Bob Bradley on the most gratifying thing as a coach: “Seeing a group come together, seeing a group learn how to play at a high level, compete unselfishly and play as a team, and to know how to give everything they have to compete as a group while on the field. When you have that, then that’s a nice thing to see.” (Photo courtesy of MLS)
During his second year as MetroStars coach, Bob Bradley answered 12 questions posted by then BigAppleSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis about his career. This is a repost of a story that appeared on July 16, 2004. Of course, Bradley, who went onto to direct Chivas USA and the U.S. men’s national team, is the head man at the Los Angeles Football Club.
With LAFC playing Tigres UANL in the Concacaf Champions League final Tuesday night, we thought this would be a good story to feature about Bradley and help explain why he has been so successful for club and country.
By Michael Lewis
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If the MetroStars defeat the Chicago Fire on Saturday, Bob Bradley will become the first MLS coach to reach 100 wins.
But it’s no big deal to the 46-year-old Bradley, who probably won’t celebrate the milestone.
Instead of hounding the Metros coach about the win, BigAppleSoccer.com decided to talk to Bradley about his experiences and background leading up to this moment.
Bradley took time out to answer these questions prior to a recent MetroStars game at Giants Stadium.
Presenting our first installment of 12 questions, which will become a regular coaching feature.
1. How and why did you get started in coaching?
There weren’t good opportunities to play. In that regard I wasn’t a great player and the fact that the NASL had started to come down and the difficulty of Americans playing. My best position was a forward and it was impossible for American forwards to have opportunities. Again, I was someone who worked hard and probably understood how to play and made the most of my ability, but certainly not a great player. I had a chance to go back to grad school at Ohio University, getting my masters degree in sports administration and coach the team. I was 22 and the opportunity to be a head coach and try out some of the ideas I had to train the team and how the game should be played, it was a great experience. Obviously, the program was not big time, otherwise they wouldn’t be hiring a 22-year-old in grad school to coach their team.
2. Do you remember much or anything about your first game there or first season?
What I remember is just that Ohio University has a very large international student population. So, the experiences that year were around dealing with players from different places. I think we had a center forward from Lebanon. We had some players from Iran, maybe Iraq. I had an Algerian assistant coach. There were four or five players on the team who were older than I was. It was a unique experience. We had some good moments. It was more about the experience and dealing with players from different places.
3. What did you learn about the most in that first year?
You had a chance to try out ideas that you took from the game. I still thought like a player. I tried to do things to me that made sense to me from a players’ standpoint. I think that’s still important. Sometimes people try to make it seem like when you’re all done playing, you stop everything you’ve done as a player and now you learn how to be a coach. There is some truth to that, but there is a carry-over. I think the lessons that you have in terms what makes for a good training session and how the best coach handles teams and handle tactics, those thoughts that you have as a player are still key to piecing together your ideas as a coach.
4. Is there one coach who has influenced you more than anyone else?
The obvious people to point out is the experiences I had with Bruce (Arena, the national coach) and with Manny (Schellscheidt, Seton Hall). To be fair, those experiences also would include now a lot of other people — Bobby Montgomery, Tommy Lange, Dieter Ficken, people who were involved with Region 1, a host of people in and around the Princeton area who were involved in a lot of different levels. When I left Ohio University, I had a chance to go to Virginia to be assistant soccer coach and assistant sports promotions director. My friend Paul Malone was in grad school. He had helped Bruce a little bit. He said to me, ‘You ought to come down and meet Bruce. He could use some help,’ because Bruce was hired at Virginia to be the assistant lacrosse coach. The head soccer position was to be the other part of the job (with) the assistant lacrosse coach. They found somebody who had experience in both. But even the spring, Bruce was busy with the lacrosse team, so the opportunity to run the spring program and do things on my own was there. We became good friends, we remained good friends. I think we’re always challenging and pushing each other. Even after I left, came back to Princeton, we still managed to do different things in the game together. it was 20 years ago, that Bruce, Paul Malone and I went to France to the 1984 European Championships. Experiences like that were invaluable, plus fun.
When I came back to Princeton, it was the opportunity to be back in New Jersey, to coach at the school where I played. All those were all positives. It also was to be more involved in the game every day. That was easier accomplished in this area than it was in Charlottesville. The starting point with that was doing a lot of things with Manfred — Lancers. We ended up winning the McGuire Cup (Under-19 national championship) in ’87 and ’88. We had a bunch of really good players that came through the Lancers. That was always an exciting place to be around. Whenever we traveled, we were the most low-budget operation of all. Everybody would have the cars. It would always be that I would jump in with Manfred in a Volkswagen Rabbit. The players didn’t want to be in the car with us because they didn’t want to hear soccer discussed for hour after hour after hour. There were a lot of those kinds of trips, a lot of those kinds of experiences. To this day, Manfred remains one of my best friends. We speak, I’m sure, weekly. These are two people I’ve enjoyed every part of sharing the game with them and friendships.
