Charlie Mitchell had an interesting introduction to coaching. (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lancers)

By Michael Lewis Editor

Coaches get hired and fired in so many different ways.

Hubert Vogelsinger lost his job with Team Hawaii in one of the most unusual ways. He was let go only two hours (according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin) before the North American Soccer League team played at the Tampa Bay Rowdies on June 22, 1977.

That’s right – hours prior to a game!

His successor wound up being the team captain Charlie Mitchell, who started his coaching career that night.

Here’s how it transpired:

At the time, Team Hawaii was in third place of the American Conference Southern Division with an 8-10 record, still fighting for a playoff berth. Hubert Vogelsinger, who passed away at the age of 85 on June 22, was the head coach at the time.

Team Hawaii owner Ward Lay (yes, of Lay’s potato chip fame), however, decided to switch coaches so close to game time. Lay told the Star-Bulletin that Vogelsinger “has not been fired,” but relieved of his duties.”

Fired and relieved; sounds like the same thing, doesn’t it?

The newspaper reported that Vogelsinger was hospitalized three times on its current, long road trip to the mainland with an ailment that had not yet been determined.

That’s where Mitchell, a former Rochester Lancers captain, came into play.

Mitchell was in his hotel room with forward Brian Tinnion when he got a call to meet Team Hawaii general manager Don Paul and Lay.

“We’re wondering why they want to meet with me,” Mitchell said in a phone interview on Monday night. “I went upstairs and sat down and if I recall correctly, they said well, “We’re letting Hubert go.’ I was totally shocked. I didn’t see it coming. The record wasn’t that bad. But obviously there was some reason for it. They said ‘You’re going to take the team over for the next 10 games. I was completely shocked. I basically said: ‘I’m the team captain, and I don’t think I’m be ready to be a coach who was 29 at the time. I don’t know if I’m ready to do it.’ ”

But the team management had other ideas. Lay told Mitchell: “Well, Charlie, if you don’t, we may bring somebody else in it will do and it may not like you.”

Mitchell chuckled after retelling the story.

Think of it: Threatening someone to take a coaching job after giving his predecessor the boot only hours before kickoff of a league game.

But we’re not finished quite yet.

Mitchell went to Vogelsinger’s room to make sure the former coach had no problems with the Scottish native succeeding him.

“I told him that they had offered me the position but in no way that I had a hand in him losing his position,” he said. “I wanted to make that perfectly clear because you’ve heard enough stories from other teams in other places and how people back door people and stuff like that. My main concern was to make sure that Hubert knew if I did take over that wasn’t me trying to take his job from him because he was a lot more experienced at that particular time. I felt like he was the right man.

“He said these exact words to me: ‘Take the opportunity, Charlie, Take the opportunity.’ I did. That’s what got me into coaching.”

In 1978, Mitchell returned just as a player with the team, which moved to Tulsa and became the Roughnecks. He finished his playing career with the Toronto Blizzard in 1979 before he was hired as Roughnecks head coach for the 1980 season. He was given the axe midway through the 1981 season, despite the team having a 10-9 record. Mitchell said the firing was unjust.

“He just had to go,” Roughnecks general manager Noel Lemon told the New York Daily News. “He hadn’t put us where we wanted to be.”

Of course, Mitchell was prepared for the inevitable when he was hired. He understood about coaching cycles. Heck, with the Lancers, he played for 11 coaches in nine years.

“I’ve learned over the years that anytime you take a coaching job, you’re going to be let go eventually,” he said. “Coaching is a short-term job, because you cannot please everybody all the time.”

Mitchell must have pleased several people for a decade as he wound up coaching the Northeastern State University men’s and women’s teams from 1996-2005.


Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at