Press Conference

Transcript: Jay Sugarman on the Earnie Stewart hiring

Note: Transcript provided by Philadelphia Union

Opening statement

We’re really happy to have someone of his caliber to join the Philadelphia Union even if we’re going to have to wait a little bit to get him. It’s never easy to ask someone to make a move in season. So we want to thank Earnie’s current club for their assistance in this transition. We really look forward to getting him on board and getting him in the saddle.

On how Stewart deal came about

We’ve been looking for a director for a long time; lots of names have come forward as we’ve really brainstormed and refined the process around key criteria. Some new names came to the fore and this was the case where it was really the right person and the right fit. Earnie’s desire to do something impactful in the U.S., we really thought he lined up well with among key criteria. So, it’s something that came together very quickly.

On criteria for sporting director

I think we feel pretty strongly we needed a firm direction in terms of our playing philosophy and how we’re going to go about building a competitive edge in the MLS. What I saw in AZ was he really had a strong track record of finding players that fit his team’s system. We’re counting on him to do the same here. I think we have room to elevate the quality of our scouting and our recruiting and our player development across the board. And on each of those, what he’s been able to do, and what he has been doing, seemed to be a really good fit on how we wanted to approach the world. He’s a guy that’s really focused on development. He has a real sense of value, he’s looking for players who, not only he thinks the system can make better, but also can help make the players around him better. They can fit in a philosophical way of playing very quickly. How he can make the players around him better.

As we went through a number of individual cases, it was pretty clear to me that he had a strong sense of how to find real players that fit his system and that really guided a lot of his thinking; kind of what we’ve been looking for at the Union.

On how important is it that Stewart is American

One of our key criteria was we wanted someone who really wanted to be here. Earnie, as far back as 2012, had said one of his goals in life was to come back and have an impact in the U.S. soccer-scape. To really come back and do something special for a country that he played for and clearly has deep feelings for. Wanted to help us succeed and also help U.S. soccer continue to grow. So that was really important to me. I wanted somebody who took that commitment seriously, who was willing to make a long-term commitment to the Union but also… grow the entire sport in the U.S.

I looked back at his playing record; we looked back at how he went about developing himself as a player and that intense work ethic. He tells the story of going out after practices on his own – actually with Brian Carroll at his days in D.C. – going out after practice and playing together, on their own, to make themselves better players. That’s the kind of mentality we think we need and want at the Union. We think that is part of the maturity process that U.S. Soccer is going through and Ernie is kind of a great figurehead for that. We’re delighted that he’s chosen the Union to really come back and make that impact.

Did Stewart come to you first?

I can’t say because a lot of names were brought up to me and I don’t know exactly who put his name forward and when. The process was more of a brainstorming; here’s our criteria, where should we look and how can we find him? Richie Graham was involved, Jim Curtin was involved. Friends of the firm were involved.

On when Stewart can transition into the job

We support Earnie’s plan to transition in a professional manner. That’s the kind of person he is and that’s the kind of person we want. But he also expressed to me his confidence that he can do that and also be prepared to make the decisions we need to make going into the ’16 season. There’s 24 hours in a day, he’s got a lot of work to do where he is, but he was quite confident that he can be up to speed and be impactful as we head into the key decisions on the player side and some other parts of the organization. We want him to fulfill his obligations to AZ. He will do so in a very professional manner, but I also expect him to start thinking about the key parts of the puzzle. He’s building his own thoughts on how to do that and we feel the timing will work out.

On current offseason decisions before Jan. 1

We certainty expect him to be in the loop, yes.

On Jim Curtin

Yes, Jim is the coach for the 2016 season. I can make that clear. But I can also make clear Earnie is going to set a high bar. And I know Jim is looking forward to the challenge but throughout the organization we are expecting people to raise their games. I don’t think anybody is satisfied where we’ve been and I have no doubt that Earnie is going to set a high bar and people are going to have to reach it.

Expectations on Stewart’s involvement for USL

Obviously we can’t wait on that hire [for the USL coach]. Earnie will be in the loop on that. Ultimately, he will oversee all the technical aspects. In terms of getting that process going, we will certainly keep him in the loop but that process has to happen relatively soon.

