And a man shall lead them . . . again

The U.S. women’s national soccer team has a new coach, one with plenty of international coaching experience and success.

But even before Tom Sermanni, a Scot in charge of the Australian women’s team, was hired Tuesday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, there were worries about a factor over which he has had no control.

His gender.

A few seasoned media observers of women’s soccer were grousing on Twitter about USSF president Sunil Gulati’s choice. Phil Hersh of The Chicago Tribune:

“Here’s the deal: Best choice would have been US woman; next, foreign woman; next, US man; last, foreign man”

When reminded by others in the women’s soccer community, including former national team captain and ESPN commentator Julie Foudy, about Sermanni’s qualifications and achievements, Hersh remained churlish:

“If @JulieFoudy likes Sermanni, that’s about the best endorsement he could get. But the best woman’s FB team in world should have woman coach”

Why? There is no explanation, of course. But for sheer outrage, USA Today‘s Christine Brennan takes the lead, as usual, when her gender has apparently been besmirched:

“What happened today should never happen again for #USWNT. Time for major USOC, NCAA, NGB initiative.”

(I know I need to sign up for Storify if I’m going to keep doing this. Soon, I keep promising myself.)

And I know Hersh and Brennan well enough to pose this question, not just of them but also those of us who have a bit of history covering, and following, this sport:

Does anybody remember Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco?

Two coaches who were the architects of the U.S. women’s program, and who set a very high bar for the rest of the world to follow?

Two coaches who have devoted their lives to coaching women, and of helping develop the women’s game in so many other ways? Dorrance, with the North Carolina dynasty. DiCicco, on the fledgling professional level following his guidance of the 1999 Women’s World Cup championship team, first as an executive in the Women’s United Soccer Association, and most recently with the recently folded Women’s Professional Soccer.

Both authors of noted books on the nurturing of young soccer players, regardless of gender.

Two male coaches?

DiCicco vied to get back his old job, and was a finalist. After being told he would not be re-hired, DiCicco complained that he thought Gulati “thinks so little of American coaches. But it’s hard to say for me that he didn’t make a good choice. Tom Sermanni is a good choice and can — as so many of us can — win with this team.”

Isn’t that the whole point?

Those vested in the sport, and who want to see the American women continue the good work of Pia Sundhage, know that it’s not about whether an American woman is in charge. While it’s a good idea to encourage and cultivate women coaches who want to aspire to the national team level, developing that pool is going to take longer than it has to create the playing talent on the field. Women’s soccer is, like many women’s team sports, still in a developmental stage, in so many ways, and the coaching realm is no exception.

Brennan’s pre-emptive strike on all this, launched last week, is the perfect example of the thinking that has pervaded women’s sports activism for many years, centered more on the career prospects of adults and the symbolic value they convey than what might ultimately benefit female players:

“Encouraging U.S. Soccer to hire another female head coach is not about bowing to a quota system or some kind of feminist agenda. It’s about growing their game and the possibilities within it, showing every girl and woman on a soccer field that she can become a leader by seeing someone who looks like her coaching her team — and the U.S. national team as well.”

“Some kind of feminist agenda?” From a journalist who openly spouts Women’s Sports Foundation talking points as a matter of course, even while on official duty?

What she’s getting at here is an argument I know well from covering women’s college basketball for many years. In the early 1990s, there was a highly concerted effort to get athletics directors to hire women for plum jobs, even where male coaches with many years in the women’s game and plenty of qualifications were also being considered. Some guys didn’t get interviewed at all, as younger females were being touted by their elders as their heirs apparent.

Thankfully that conflict has largely been reduced, as ADs are hiring coaches, regardless of gender, race and other factors, who know how to win, above all.

Without the dedication and contributions of two men, U.S. women’s soccer would not be where it is today. To not even mention them by name, much less acknowledge their legacy, is more of an affront to American women’s soccer than the hiring of yet another man to lead them.

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One Comment

  1. Bern
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Really good post. It was pretty obvious that after losing an out lesbian foreign coach the USWNT was in a no win situation relative to keeping the cadre of progressive politically correct gender feminist sports community happy.

    I don’t know enough about soccer to know if the new coach is the right person was hired. I certainly would have preferred an American coach our American team. After that it’s up to the experts.