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November 24, 2009

Fire Confidential FAIL

I have to take exception to Sam Stejskal's piece about Denis Hamlett and the Chicago Fire "parting ways." Sam writes:

Another factor that could have contributed to the non-renewal of Hamlett's contract is the controversy that has -- at times -- wrapped itself around Hamlett (and the club) in the last two years. The most notable instance took place on August 9th of this year, when Hamlett and former defender Bakary Soumare got into a highly publicized locker room spat at halftime of the Fire's regular season match at Houston.

No one is denying that the Soumare incident happened, but one point doesn't make a line. So if Stejskal wants us to believe that controversy has "wrapped itself around Hamlett," he's going to need more evidence. Like, any other evidence. The only other incident I could possibly think of would be not trading Wilman Conde to New York when he pitched a fit about wanting to follow Juan Carlos Osorio to his new club. Except that this decision wasn't exactly controversial to anyone who understands contract law, or who held a grudge against Osorio for bailing out, an audience that includes Fire owner Andrew Hauptman.

I'm guessing some of the ignorati on Internet message boards will point to not making subs at halftime, or taking somebody they liked out of a game and replacing them with someone they don't like, but I'm hard-pressed to come up with any truly bizarre lineup maneuvers. Certainly not along the lines of Rafa Benitez taking Fernando Torres out of Liverpool's match against Fulham a couple of weeks ago. Not even close.

Oddly enough, the rap on Hamlett ended up being the same as the rap that ultimately did in one of his predecessors -- Dave Sarachan. Denis Hamlett didn't break shit in the locker room and throw temper tantrums on the sideline, and was thusly deemed "not passionate enough" by management. And by fans. Incoming Section 8 presidentchairman Tom Dunmore said in a blog post that the coach "never managed to engage with fans as he could have," as if that's any part of his job description whatsoever. Or as if any coach before him in Chicago had done anything like that in the past. But the decision itself is really a separate issue that I may or may not get into later. Suffice it to say that I think it was the wrong call.

I don't like being this harsh on Sam. He's a good kid and, by his own admission in a recent blog post, his first ever journalism class was something like a year or two ago. Hopefully that means he can recognize that he's still learning, and that this is not good journalism. This is ginning up a narrative when none exists, and unless the Northwestern student aspires to a career in politics, he should just stick to actual, provable facts, and not take one incident and magically turn it into a trend.

As for the Tribune, which seems to think mostly unpaid blogging is somehow going to rescue its doomed industry, you get what you pay for.

UPDATE: Fixed Tom's title and linked to his quote, as per his comments.


Incoming president of Section 8? That's not even the right title of the position or name of the organisation, let alone how it works, Chris. You know better than that.

You should link to a blog post you mention, as I don't recall the exact wording or context of my remark and I'm unclear why it matters. But yes, a part of any public role at a club is connecting with fans -- that's why they organise a coach's corner, which DH decided not to attend this season. Do you seriously think a Fire head coach should have no role in the Fire community? Come on.

I liked Denis, in fact, and never called for him to be fired in the season, but I do think a parting of ways is best for both parties at this point. A lot of bridges had been burned, sadly.

Northwestern is a good school.

Once you've actually completed your studies there, it's even better.

Thanks for keeping me honest on the procedural stuff, Tom. Title and link have been fixed/added. As for your wording, "as engaged as he could have been" is factually correct, in that you invited him to an event and he didn't show up. But my point is that I can't think of any Fire coach having engaged on that level with fans, so it strikes me as an arbitrary standard. So it may not be a reasonable expectation for this club at this time.

Is it something to work towards in the future? Sure. But to expect the coach to make appearances just because you feel like he should strikes me as slightly misguided to me. Possibly just to me, but hey, it's my blog.

Coz -- thanks for the corrections.

Sorry for not being clear, but the Coach's Corner I mentioned in the comment above was an event organised by the club for season ticketholders at Toyota Park and had nothing to do with Section 8 Chicago or myself holding up any random standard we deem appropriate.