On whether or not he will replace Nick Sakiewicz

We’re trying to build a great organization. I think when we looked at our priorities right now, the sporting director was our highest priority. We’re making significant investments and significant decisions and without that person in place we’re really not going to make the progress we need to make. So that’s where the focus has been recently. I think we’ve got a great person to really lead us in the long-term. On the business side, we’ll also try to be raising our game there. Dave Rowan is in the seat right now and is doing a great job. But as I said, we’re definitely looking to add any talent we can there that’s going to make the whole organization better. We have not begun that process. But that’s something certainly as we settle in on the technical side we can turn our attention back to.

On Stewart’s plan

We spent a lot of time on what he’s done in the last five years and how he went about it. I think Earnie is a collaborative person. He likes to learn. He’s looking for those edges in the system that he can exploit. He knew he was up against some clubs that probably have deeper resources, so they focused a lot on development. They focused a lot on making sure they were scouting and recruiting and acquiring people that fit his system. One of the things that struck me most was the development part. They had brought a lot of players in and really figured out how to make them better players. In many cases, that meant selling them on to other teams that valued them at their new full value. But it’s the sense that they were finding players and bringing them in and figuring how to make them the best they could be physically, mentally, tactically. It really struck me as a fit with what with we’ve been doing with our academy and now with our new USL team. This sense that we can make player the best they can be. That he can help us recruit both internationally and domestically with the statement that you’re coming to the Union to become the best player you could be. I thought that would be an extremely powerful part of our scouting and recruiting process. We’ll bring the type of players we want in the Philadelphia Union family. His commitment, his work ethic, his background as a player who did all these things, you look at the combination he was just a little better on all of those fronts than some other folks we had talked to.

On financial philosophy

I’m sure you know, Billy Beane is actually an advisor to AZ. So, philosophically I think the club very much believed in you don’t need to spend the most money to be a solid competitive and winning team. They’ve seen great success. They’re by no means a low budget team, but they’re not at the top category with Ajax and PSV, either. My view is we’re going to spend money when we have a man we believe in and players that we know fit our system well. There’s going to be the resources for Earnie and the team to go after them. But we’ve been missing a little bit of the process and the method to make sure when we make those commitments, they are the right commitments for our team, that they make us a better team. Not just that we’ve added an individual but that we’ve added an individual that makes the system better as a whole. I’m looking forward to having Earnie oversee that process and help make us better. Figuring out who we want to go after, why we’re going after them and how they’re going to help us, and how we’re going to help them become the best player they can be. I don’t think we disagree in terms of you spend when it’s right to spend; we will not be the highest spending in the league, but the resources are there for the right moves. I think he looked at our infrastructure, what we’ve done with the academy, training complex, soon to be annex, what we’re doing with USL, I think he sees all the pieces. In fact I think he was somewhat surprised with the level of commitment we’ve made of the lower levels. I think he understands we’re prepared to make commitments at the most senior levels once we have the right structure, the right processes and really the right system in place.

On how quickly this happened

It’s been very recent. This came together, literally, in the last two weeks in terms of people we really wanted to go after. Those candidates that made their way onto their final list and up to me, we really went after hard. The timing here was relatively quick, surprisingly quick. This was really the right person with the right fit from a quality standpoint. We seemed to hit it off pretty quickly. As we dug into his background and did some of the checks, everything came up as we would hope, so we didn’t want to wait. So we made him an offer relatively quickly.

On Stewart’s impact on youth program

Look, I think it’s critical. We talk about the path to PPL, we didn’t have the USL piece set, we will have that going forward. But it’s really Earnie’s qualities. This intense work ethic, this understanding that to be a great professional and no matter what your talent level requires you to really outwork, and out think and make yourself the best player you can possibly be. We want to infuse that all through the organization. As much as we can do to help players, a lot of it falls on how much they want to be at the Union, how much they want to play for the badge. I think Earnie exemplifies that. I can’t think of a better person to kind of stand at the top of the pyramid, and by example, show people how you succeed. I think he did it his playing career, but I also think you see it in his sporting director career. This is a guy who had to learn from scratch; he worked really, really hard. He’s always been open to learning. He loves new ideas, he wanted to understand them and the context of what he’s doing to constantly try to improve himself is something we also really liked and will sit in great with how I think about the business, Richie Graham thinks about the business. We think it’ll be a great collaborative atmosphere where the best ideas will win out. And Earnie’s work ethic and his strong principles about how you build a great team, that’s where we want them to start.

