Everybody will have their own explanation for why Frank Yallop’s second spell at San Jose abruptly ended after five-plus seasons; or, a more compelling way to put it, why the two-time MLS Cup-winner is out eight months after his team confirmed an unlikely Supporters’ Shield. On a number of levels, it doesn’t make sense. Go back to the beginning of 2012, and few were picking the Earthquakes to make the playoffs, let alone win silverware. Their finish atop the league won Yallop Coach of the Year honors, an award that now seems like part of a golden parachute.
Though people have reason to read the sides’ “mutual” agreement to part ways as code for termination, right now, I’m inclined to take it at face value. Famous last words, I know, and I may be bending too far backwards to see things how I want. But five-plus years in one place is a long time in the coaching world, far beyond Béla Guttman’s three-year rule. The iconic Hungarian coach took charge of 25 teams over a career that spanned from 1933 to 1973, only once staying as long as three seasons (Benfica, 1959-1962, where he won two European Cups). His feeling: A coach can only be with a squad for so long before he becomes less effective and has to move on.
Colloquially, we’ve come to use terms like “stopped listening” or “tuning out” to describe a team growing apart from its coach. Closer to reality, it’s a matter of diminishing returns. A coach has methods, he employs them over a period of time, but as with most inter-personal relationships, things need to evolve. Often in the sports world, it’s too difficult for one coach to evolve with a squad’s worth of success-driven individual personalities.
Last season, everything fell into place. At least, during the regular season. Early in the campaign, Yallop figured out how to use the squad’s depth to drastically change his team’s in-game approach before full time. The combination to talent, belief, and tactics fueled the Goonies to a number of improbable wins, career years, and a Supporters’ Shield-winning season.
But that was a delicate amalgamation. An injury here, a departure there, a performance downturn elsewhere, and San Jose would be back fighting for its playoff life, unable to create that Goonie synergy that fueled their 2012 campaign. So when injuries happened (Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Marvin Chavez, Steven Beitashour), the Earthquakes lost their luster. And when Rafa Baca had a downturn, they didn’t have the depth Khari Stephenson provided. When suspensions to Lenhart and Gordon came along, 2013 started to look like the perfect storm.
The biggest loss may have been one most of MLS has overlooked. In preseason, as I talked to Coach Yallop about the difficulties of preparing with an injury-riddled squad, the first name that came out of his mouth was Simon Dawkins. San Jose had lost the winger back to Tottenham, his loan not renewed. At the time, Yallop lamented not having a clear way to replace somebody who scored eight goals from wide in 2012. Now, as you see San Jose struggle to ind the same in-game adaptability that fueled 2012, their former boss looks prescient. Nothing like unknowingly predicting your downfall.
With Dawkins’ loss, the injuries, suspensions and the inevitable regression from a strong season, Yallop was going to be pressed to try every managerial trick in his book. Perhaps after five-plus seasons, he’d reached the last page. As he met with Dave Kaval and John Doyle to determine how 2013 could be salvaged, it may have became clear to everybody: Frank was no longer the right man for the job.
It seems the most likely scenario. At the beginning of the season, San Jose entering their new park without Yallop would have been inconceivable. It’s unlikely such a hasty move could have happened without Yallop, at some level, being on the same page. Not impossible. Just unlikely.
He’s been along enough to know when something’s working and when it’s not. And perhaps he thought he could get San Jose turned around. Maybe “mutual” is being use euphemistically. Regardless, with a résumé like Yallop’s, he won’t be on the sidelines for long.
When he feels recharged and wants back in, he’ll start getting calls. But for now, at San Jose, his time was up.