During a media conference call, USSF President Sunil Gulati explained the decision to fire women’s national team coach Tom Sermanni just 15 months into a four-year contract.
How did it come to this?
“It’s probably three or four things. One of those is the evaluation of where the team is going. Two is, talking with people in and around the team. And whenever we have changes or possible changes or directional changes, we talk to players, we talk to staff, we talk to people who have observed the team and we rely on our own assessment. Third, the results at the Algarve Cup weren’t what we hoped for. The standards for this team are very high. That doesn’t mean one loss or even two losses would necessitate or push us toward a change. But it is all of those factors. We think we needed to go in another direction.”
[He declined to specify the issues that needed to be addressed.]
Was the difference in personality and style between Pia Sundhage to Tom too abrupt of a change?
“The demands of the women’s program fit very well with certain styles and not so well with perhaps other styles. But that is also individual players. It’s rare everyone in a particular team finds a style they buy into, but it’s important the collective buys into the direction and how you are moving forward. We had some concerns there.”
How much input did the players have and did they reach out to you first?
“Our dialogue with the players is on-going, both on the men’s side and the women’s side. Sometimes that is at a higher decibel than at other times, but we’ll talk to players. Sometimes it’s more formal and sometimes it’s more informal. There have been discussions on both of those fronts. I don’t want to get into specifics about who reached out to whom, but we have had discussions with players, with staff, with people around the team, and observed ourselves. This isn’t a group of players coming to seek us out and saying there is something wrong and we need to do something. That’s not the underlying issue here.”
This is Jill Ellis’s second stint as interim coach. Is she a serious candidate for the full-time job?
“When we were in the search process two years ago, Jill took herself out of that process. We think very highly of Jill, I think it’s safe to say.”
Does this outcome question how you decide to hire a coach?
“It was virtually the same process in hiring Pia, and she obviously won two gold medals and lost on PKs in the World Cup final. So I’m not sure it’s about the process. We think we made the best decision at the time. It didn’t work out the way we had hoped and Tom had hoped.”
More about the decision to fire Sermanni and the timing of the announcement after a match …
“This has been a process for us in assessing things and watching the team perform and talking to people over time. I don’t know of any good time to make decisions like this. We are in-between games and we also have a friendly in Canada in May. The players only have three days of training before that. So this [week] actually represents half the training time between now and [the Canada game]. We don’t do things based on an individual game. There wasn’t any haste involved. This was thought out. It’s the end of a process.”
Did the problems come to attention at Algarve Cup or were they there beforehand?
“There has been a longer period than just the Algarve. It’s been a long time since the U.S. team lost two in a row. That may have brought some of the issues of concern to the forefront. But no, this wasn’t something over the past two weeks.”
Tom said he felt blind-sided by the decision …
“We had one conversation between Algarve and now, so I certainly understand Tom’s comments. He is an absolute class guy and we had to make a decision without the luxury of a lot of time — and I don’t mean a lot of time in the decision-making process but in where the team needs to be for [World Cup qualifying in] October and where it needs to be for next summer [at the World Cup in Canada]. And we made the best decision we could in those circumstances.”
How quickly should a replacement be hired and how quickly can it happen?
“That process has already started. So certainly by the summertime schedule we want to have this in place, if not sooner.”
Has Ellis indicated whether she is interested this time around?
“We haven’t really addressed that with her. We asked her to take the team this week. We’ll have a discussion with her.”
If the U.S. had won 8-0 on Sunday, would you have had second thoughts?
“It wouldn’t have changed the underlying issues. It would have made the timing more awkward.”
Do you have a good idea of who you would consider hiring?
[The USSF has] “a very short list.”
Is gender an issue? Should a woman coach this team?
“If we have a choice between two equal candidates, and one is male and one is female, my preference is to go with a female candidate. Rarely is the situation where you have got two exactly equal candidates. The same would be true on an American coach: If we are choosing between an international coach and an American coach, my preference would be to hire an American coach. That’s true on both the men’s side and the women’s side. So is [gender] a consideration? Yes. But the first consideration has to be picking the person who can best lead the program, keep it at the level we are all accustomed to, which means a gold medal performance [at the World Cup] next summer.”