By Michael Lewis
If there is anything I have learned writing about the beautiful game all these years, is that if there is some sort of unusual news today, it probably has happened somewhere before.
When Ron Jans stepped down as head coach of FC Cincinnati on Tuesday after he reportedly uttered a racial slur in front of his second-year expansion team.
Jans became the first Major League Soccer coach to depart his team prior to the season.
But it wasn’t the first time it has happened in U.S. Soccer.
In fact, according to my research, it was the third time.
In November 1977, the Memphis Rogues, who were added as an expansion team for the 1978 North American Soccer League season, hired Englishman Malcolm Allison as their first head coach.
By then, the much-traveled 50-year-old coach had directed Bath City, Plymouth Argyle, Manchester City and Crystal Palace in England and Galatasaray in Turkey.
When Allison decided to coach in the USA, an English tabloid headline read:
Allison deserts England for Elvis Country
Needless to say, the Rogues made a big deal about it one of the most controversial and flamboyant coaches back in the day.
“Two months I hadn’t heard of Malcolm Allison,” Rogues president Bill Marcum said at the time. “But we set out to get a top coach and we have.”
Marcum had just returned from a 10-day trip to England to screen coaching candidates.
Allison directed Manchester City, as an assistant or a head man from 1965-71 as the team won two First Division titles. In 1970, the club captured the European Cup Winners Cup.
According to the Vancouver Province, Allison might be the best coach in the game one day and the wildest one in a match on another. In a TV interview what made think he could get English players to join him with Memphis.
“British players will go anywhere to be coaches by me,” he said. “They know I’m brilliant.”
Maybe, maybe not.
Less than three months later on Feb. 21, Allison was out of a job as he left the Rogues to reportedly take a coaching job in Saudi Arabia. He had signed but two players with the season opener only weeks away.
“Thing were not working out well,” Marcum said. “We found it difficult to communicate with him about the players. He went almost a week without returning our phone calls.”
Marcum told the Tampa Bay Times: “Let’s such say he did a few things that seemed to be irresponsible. I’m thinking, ‘Gosh almighty, is it going to be this way for two years?’ ”
That was length of the contract that Allison signed, but that became moot.
“He wanted out and we wanted him out,” Marcum told the Times.
Almost nine years prior, a similar situation occurred with Andre Nagy and the Rochester Lancers.
With a handful of games remaining in the 1968 American Soccer League season, the Lancers were looking ahead, way ahead to 1969. On Nov. 7, they announced that they had hired Nagy for the 1969 season. Howard was signed as an assistant coach and would run the Lancers’ training sessions for the rest of the campaign. Charlie Schiano, the GM, took over as coach for the second time in as many seasons.
“The acquisition of Mr. Nagy for next year is expected to give the Lancers and Rochester soccer fans a high caliber of professional soccer,” club president Pat Dinolfo said.
Nagy found this job only six weeks on Nov. 9, after the Detroit Cougars went out of business after the end of the 1968 NASL season. It was his third team in as many months.
He ventured to Rochester to watch the team host Hartford on Dec. 1. One of his first responsibilities was to go on a scouting trip for new players in Europe and South America.
Perhaps Nagy’s nomadic tendencies caught up to him or perhaps he discovered a better job because he reportedly found a job to coach a team in Mexico before he guided the Lancers in a game, exhibition or regular season.
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Nagy, incidentally, was a character and a half and 1968 turned out to be an, ahem, interesting year for him.
Born Andrej Prean Nagy in Vulcan, Hungary on Sept. 8, 1923, the new coach became a nomad, having left his native country when the Russians invaded in 1944. “I never stay in one country long enough,” he was quoted by the Baltimore Sun in 1968. “I think I have lived in 12 countries, maybe more.”
Nagy, then 44, was a disciplinarian and a demanding head coach. Prior to the 1968 NASL season, he had his players run 18 110-yard sprints every morning at the Tangerine Bowl. “Andre turns the players inside out,” Whips team physician Dr. R. Wilson Geldner told the Orlando Sentinel on March 17, 1968.
During that season, Nagy implemented training attitudes that surprised many observers. He once had the Whips train an hour before one exhibition game and 90 minutes after another. According to the Sun, there were no water breaks — the newspaper called it coke (soft drink) breaks — “only running, running and more running.”
“He treats us like children,” one player told the newspaper. “There are somethings we are old enough to know for ourselves.”
Nagy felt he was always right, even when he was wrong.
Not surprisingly, Nagy wasn’t afraid to speak his mind — to his players and to the media; the latter helped lead to his downfall. Early in the season Nagy complained about Victorio Casa, a one-armed player from Argentina being too individualistic and considered benching the team’s playmaker.
“He is so much of a dribble boy,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “I don’t know whether he is useful or not. He gives me much trouble. I don’t know that he will play. He doesn’t organize as well as I thought he could. He disorganizes the team by playing alone. If he does play, he must play different.”
Nagy spoke fluent English, German, French, Italian, Hungarian and some Spanish, although he apparently did not know enough of the latter to communicate with his Whip players from south of the Rio Grande, according to Chuck Cascio’s 1975 book, Soccer USA.
As late as July 12, the Sun was touting Nagy as a coach of the year candidate, but not everyone necessarily had similar feelings because he seemed to feud with many team personnel. General manager Peter Haley suspended Nagy prior to a match as public relations director Charlie Brotman and the team dentist directed the team. “Brotman set up pennies to try to show the players strategy, but it just didn’t work all that well,” Washington Post writer Ken Denlinger told Cascio.
(An interesting note about Brotman, a well-known figure in sports public relations in the nation’s capital for decades: he was the official announcers for 16 presidential inauguration parades from 1957 to 2013 — from Eisenhower to Obama — before he was fired by Donald Trump before his inauguration in 2017).
Nagy got on the bad side on Haley one time too many and on Aug. 5 as Haley lowered the boom, sacking his coach. After a 2-1 loss to the Boston Beacons that knocked Washington out of the Atlantic Division lead, the two men got into a heated shouting match in front of the players as Haley criticized Nagy’s handling of the team.
To which Nagy later replied: “His knowledge of soccer has not arrived even to my ankle.”
It did not take Nagy very long to find employment 11 days later on Aug. 16, he hooked up with the Detroit Cougars after Len Julians resigned. Seven hours after he agreed to take over the reins, Nagy’s new squad lost at home to the Cleveland Stokers, 4-1. “I am no miracle man,” Nagy said in a press conference earlier that day. “It will take a while, two weeks, a month or longer. There are many, many things I have to learn about this team.”
Nagy’s tenure in Detroit did not last long as the Cougars (6-21-4), citing $1 million over two years in losses (a considerable amount at the time), became the first team to drop out of the NASL on Sept. 23.