It was genuinely part of his job, and he didn't show up for whatever reason (maybe there was a good one, but no explanation appeared after that I'm aware of), but it ticked off a lot of people who showed up to see him only to find Klopas holding the fort instead.

He did also have other opportunities to appear at events we arranged and invited him to, and didn't show up. That's certainly more understandable, but he would have been doing himself a favour with fans and management by appearing. He also missed out on a chance to build relationships, which I think is just a shame, expectations be damned. Whenever I've had a chance to chat with him (just a couple of times) one on one, he's been relaxed, warm, funny and engaging.

I suppose part of my frustration is just a regret that so few saw this side of him. That is more personal, I guess, so I could be fairly criticised for that.

To single Sam out for his wording is a bit harsh, no? Especially when there are numerous others that are even guiltier of what you claim Sam is doing. He argues, and bases this on his opinion, that Hamlett has had some controversey and noted the Soumare situation.

You mention that, "Oddly enough, the rap on Hamlett ended up being the same as the rap that ultimately did in one of his predecessors -- Dave Sarachan. Denis Hamlett didn't break shit in the locker room and throw temper tantrums on the sideline, and was thusly deemed "not passionate enough" by management."

Where exactly did you read this?

Based on what I have read re: the Hamlett detractors has nothing to do with that but more with what I will write below.

You allude to the message boards and while I agree there are some opinionated people out there that may or may not be wrong, one can find many issues with Hamlett's results on the field.

One can say that he was one penalty kick away from the final but you can also say that the team played the majority of 2 years under Hamlett with a great and talented squad but produced a terrible home record while not winning an MLS Cup, making the CCL, or winning a USOC. There were some fine games played under Hamlett but the majority of the time, I felt the Fire were uninspired and directionless in their game plan.

Do you not question the game tactics of playing counter-attack soccer with two of the slowest forwards in the league which was done quite often? Do you really believe Chris Rolfe is an outside midfielder and John Thorrington should be paired with Logan Pause as a second defensive midfielder? Do you think that McBride should have been on the field for every minute of the game as long as he was healthy?

With all that being said, I think Hamlett handled the Conde situation like a pro but there were too many situations (more on the field than off) where he simply was not good enough to have his contract renewed.

On the passion thing, I didn't read it so much as overheard it on numerous occasions, from a bunch of different people.

And I simply disagree with your assessment of the team's tactics, in large part because Hamlett's Fire team played much quicker soccer than any Fire team I can remember. Quickness is different than speed, and I think it's equally useful in the counterattack, and just because we didn't have speed in the center doesn't mean we didn't have speed on the wings (Pappa and Nyarko), and the ball movement through the center was generally good in getting it out to them.

With Rolfe, I think Hamlett's hands were tied, because yes, I would play every minute I could possibly get out of Brian McBride. It's unfortunate that we couldn't get more minutes out of Rolfe and Nyarko up top, but that's the hand Hamlett was dealt, and I actually think he did as well with that as he could. I actually asked McBride about that in his New York Times Q&A.

I'm assuming you would move Thorrington over to the right, but that only works if you got Rolfe forward, which only works if you dropped Blanco into the midfield. Which we have to assume would be too much of a defensive liability, and while I don't necessarily agree with the over-reliance on twin d-mids in a 4-4-2 across the board, I know that Hamlett, Bob Bradley and the like know more than me on the subject.

Finally, I'm picking on Sam in part because of the larger narrative where the Tribune thinks low-paid or unpaid bloggers with minimal experience are somehow the future of media. I've called out Ives on stuff before -- not that he's noticed -- and will one day make merciless fun of Glenn Davis' inability to spell.

And, lastly, the "great and talented squad" is a complete fan creation. Despite what S8's more vocal members would have you believe, this was NOT "the most talented roster in the league." Come ON. That's making up facts to fit the conclusion you want.

Not sure why/how, but I just stumbled upon this. For the record, I think your critique was absolutely right. That first sentence... ugh. Not good journalism.

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