Fire housecleaning includes Paunovic, other coaches and more
Why the Chicago Fire decided Wednesday to dismiss coach Veljko Paunovic is clear.
What isn't clear is what took so long.
More than anything, the Fire needed a fresh start. Joe Mansueto taking over as club majority owner in September was the first step toward that fresh start, a move whose importance can't be underrated.
The Fire took a necessary but unfortunate second step Wednesday, letting Paunovic go. Also dismissed were most of the soccer operations staff, including Paunovic's assistant coaches, the equipment managers, trainers and massage therapist.
Team president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez, who hired Paunovic four years ago, seems safe in his job for now despite becoming something of a lightning rod to the team's supporters' groups.
"Four years ago, Pauno and the staff accepted a challenge to help establish a football culture at the Fire," Rodriguez said in a team statement. "Their efforts helped revitalize the club with a competitive spirit and a dedication to always putting football first. Pauno and his staff were relentless in their devotion to the club and for that we are immeasurably thankful."
Rodriguez said shortly after the regular season ended in October that the team was looking into hiring someone to help him and Paunovic with soccer operations. No announcement has been made about filling that job, more clearly defining it or defining Rodriguez's future role with the club.
What's known for sure is firing Paunovic was a necessary and overdue decision.
You can't start over with the same leadership that saw the team go 41-58-37 over four seasons with just one playoff appearance, an embarrassing 4-0 home loss in 2017 to the New York Red Bulls.
Few MLS teams show the type of patience with their coaches that the Fire showed with Paunovic, who got a contract extension after the 2018 season. He had one season left on that deal.
Previously a youth national team coach for his native Serbia, Paunovic had trouble developing young players. In fact he seemed to have trouble with many of his players, with a doghouse that always seemed occupied.
Many of the international and domestic players Paunovic and Rodriguez brought in did not pan out, and Paunovic's revolving game tactics seemed to confuse his players. His teams played hard but often seemed to find a way to lose.
Goalkeeper, a position of strength when Paunovic and Rodriguez arrived, has been a mess since.
SeatGeek Stadium attendance this season was the worst in MLS by more than 2,000 fans a game, with a move to much-larger Soldier Field next season a done deal.
The club said it is beginning a search for a new coach. Sources said this summer that Rodriguez had requested permission to talk with then U.S. national team youth coach Tab Ramos about coaching the Fire, but Ramos since has become coach of the Houston Dynamo.