Times Commentary: Sounders strike gold in getting Sigi Schmid as coach

Times Commentary: Sounders strike gold in getting Sigi Schmid as coach

Credit: AP

Sigi Schmid looks on as he is introduced as the first head coach of the Seattle Sounders FC MLS soccer team Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008, at Qwest Field in Seattle. Schmid coached the Columbus Crew to the MLS Cup championship last season.

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 12:37 PM

The catch in Sigi Schmid's voice caught him by surprise. The sudden rush of emotion, the suddenly vivid thoughts of his late mother Doris, blindsided him as he spoke at Tuesday morning's news conference.

The first coach of Seattle's new soccer club, Sounders FC, was talking about his younger brother Roland, who lives in Sammamish. He was mentioning how excited he was to be living in the same city as his brother for the first time since 1992.

And then he thought about his mother, who died when Sigi was 23 and Roland was 13. In a crowded meeting room inside Qwest Field, he paused for a moment, gathered himself and smiled.

"As you can tell, I'm an emotional guy," Schmid said, as his brother looked on from the back of the room.

After their mom's death, Roland leaned on Sigi to show him how to progress through American schools, American soccer, American life.

Sigi mentored his brother with the same combination of compassion and counsel that he has mentored soccer players at UCLA and in MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Columbus Crew.

"After our mother died, he absolutely kind of automatically became brother-slash-father figure," said Roland Schmid, who played for his brother at UCLA.

"He gave me a lot of guidance. When he first came out of high school and went to college he had some mentors who helped him through that decision. Our parents came from Germany and they knew nothing about colleges, nothing about the process.

"I wasn't going to get that kind of help from my father, either, so my brother helped me through all the school and all those things you do as American kids that we were not accustomed to."

Even then, when he was helping his brother cope with the death of their mother and grieving her loss, Sigi Schmid, who came to this country with his parents when he was 7, was coaching. It seems he was born to this manner.

"Even though we were 10 years apart, it was never a situation where I was trying to get rid of my brother, so I could hang with some other people," Sigi said after the news conference. "It was always a situation where I didn't mind him hanging around.

"And when we lost our mother, it was a difficult time for him. And it was a real difficult time for my father [Fritz]. He was a typical German father who really didn't do much around the house. He had to learn to cook and do all that stuff for himself. I was glad I was there because it offered sort of a respite from what my brother was going through with our dad."

Sigi Schmid has been coaching all his adult life. And he has a rsum as thick as a Dostoyevsky novel.

He was the other wizard at Westwood. In 19 years at UCLA, Schmid was 322-63-33. He won three national championships, including an eight-overtime final in the Kingdome over American in 1985.

As a player at UCLA, he used to come into Pauley Pavilion from soccer practice and watch the last half-hour of basketball coach John Wooden's practices. Schmid took mental notes.

"It was a tremendous education," Schmid, 55, said. "Coach Wooden's attention to detail, his attention to fundamentals and the quiet leadership. ... He got the most out of every player."

A mere 90 days before their opener at home against MLS runner-up New York Red Bulls, Sounders FC introduced Schmid to Seattle.

The Sounders struck gold with this first coaching hire. Short of stealing Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United, they couldn't have done much better.

How many expansion teams hire their league's reigning coach of the year? How many expansion teams hire the coach of the league champions?

"When I used to talk with Sigi, I always came away thinking, 'OK, I think I'll try that,' " said Seattle Sounders alum Jimmy Gabriel, who coached against Schmid as an assistant at Washington. "He's got good ideas about the game, solid ideas, but he'll also have that little magic idea, something else that can turn a team around."

While coaching the L.A. Galaxy, Schmid unlocked the secret to an underachieving team and led the Galaxy to the 2002 MLS Cup championship.

Last season he won again with Columbus.

"I think passionate would be the word for him," said Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson, who played for Schmid at UCLA and on U.S. national teams and has known the coach for 20 years.

"He can be an emotional guy. Definitely after winning he gets emotional. But also if there are times when he has to get on the team or on a player to motivate them, he'll let you know that, too.

"I always felt like if I wanted to talk with Sigi I could walk into his office and talk with him about anything. That's the kind of relationship he creates with the guys. He creates a bond with the players."

Gabriel once told Schmid that soccer can't be "fun, fun" and that it can't be "serious, serious."

It has to be "serious fun."

Schmid practices that philosophy.

Henderson remembers the UCLA players, putting a new wrinkle onto an old clich, occasionally dumping Gatorade on Schmid at the end of practices.

"We'd get him every once in a while after practice, and sometimes he was not happy about it," Henderson said. "Those are just the things that bring a team together.

"He was still the coach and we respected that, of course, but we had that relationship with him where we felt like we could joke around."

Sports in Seattle has been a little too serious for a little too long. The timing feels right for a dose of Sigi Schmid's "serious fun."

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