When a team is struggling the way St. Louis FC has over the past six weeks, getting off to slow starts and then battling to get back in games and seldom coming up with wins, the potential for a coaching change begins to grow. When that team falls behind 3-0 16 minutes into a game, the likelihood becomes even better.
On Monday, the team made the inevitable official, announcing the firing of Dale Schilly as coach and naming assistant coach Tim Leonard as his successor for the remainder of the season. The team has begun a search for a permanent replacement and said that Leonard will receive consideration. After getting off to a 6-5-4 start, the team is 1-4-3 since June 25. Schilly will remain with the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Club in a role that’s yet to be determined.
“From the beginning, we built this team to be a playoff team,” general manager Jeremy Alumbaugh said. “We’ve started to trend away from that. We’re not out of it. We’re still in a good spot. Not as good as we would like to be, but a spot where we can make some strides here and get after it. We felt all along this should be a playoff type team. This move gives us our best chance we feel to make that push.”
“We needed a change,” executive director Patrick Barry said, “but didn’t need a disruption.”
This is a pivotal time for STLFC. The team is 7-9-7 with 28 points and is two points back of eighth-place Arizona, which is in the last Western Conference playoff spot, though STLFC has one less game to play. STLFC’s next game, and first under Leonard, is Sunday at Swope Park Rangers in Kansas City; Swope Park is one point ahead of STLFC and is also battling for a playoff spot.
Alumbaugh and Barry began discussing the move on Saturday night after the 4-3 loss to Sacramento and after sleeping on it that night, spoke again on Sunday and agreed that a change was needed. They informed Schilly of the move Sunday afternoon and then called Leonard, who termed the news “bittersweet.” The players were informed before training on Monday.
“We need to send a message to fans that this matters,” Barry said. “Winning matters. Making the playoffs matters. That was part of the process.”
Alumbaugh and Barry said they hoped to have a new coach in place by Nov. 1. While Schilly, a long-time youth coach, was an in-house choice when the team started, Alumbaugh and Barry said they would have a global search this time. The league has changed so much in the time since Schilly was hired — May of 2014 — that the job description is now very different.
“We want someone who can establish a connection with the younger player, because that’s what’s in this league,” Barry said, “and then somebody with incredible leadership skills and ability and that can blend into our culture and fit into the culture of the organization.”
Schilly’s teams went 16-21-16 in his one-plus seasons.
Like Schilly, Leonard has been with the team from the start. He played four seasons at SLU and was captain on the 1997 team that went to the Final Four. He played professionally outdoors in the second division for six seasons as well as playing indoors with the Ambush. He was a youth coach for 10 seasons, working five seasons in California before coming home to join Scott Gallagher. He said that it was too soon to talk lineup changes, but improving the team’s energy level was most important.
“It’s not that the environment got stagnant,” Leonard said. “Guys had fallen into a little bit of complacency. When things like this happens, it creates a new-found energy, a new-found responsibility that the players have to tune in now and take it on themselves. Day to day it’s trying to pull every ounce out of them. That’s what our goal is week to week.”
The team also announced that Matt Caution will join the team as an assistant coach for the remainder of the season. Caution (Fort Zumwalt South High, Missouri State) is boys’ director of FC Missouri/Bayern Munich and technical director of Missouri Thorns FC, a women’s academy program.