm of the Division I program. Before he left for Savarese’s wedding the next weekend in Caracas, Ramirez learned otherwise.
“I’ve weathered many storms,” he was quoted by me in my Daily News soccer column Nov. 10, 1998. He insisted he had worked out an agreement with LIU provost Gale Stevens-Haynes in which he would resign after the wedding.
“This storm has been too difficult to weather,” he told me at the time. … I’m very sad that I am leaving, and relieved.”
So, how did this happen?
Here’s what transpired between then athletic director John Suarez and Ramirez, according to Ramirez.
“A day after the season was over on Thursday morning [Nov. 5] he called me that he wanted to meet with me. I figured I’d talked about next year’s schedule. He said, ‘You and I — we don’t get along. We have different philosophies. I want you to resign.” I told him that I wouldn’t resign. He said that I was fired.”
Ramirez eventually went to Stevens-Haynes and agreed that he would resign after the wedding. Then came the news in the transaction column, which was originated by the Associated Press.
Something wasn’t kosher there. Perhaps order to put the firing on AP came from a different source. Perhaps it was Suarez. Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking at the time.
The Blackbirds had only one winning season in the 1990s up to that point — the 1992 side that finished with a 13-6 as Savarese earned All-America honors as a lethal striker. The team captured the Northeast Conference crown in 1997 with a 10-10 mark but lost an NCAA Division I play-in match to Boston University. In 1998, the Blackbirds slumped to 1-7-1 in the conference and 5-13-1 overall.
“We had six, seven starters out,” Ramirez told me at the time. “We were never able to play with a full team. … I had some problems with some of the players. They didn’t want to work hard.”
Then 54, Ramirez was the dean of area college soccer coaches at the time. He had guided the Blackbirds to a 214-145-25 record, which included four NCAA Division I tournament teams. The 1982 team, which finished 20-1-2, reached the quarterfinals and the 1986 squad, which was 15-1-3, wound up as the third-ranked team in the nation.
Ramirez said that he and Suarez did not get along. At the time, Suarez did not comment on the firing as a school spokesman said it was against university policy to discuss personnel matters.
“We never hit it off,” Ramirez said. “It was like a bad marriage. We had different philosophies on the way the game should be played. … He said that I had a dirty team and that there was no discipline. We’re not a dirty team.”
As of next fall, there won’t be an LIU men’s soccer team that will call Brooklyn home.
What a shame.