In what President and General Manager Mark McCullers called “a very difficult and emotional situation,” the Columbus Crew announced it has parted ways with coach Robert Warzycha after his nearly five seasons in charge. Current Technical Director Brian Bliss has been instated as interim head coach for the remaining eight games of the regular season.
“After careful consideration and consultation with our owner, we determined that we would not be renewing Robert’s contract at the end of 2013,” said McCullers.
Warzycha has been a part of the organization since its inception. He played for Columbus from 1996-2002 before making the transition to coaching as an assistant until 2009 when he took the top job. Under Warzycha, the Crew won the 2009 Supporters’ Shield and reached the final of the 2010 US Open Cup.
But 2013 has not been as successful as previous campaigns. The Crew is currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 8-13-5 record, eight points away from the final playoff position.
“This organization, over the history of Major League Soccer, is one of the top performing organizations on the field,” McCullers said. “I feel like we have lost our way a little bit in that regard.”
McCullers said he and Chairman and Investor-Operator Anthony Precourt decided to make the coaching change now as opposed to the end of the season so they could give themselves more time to work on the search for the their next head coach.
“When I became the club’s new chairman, I said that I would take the necessary time to be thoughtful and evaluate where we needed to make changes,” Precourt said in a statement released by the team.
Precourt and his firm, Precourt Sports Ventures, LLC, acquired the operating rights to the Crew from the Hunt Sports Group July 30.
Bliss is in his sixth season as Crew technical director and this marks his second stint as an interim coach in Major League Soccer. His first was in 2006 with the Kansas City Wizards, where he took over after coach Bob Gansler stepped down.
“I’m not new to this, but certainly the responsibility is great,” Bliss said. “I appreciate the opportunity that Anthony Precourt and Mark (McCullers) have entrusted in me.”
Bliss is a former United States National Team player and has been an assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s Under-20 team since January 2012.
“Make no mistake about it, this (interim position) is a career choice that I’ve put myself into,” Bliss said. “And one that I feel I’m up to the task to do.”
McCullers made it clear that the coaching change doesn’t mean the organization is writing off this team’s chances at making the postseason.
“I understand where we are and our chances of making the playoffs and I know they’re slim,” McCullers said. “But I can assure you that we will not give up until we’re mathematically eliminated.”
As for future seasons, McCullers said the coaching search would begin “immediately,” and that he and Precourt will lead it. McCullers said the organization’s goal is to have a new coach in place by the end of the year to make the transition for the 2014 season as simple as possible.
McCullers also said Bliss was a candidate for the permanent position, with the interim coach adding he very much wants the job.
Bliss’s first game as Crew interim head coach will be Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at home against the Houston Dynamo.