To know Jay Heaps is to trust him.
Understandably, there will be those who are skeptical of the decision to bring in the former defender as the New England Revolution’s new head coach – a move which was officially announced on Tuesday morning – primarily because Heaps has no prior coaching experience. Point taken.
But Heaps will turn many of the doubters into believers when they hear the 35-year-old Revolution legend talk about his vision for this club. Of that I’m confident. In listening to Heaps speak about the monumental challenge he’s undertaken – and he’s well aware it’ll be a massive test – it’s impossible not to be moved by his passion and dedication. This is a man who doesn’t just love soccer. He loves the New England Revolution.
Granted, there’s more to coaching than simply wanting to succeed. Otherwise it would be a pretty straightforward gig. But behind the grind-it-out, tough-as-nails, hard-working defender Revs fans saw on the field for nine years is a student of the game whose meticulous preparation is only matched by his desire to win. If someone told Jay Heaps he could increase his team’s chances of winning by one percent if he showed up at 5 a.m. to get in some extra prep work, he’d be there at 4 a.m. The Revs will never take the field unprepared.
I’d also challenge the notion that this move represents the status quo. Yes, Heaps is a familiar face. Yes, he spent the past two years as the club’s color commentator on Comcast SportsNet New England, so he was already part of the organization. Yes, he played under former head coach Steve Nicol. Yes, like Nicol he was a defender during his playing days.
But Heaps is a different breed. After watching this team – his team – struggle for the past two seasons, he knows things need to change. Now he has the chance to implement that change. I honestly believe this will not be the same team moving forward.
There’s plenty to be done in the immediate future, so Heaps won’t exactly have a chance to ease his way into the position, but he does have a head start. Unlike any of the other head coaching candidates, Heaps has seen every game this team has played in recent years. He knows the players, including the ones he played alongside, and you can be sure he already has a plan.
I know more questions linger, including how Heaps will manage the relationship with former teammates as their new head coach. It’s a unique situation, to be sure, but one which both Jason Kreis (at Real Salt Lake) and Ben Olsen (at D.C. United) seem to have figured out. This move doesn’t so much break the mold as it follows what’s steadily becoming a proven model.
In the end, no one wants to answer those lingering questions more than Jay Heaps. No one wants to prove the doubters wrong more than Jay Heaps. No one wants to raise that MLS Cup trophy more than Jay Heaps.
That’s an approach I can get behind.