The 2007 season couldn't have started any better for the Fire. Chicago stood atop the Eastern Conference standings with 10 points from its first four games, the best start in club history. However, after dropping six of the last eight games to fall to fifth, coach Dave Sarachan was fired.
During Sarachan's four-year tenure, the Fire won two U.S. Open cups and a Supporters Shield. Sarachan also was named the 2003 MLS Coach of the Year and in five seasons recorded a 55-50-31 record.
Sarachan spoke with ESPNsoccernet about the firing and about what's next.
ESPNsoccernet: Your initial reaction when you got word you were going to be let go?
DS: I was shocked. Obviously, my staff was shocked when I was told the news. It was unexpected given the timing and circumstances we as a team had been under for a number of weeks, with the call-ups and injuries. And the group we had to compete with wasn't our first group, and given those circumstances it caught me off guard ... there are still lots of questions as to the reasoning behind the timing.
Listen, I am fully aware when you sign up to become a professional coach, you work without a net. I don't know how you classify the term "fair" because it's sometimes in the eyes of a coach what is fair. But I am a pretty honest guy, and if my team didn't compete, or quit in various stages of training or games, I'd have to look myself in the mirror and tell myself I didn't get it done with this group.
But I liked the way my team competed. We may not have been up to standard, given the quality ... we had to work with at that time -- and I am not diminishing my reserves -- but that's the reality.
We competed hard, worked hard and trained hard. I thought we responded, and we were in what everyone goes through -- a bad cycle. Given that [at the time of the dismissal] we were still only seven or eight points behind first place, I know that once we got healthy, and with the addition of [Cuauhtemoc] Blanco or perhaps another acquisition, we were going to be fine.
ESPNsoccernet: How much do you think the fact you weren't "John's guy" [GM John Guppy] had to do with the decision?
DS: That's a great question. I was hired by Peter [Wilt], who was eventually replaced by John [Guppy]. John and I always got along. It wasn't a relationship where we didn't respect each other or butt heads or anything like that. But with new management there is always the notion of change, and there was quite a bit of change in the front office after Peter left. Maybe as this unfolds we can look back and say he's got his guy.
As I process this, though, it's hard for me to answer all the questions I have, given what happened last year. We went through a tough stretch and obviously had a great run to lift another trophy. My success here is pretty well-documented: four years, four finals and three trophies. I believe in my work and my ability to lead and manage. When you look at all the variables, the only thing I can kind of hold onto is the idea that he felt he had someone else in mind and this was the time to make that change.
ESPNsoccernet: You never lost the locker room, players hadn't stopped listening to you or your motivation techniques; so does that make it that much harder that it all happened so quick?
DS: I don't want to say I have gotten a hundred, because that sounds like an exaggeration, but I have had literally many dozens of calls from people at every level of soccer. From the highest levels in this country to college coaches I competed against 20 years ago who were shocked by this. It makes me feel good in a way because they know what I put into it.
I have heard from just about all my players by either phone or e-mail. When the players went public to show their support, they put their jobs on the line, essentially. They're being honest and truthful, and I think they felt cheated a little bit, too, and that makes me feel a little bit better.
ESPNsoccernet: How raw still are your feelings and emotions?
DS: People that know me well know I am not a vindictive guy, nor am I a guy that walks around with my head down. Luckily, I have a great family that is very supportive.
You've got to take advantage of whatever presents itself. Right now I am no longer the head coach of Chicago, and that's not going to change. I know my methods of teaching and coaching, working with people, and the way I treat people will never change. When one door closes another opens, so I'm not worried about the next steps.
If change was imminent in [Guppy's] mind and if it was going to happen, better it happen now as opposed to later this season.
I'm going to decompress and move on to the next step in my career. I will be back coaching. I know that, I am confident of that. I cannot tell you when and where yet, but I would love to back in the league. I believe in this league and have been a part of this with Bruce [Arena] at D.C. United early on, and it's going in the right direction.
ESPNsoccernet: At the end of the day, were you too loyal to this group?
DS: You're in this business to win. I know that. Coaches and organizations all want to win. However, you still have to build your inner group, build your team and put them in a direction where you can win. There are a lot of coaches and organizations in MLS that make changes for the sake of making changes every year. And maybe that works for them. But I believe when you say "loyalty," there's got to be a sense that we're all in this together -- but still have the quality to win.
I think in our society today, it's even more special when you can retain a core group and build on it with tweaks here and there and still compete and win. Now you have that layer underneath [Chris] Armas, [C.J.] Brown and [Diego] Gutierrez and the other veterans who understand what it takes to win.
What happens when you make all these changes and that top layer is gone? Who is there to show the next layer the way? So I don't believe in change for change's sake; I know that's the corporate way now to shake things up.
ESPNsoccernet: What are your immediate plans besides reconnecting with your family?
DS: I think I owe it to myself and to my wife and kids to stay at home, decompress and spend some time with them. Right now, I am going to chill and then at some point begin to entertain some possibilities and opportunities as they come, and I am sure they will.
Allen Hopkins covers Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer for ESPN and ESPN.com. Look for Allen patrolling the sidelines during "MLS Primetime Thursday." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.