John Smallwood: Union shrouds reason for Nowak’s firing in secrecy
THINGS WOULD have been less confusing had Philadelphia Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz simply said team manager Peter Nowak got canned on Wednesday because the squad hadn't performed up to expectations. That's an easy concept to grasp.
THINGS WOULD have been less confusing had Philadelphia Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz simply said team manager Peter Nowak got canned on Wednesday because the squad hadn't performed up to expectations.
That's an easy concept to grasp.
After making the playoffs last season, the Union is 2-7-2 and in next-to-last place in the MLS East with eight points.
Fans wouldn't need more justification than that for the sacking.
But Sakiewicz made a point to emphasize at a hastily called news conference that the Union's record did not factor in the decision to remove Nowak, the only manager the third-year franchise has had.
In fact, Sakiewicz said he was pleased with the way the team has performed and attributed its record to the cruelty of the sport.
"From my perspective, this is not about wins or losses and not about the way the team has performed on the field," he said. "We have a very good team.
"These are never easy things to do. In the best interest of our club, I made that decision and we parted ways [Wednesday] morning."
Officially, the Union announced that Nowak had stepped down as team manager and Union assistant John Hackworth would take over as interim manager. But, this was a sacking.
Nowak met with Sakiewicz Wednesday morning believing he was the manager, only to be informed that he had been relieved of his duties.
"I informed Peter that we were moving in a different direction with our team manager," Sakiewicz said when asked directly if this was a mutual parting. "That's about all I can comment on right now because it's a bit fluid."
Two years ago, Sakiewicz entrusted an expansion franchise to Nowak's vision.
At the beginning of this season, Sakiewicz nodded as Nowak made huge changes to a playoff team.
So what happened?
Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it.
"This is more about philosophical differences between the way [chairman/owner Jay Sugarman] and I envisioned this and what our vision for this club is," Sakiewicz said. "Sometimes this happens; the head coach and ownership aren't on the same page."
You came to this conclusion right now?
A lot of Union fans have to be wondering why Sakiewicz couldn't have figured this out before Nowak gutted a popular playoff team by trading, among others, all-time leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux, team captain Danny Califf and first-ever draft pick Danny Mwanga.
But Sakiewicz said he was in consultation with Nowak on all of the personnel moves and was on board with them. He did not veto any of them.
That's the problem with "philosophical differences." It's a broad term that says nothing or everything depending on how you chose to read the tea leaves.
Sakiewicz said he understood that not giving more depth to his reasoning will lead to tons of speculation.
"Speculating is for you guys to do," he said.
Well then, let me speculate that Sakiewicz had had enough of Nowak's helter-skelter style of player movement and player use that led to the Union's loyal fan base getting up in arms.
Let me speculate that Nowak's failure to show any confidence in young players like Mwanga, recently traded to Portland, Jack McInerney, Chandler Hoffman, Josue Martinez, Amobi Okugo, and Christian Hernandez wasn't the best long-term plan for a team with the youngest roster in the league.
Let me speculate that management was not happy about a report that broke over the weekend that Nowak had shopped his services to Hearts of the Scottish Premier League.
Let me, primarily, speculate that Nowak was simply too stubborn, arrogant or set in his ways to consider that anyone besides himself could possibly have any idea of how to develop, operate and manage a team.
Sakiewicz said he was hands-off concerning the technical staff, but he's a former player and longtime MLS executive who knows the game.
He'd feel comfortable discussing things that he felt were not working.
Nowak has been a successful coach — leading D.C. United to a MLS Cup and the United States under-23 to the 2008 Olympics.
But his tenure at each of his jobs has been less than 3 years, which probably says something about his shelf life.
"Peter is a terrific coach and has incredible sideline instincts, probably one of the best I've ever seen," Sakiewicz said, "but over a period of time, we determined that we were no longer on the same page with ownership and Peter's philosophy of managing the team.
"It was time to make a change."
Tapping the Union logo on his jacket, Sakiewicz said, "In the best interest of this club, this badge will always come first."
When asked when he realized Nowak's philosophies were at a crossroads with the organizations, Sakiewicz said, "I don't know."
"It develops over time and at some point you wake up in the morning and you realize this isn't quite the way we want the Union brand represented."
Again this has been left wide open to speculation.
If Sakiewicz believes Nowak is a great technical coach and he signed off on all of the player personnel moves — even the unpopular ones — what was this wide divide that suddenly appeared?
"I'm not a wine connoisseur," he said, "but I know what good wine tastes like. When I sipped the wine recently, it didn't taste so good."
Based on what Sakiewicz gave us on Wednesday, it's left up to us to guess if the wine was red or white.