As of Wednesday morning, Chicago Fire FC has officially signed Ezra Hendrickson to be the 10th full-time head coach in the Club history.
So, what do we know about him?
For starters, Hendrickson has been a part of the league virtually since its inception. Prior MLS experience? Check.
He was signed by the NJ/NY Metrostars in his first stint in MLS, was soon cut and picked up a few days later by the LA Galaxy, and went on to have a fantastic playing career that featured eight major trophies – including three MLS Cups. He made stops at Chivas USA, Dallas Burn, D.C. United, Charleston Battery and eventually the Columbus Crew before retiring on top with the Crew in 2008.
He immediately stepped into the coaching world as an assistant for the late, great Sigi Schmid (whom he also played for in LA and Columbus) at Seattle from 2009-14. He would then become the coach of Seattle Sounders 2 when it was introduced to the USL. Hendrickson would spend one year with Schmid at the Galaxy in 2018, before helping with Caleb Porter and Columbus lift MLS Cup in 2020 and the Campeones Cup 2021.
Between playing and coaching, Hendrickson has amassed 15 major trophies. That includes the last CONCACAF Champions League trophy for an MLS side (then referred to as the CONCACAF Champions Cup), and two MLS Cup + Supporters Shield doubles (2002 with the LA Galaxy and 2008 with Columbus).
The man is a winner, and has been around winning dressing rooms for the entirety of his career. I can imagine there is nothing in this league he hasn’t seen.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the St. Vincent and the Grenadines native’s background and what exactly he’ll bring to the Fire technical area.
Hendrickson’s appointment to the head coaching level in MLS is so overdue it is comical. A man with his resume and experience should’ve gotten a shot years ago. Social media was on fire from fans at his former clubs as news began to spread, and they were all saying the same thing - he deserves this opportunity.
This is always a good sign. Hendrickson seems wildly respected by fans, former teammates, coaches, and media alike.
It seemed - based on the finalists for the job – that the major prerequisite for the next Fire head coach was successful MLS experience. If we’re going off that alone, Hendrickson was an obvious candidate. But, we all know there is so much more to it than that.
A DISCIPLE OF “THE GODFATHER”
When you look at who Ezra Hendrickson has spent the most time around as a player and coach, the name that pops up most is one of the “Godfathers” of MLS: Sigi Schmid.
Schmid, as most of you know, sadly passed away almost exactly three years ago. Hendrickson first started playing for Schmid in LA when he took over the Galaxy in 1999.
After winning an MLS Cup in LA, they would reunite in Columbus to win another (and the Supporters Shield) in 2008. Schmid then gave Hendrickson his first coaching gig in Seattle in 2009 before, eventually becoming head coach of their USL affiliate, Seattle Sounders 2 (now known as Tacoma Defiance).
Any head coach is going to have their own identity, but their identity is molded and influenced by those who they learned from along the way. It seems like Schmid implicitly trusted Hendrickson and vice versa given their extensive history.
Schmid, a Hall of Famer, will forever live on as a legend of MLS. He was known for his attention to detail on the defensive side of the ball and his professionalism on-and-off the field. However, it was his care for his players and staff as human beings that seemed to resonate most with the people he touched. Given Hendrickson was one of his ride-or-dies, I would imagine “EZ” (as his old teammates and colleagues refer to him) has adopted and shared a similar philosophy.
This quote from former MLS forward Pat Noonan, in an article written on Schmid shortly after he passed, is what sticks out to me the most:
“He surrounded himself with players that he trusted. That he believed in. That he gave a chance to, as well as staff members,” Noonan said. “From that, you can see the cohesion on the field, the relationships, the strength of the group, the 11 players that were competing on the weekends…I was really impressed when I came in that he built a culture so strong. It is no coincidence that the 2008 season ended in an MLS Cup Championship.”
The development of a winning culture within a football team is something for which every club strives. Winning teams come and go, but cultures and ways of doing things can stand the test of time and the inevitable personnel movement that exists within this sport.
Sigi Schmid was known for being the architect of winning cultures, and EZ was a part of 11 major trophies as a player and assistant underneath the MLS legend.
From an early 2018 article at lagalaxy.com, this is what Schmid had to say about EZ when the two were reunited in LA for a final time in 2018:
“I like Ezra as a coach because he can see things from a different perspective and I like to have assistant coaches who are going to bring different opinions because that makes you stronger as a staff," Schmid said. "He’s excellent working with the defenders and great at getting outside backs to improve going forward."
"He loves the game, he was a guy that could get players to perform and some of the teams that I coached, I had him mentor some of the younger games. I could see in that mentoring process that he could relate and bring guys along as a coach.”
It is safe to say that the new head coach of the Chicago Fire learned from one of the best to ever do it, and saw first-hand what it takes to build a winning team and a winning culture.
For all of Hendrickson’s success as a player and coach and his 15 major trophies, we have to remember this is the first head coaching position in MLS.
Sure, he was in charge of Seattle Sounders 2, but those teams are more or less controlled by the first team and at the mercy of what the first team may or may not need on a week-to-week basis. Hendrickson wasn’t able to implement his own tactics, coaching philosophy, etc.
This will be an entirely different experience for the 49-year-old. He has a metaphorical blank slate to put his own stamp on. He can mold the players, system and shape of the team to his liking.
Hendrickson has experience as a fullback in this league and I imagine this will be a particularly good thing for the likes of the Fire’s young fullbacks Jhon Espinoza and Miguel Navarro. This is not to say Hendrickson is strictly a defensive specialist as he has learned under the likes of Brian Schmetzer and Caleb Porter who both are particularly skilled in the art of orchestrating a fluid yet devastating attack.
What gets me excited about Hendrickson is who has taught him, his successes as a player and a coach, and above all what his peers think of him. Every pundit, outlet, and piece of content released about Hendrickson has been overwhelmingly positive. His resumé speaks for itself, and having a flat-out good human being at the helm goes a long way too. Let’s embrace coach Hendrickson as he looks to bring the Chicago Fire back to MLS royalty.