5. Are there any coaches today who you admire or you follow or you look at their theories perhaps more than others?
That would be true in different sports. You see at people and you get a sense of the way they run their teams, the way they handle players that you appreciate and respect their way and their ability. You can take little bits and pieces from so many people. Then again, it’s fresh on everyone’s minds where you have a year where Larry Brown wins his first NBA championship. Larry Brown has a reputation for being a great teacher. You get a sense he gets his players to play unselfishly, play as a team, play the game the right way, that he has a way of bringing that out. When you see that in action with a team like the Pistons this year, you respect that. So that can happen, honestly, at a lot of levels in all sports. It doesn’t have to be a professional level. Sometimes you see a high school coach, a youth coach, a college coach who just has the players seem to enjoy playing for them. The team plays the right way and acts the right way. When you see that you can figure somebody is doing a good job.
6. When you’re on the bench and it is a hotly contested game, can you sometimes kick back and say, “Hey, this is one beautiful game or this is one great game,” even though you’ve got to work during it?
Yeah, sometimes. But you’re still paying attention to little things in the game in terms of trying to figure out a couple of comments that you can make to your players, at halftime maybe the change or two that can make a difference. Every now and then you have a day when either the game itself is of a very high level or certain players do things that are enjoyable to watch. I can certainly say that sometimes you have a team, even as that coach you can appreciate and enjoy what that team is able to do most games. And other times you have a team where it’s not so easy and its more effort and trying to do all the little things right. But its not that it ever comes easy. Certainly the goal is always to have a team that at a certain point the players can take it over and that team can really play at a high level. If that was so easy, everybody would do it. So I guess that’s part of the challenge.
7. Do you feel that your coaching is done before the game and there is a limit what you can do during the game?
By and large soccer works that way. There’s little things just in terms on how you deal with your players and a couple of comments you make, a couple of subs and the tone you set. But for the most part, soccer is a game where you’re not having a tremendous impact throughout the game.
8. Is there one game that stands out as the most memorable one?
The ’96 MLS Cup in Foxboro was unbelievable. First year. The comeback. The ’97 MLS Cup was in D.C. ’98 was our team in Chicago. Open Cups. We won the double in Chicago that year on a golden goal by Frankie Klopas. That was an incredible night for people in Chicago. But there are other things along the way where our team as a whole steps up. We won a semifinal Open Cup match down a man against the Galaxy with the Fire in Fullerton (Calif.). Josh Wolff scored a golden goal. It was a tremendous effort by a bunch of guys. Carlos Bocanegra had been red-carded. Peter Nowak had to be taken out of the game. I’m not sure, but I think (Luis) Hernandez had a pretty bad foul on Peter and Peter had to come out of the game. We were down a man and we were able to score a goal in extratime. That was indicative of the heart and character of that team. You remember a lot of games at a lot of levels.
I remember losses. One of the games we probably talk about more than any other was when I was at Princeton one year. We played Harvard and they were ranked first in the country. We had a very young team. Jimmy Mueller was a freshman. Chris Unger and Karl Schellscheidt were sophomores. After 75 minutes up at Harvard we were ahead 3-0. And we had chances to get the fourth. It ended up they tied it at 3-3 and then with two minutes to go we scored to go ahead 4-3 and then they got a penalty kick literally in the last few seconds and they won in overtime. So that’s still a game we all shake our heads about. There are plenty of games along the way on all levels. When you see the people involved on that night, its fun to remember.
9. Do you bring home wins and losses or do you shake it out of your system?
For the most part, no. It’s not always easy on your family. My role in the house is to make sure I set a good example. That means, you know what, you try to teach your players how to compete, how to give everything while the game is being played and then feel good afterwards. There is nothing more you can at that point. So, for the most part I think things don’t get brought home. We carry on. I certainly feel like part of what you try to do is keep a steady hand and your team and don’t let the ups and downs interfere with the process of getting better. That seems pretty simple.
10. What is the most difficult job you have to do as a coach? Is it telling a player that he isn’t going to make cut or is it something else?
We all waited a long time for professional soccer. There are a lot of exciting days. The league has grown by leaps and bounds. But it’s professional soccer. That’s what people do for a living. Then sometimes it’s good. Decisions impact lives and families. That unfortunately goes with the territory. You still try to do it man-to-man and in a straight-forward way. That’s still part of the job that doesn’t go away.
11. What is the most gratifying thing about being a coach?
Seeing a group come together, seeing a group learn how to play at a high level, compete unselfishly and play as a team, and to know how to give everything they have to compete as a group while on the field. When you have that, then that’s a nice thing to see.
12. If you weren’t coaching, what would you be doing?
I’m sure I would be involved in sports. But I still enjoy the side of sports that’s on the field. There was maybe a point early on where I felt perhaps being an athletic director in a university would be of interest. The more I was able to really look at who like and what I like and everything, I still preferred dealing with the players, being on the field as opposed to just doing all of the administrative detail work.