Ben Olsen named coach of D.C. United not long after being considered out of the running

United president Kevin Payne had said for months Ben Olsen, above, wasn't in the running for D.C.'s head coaching job. But Olsen was hired Monday.
United president Kevin Payne had said for months Ben Olsen, above, wasn't in the running for D.C.'s head coaching job. But Olsen was hired Monday. (
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 12:19 AM

D.C. United President Kevin Payne had been saying for months that Ben Olsen was not in the running for the head coaching position. Olsen, the interim coach, didn't want to believe him.

"I knew all along that he was bluffing," Olsen said, hiding a sly smile. "I was hoping he was bluffing."

Payne wasn't bluffing, but he did reconsider. And after interviewing several proven candidates, United concluded that Olsen's leadership qualities outweighed his inexperience. On Monday, in the same lounge at RFK Stadium where he announced his retirement one year and one week earlier, Olsen was introduced as the seventh head coach in club history.

In agreeing to a three-year guaranteed contract, the former University of Virginia and United midfielder became, at age 33, the youngest full-time boss since MLS launched almost 15 years ago.

Olsen oversaw the squad for 12 matches after Curt Onalfo's dismissal. When the season ended and United's search intensified, Olsen resumed his duties as an assistant coach - and planted a seed with the front office.

"Ben asked me very early in the process to keep an open mind in spite of my public posture, and I agreed unequivocally," Payne said. "As we spent more time talking with Ben about how we would try to improve our team, it gradually became more apparent that Ben had already grown substantially as a coach in his short term."

A month ago, however, Payne ruled out Olsen's candidacy, saying: "I don't think he's ready. . . . It's been a great learning experience for Ben, and I am sure he will learn a great deal over the next couple of years."

On Monday, when asked why, for months, he had said he wouldn't consider Olsen, Payne explained that "the intention was to protect Ben and protect the club for the future and forestall any controversy. It wasn't a cynical move in the sense that I did it knowing that we were going to hire Ben. There's no other agenda here. When I said it, I meant it."

Though his 3-8-1 record didn't reflect it, Olsen did have an impact during his interim stint, getting the most from a roster depleted by injuries and beset with weaknesses.

"Ben is a leader," United General Manager Dave Kasper said. "He is respected by our players and he is respected in the league. He knows how to build a team and is a fast learner. He just gets it."

Payne dismissed suggestions that budgetary issues, stemming from Onalfo's guaranteed contract through 2012, limited the pool of viable candidates. He declined to identify the other finalists and wouldn't say whether he first offered the job to someone else.

According to people familiar with the search, Payne and Kasper interviewed Lucien Favre, the former coach of Hertha Berlin, as well as several U.S.-based coaches with MLS or college experience. Then last week, they approached Olsen.

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