BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Brian Bliss is hoping to bring some “stability,” “focus” and some badly needed wins as he steps into his interim head coach role with the Chicago Fire for the final five games of the season.
Fire owner Andrew Hauptman relieved second year head coach Frank Yallop of his duties Sunday following a disappointing 13-26-24 cumulative record (63 points) that currently sees the Men in Red bottom of the Eastern Conference and out of the playoff picture for the fifth time in six years.
Technical director Bliss will step into the breach for the final five games, with Logan Pause acting as his assistant, and the former Columbus Crew technical director is intent on fostering a winning atmosphere as quickly as possible.
“Obviously you’re looking to stabilize, it was the same thing in Columbus, I’ve been in this position before,” Bliss, who acted as interim coach with the Crew towards the end of the 2013 season, told reporters at Toyota Park Monday. “I’m just looking to get a little bit more direction, a little more stability and try to focus on the next five games and getting a way, a style and an atmosphere generated that can hopefully project some wins. There’s no magic wand at this point, but there’s a formula to how I work and I believe it will breed some success.”
Bliss and Pause led their first training session in beautiful September sunshine, and were both heavily involved as the team prepare for Wednesday’s trip to the Montreal Impact. Bliss was typically vocal as he cajoled and prompted his players throughout, and that is a style he hopes will reap immediate rewards for the group.
“I’m more hands on, if that’s a word to describe it, I like to get right in the middle of it,” the 49-year-old admitted. “I think they need to hear my voice to be able to play as an extension of how I want them to play. That’s just my style and how I coach, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first or the last day on the job, that’s how I work.”
Veteran winger Patrick Nyarko has now seen four head coaches come and go in his eight seasons with the Fire, and the Ghanaian admits the players must take their share of the blame for the poor results this season.
“It’s a transitional period where everyone feels sorry for themselves and feels like they could have done a little bit more for things to be stabilized,” the 29-year-old said. “But it happens, I’ve been through it a few times and obviously you just have to look forward and take the positives out of it. Obviously we’re not happy that someone has to lose their job and I personally think, as players, we are as much to blame as the staff. But in this business someone has to take that responsibility and unfortunately the staff are the leaders and they have to take that.”
The players were informed of Yallop’s dismissal by phone calls from Bliss and Pause before news officially broke on Sunday afternoon, but veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch is looking forward to seeing what Bliss will bring to his new role.
“Blissy is very detail oriented, very structured, he has a passion for the game, he wants to play, it’s going to be a bit more up tempo game with him, but he’s honest as well,” Busch said. “Good or bad, he’s going to be honest with every player and that’s something I like with my coach. Whether you like what he’s telling you or not, as long as he’s honest with you you can respect that. I think it’s going to be a good thing.”
And while Bliss’ remit is to guide the Fire through their remaining five games, he knows a good run of results could put him in the frame to succeed Yallop on a full-time basis, and give incoming General Manager Nelson Rodriguez food for thought when looking for Yallop’s successor.
“It’s at the owner’s discretion, I’m here to try to help the club and move us forward in these next five games,” Bliss said when asked if he had ambitions to lead the team beyond this season.
“If they think that I’m doing a good enough job and if they want to talk about a future role in this position I’m open to it,” he added. “I’ve always said that I’m comfortable in either role, coaching or as a technical director. I’ve spent more time over my career in the locker room and on a field than I have in an office and I still think that’s where my skill set lies. However, I’m not averse to doing what I’ve been doing the last five or eight years between here and Columbus in terms of identifying players, and contracts, cap management and all that. But in the end, it’s up to the owner, what he sees and believes and feels that I’m capable of doing.”
Bliss also revealed he is looking forward to working with Rodriguez, a man he has known for 15-20 years, and a man he believes can steady the Fire and restore the team to former glories.
“He’s been in the league as long as I have, probably, so he has as much knowledge of the workings of the league and how a team operates as anybody,” Bliss said of Rodriguez.
“He is very professional, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very detail oriented and he’s committed, and that’s what you need; guys who are willing to roll up their sleeves, plus he’s got the knowledge,” he added. “I’ve known Nelson for 15, 18, 20 years probably and we have a lot of similar ideas about the game, about what a team looks and feels like and what a coaching role looks like. Hopefully, that serves him well and serves me well but we’ll cross that bridge later.”
Shane Murray covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com