On how long Stewart will be here and on Sugarman’s personal development in the business of soccer

We kind of look at our team and think at least a minimum five-year chunk, so we look at Earnie is he willing to commit at least five years. He’s willing to commit as long as we want to, so I think you’ll see something along the order of five years as a place marker, but this is more about looking into each other’s eyes and making a long term commitment to make this team great and that’s the challenge he is singing up for.

In terms of my own involvement, and what I saw, is an opportunity to really bring a process that could really drill down what are these key criteria. What you have in an organization like ours, when you’re collaborative, is lots of people have lots of different ideas, but at the end of the day you really want to drill down and find the things that are going be the difference makers. And it’s clear to me, after watching the team pretty intently over the last 12-to-24 months that we needed to focus on a couple of key criteria. We need to develop some things that weren’t in place. Having a sporting director with the skills on the player development and player recruitment side. Someone who had a commitment to us and this intense work ethic. I think about those criteria as the building block of this new era for the Union. Those are the things we want to build upon. I just think standing back and watching and not really being comfortable with what was going on finally got to be too much, so I started taking a much more involved process. I tried to bring in different parts of the firm to the academy. I think this is a move that every one of us is excited about; to have someone in charge who cares deeply and who understands the business both internationally and in MLS – who’s really there to make everybody better. If we get this thing right, I think you should see some of that impact relatively quickly.

On Stewart’s credentials

He’s achieved a lot of success where he is. He loves his team. But he’s always said he wanted to come back to the U.S. and make a big impact. So, you’re right when we kind of lined him up on our criteria list and met him and his wife and kind of just spent time with him, we saw the qualities that we were looking for, we decided not to hesitate. So, we thank him and we thank his team. It’s a tough thing to do to move in-season; it’s going to be tough on his family at least for a period of time. He’s making a strong commitment; we’re making a strong commitment. I don’t see any reason why this isn’t going to end as long-term successful partners.

On the fans

I wouldn’t say the decision was made with the fan base in mind as much as it was with what does this team need to succeed long-term? We certainly hope the fans embrace Earnie. I can’t see any reason why he won’t fit in immediately with the types of passionate fans we have. The decision was really made around what we need as a team, what we need as an organization, how are we going to move forward. The fact he is who he is and how his recognition might help make that role easier for him is fantastic. But this is really based on the criteria and we’ve really tried to drill that down and get this right.

On what made him hone in on Stewart

I can’t even say he was available. We’ve gone through a lot of different interview processes and recommendations from folks. We have learned a lot along the way. We had a criteria-list as long as 20 things and that’s not really realistic. We made the change in the front office, and said what are the things that matter? We need to make a change, there’s too many people talking to too many people. When Earnie was able to make the time to talk to us, we said this is a good fit. The reason it came about quickly is he felt the same thing. I don’t think he was looking. I think he felt it was right and we felt it was right.

On MLS HQ involvement

We did not reach out to them on this. I did at the end of the process reach out to Don [Garber] and ask if there was any reason that he thought this wouldn’t be a great fit for the team and he was very supportive. This was not driven by the league in any way, no.

On emotions

I am super excited. This is a piece of the puzzle. If we’re going to be a top-tier team we need to be a top-tier organization led by a top-tier person. With Earnie in place, a lot of the hard work that’s been done on the ground can start showing results. It hasn’t been much fun. We want passion inside and outside the organization to really come back to the level we knew when we started the team in 2010. I really think this is the beginning of that. Truly excited that this is the beginning of something really good.

On Brian Carroll, player opinions

Nobody had anything but good things to say. So that helped confirm our view that we should move quickly and we should see if there was an opportunity to bring him in.

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