By Kevin Koczwara
Jay Heaps played 11 seasons in Major League Soccer and was one of the league’s top defenders during his career. Now, two years after retiring, the Nashua, N.H. native will again be stepping back on the field. This time, though, he won’t be going toe-to-toe with opposition, but rather, he will be the new manager of the New England Revolution.
The team announced Heap’s appointment Tuesday morning and said he will assume the duties immediately.
Heaps, 35, grew up in Longmeadow, Mass., and went on to play college soccer at Duke University before being drafted in 1999 by the Miami Fusion — he was named rookie of the year. When the Fusion closed shop in 2001, Heaps moved to New England to play. He would become one of the franchise’s most consistent players during his nine seasons with the Revolution, helping the Revs make it to four MLS Cups and starting in all four.
“For more than a decade, Jay was as passionate, tough and tireless as any player who’s ever worn the Revolution jersey,” Revolution Investor/Operator Jonathan Kraft said in the Revolution’s press release. “During his Revs career, no one was more determined to win or revered for his work ethic and leadership, both on and off the field. We are excited that Jay will bring these characteristics, along with a keen intellect, to his new position as our head coach. He understands the team’s heritage and already has a connection with many of our players and fans. During the interview process, Jay impressed Robert and me with his knowledge of how to build a roster and how teams can gain and maintain a competitive advantage. We are convinced that he will work well with General Manager Mike Burns and President Brian Bilello to rebuild the Revolution into a championship-contending team.”
In 2009, when Heaps retired, he left the Revolution as the club’s all-time leader in games played (243), starts (238) and minutes played (21,619) and ranked fifth on the Revs’ career assist chart (26) and scored nine goals with the Revs. Heaps holds the distinction of being the longest-tenured Revolution player, ever.
“I am thrilled to accept this position,” Heaps said in a press release from the Revolution. “Throughout my playing career and with my involvement with the team after I retired, I’ve made no secret about my commitment to the Revolution, and I’m honored to be entrusted with this responsibility as head coach. I’d like to thank the Kraft family, Brian Bilello and Mike Burns for believing in me, and in the vision I have for the club as we move ahead. We have a strong base to build on, but we also have a lot of work to do as we look ahead to 2012.”
Heaps becomes New England’s sixth manager in the team’s history. He becomes the first New England native and former Revolution player to take on the task of leading his hometown club. He is the second youngest active head coach in Major League Soccer, behind Ben Olsen of D.C. United.
Heaps should be well prepared for the position as he didn’t venture far from the Revolution after retiring. The former defender remained the club’s ambassador after retirement and joined Brad Feldman in the booth as a color analysts for both radio and television broadcasts. He balanced that workload while working in the investment banking industry.
“As we began the search for our new coach, we had a strong idea about the qualities we were looking for in our next head coach,” Revolution President Brian Bilello said in a press release. “As we went through a comprehensive search and spoke with candidates with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, Jay stood out with his vision for the team, his desire to move the club into the future and for his positive attitude about impacting change. Coupled with everything we already knew about him personally and his competitive traits we’ve always admired and respected, he emerged as our clear favorite and number one choice as our next head coach.”
“Every day, Jay set a positive example when he was one of our players: he gave everything he had on the field, no matter if it was a game or a training session, and then was a leader in the locker room and in the community,” Revolution General Manager Michael Burns said. “We believe Jay is the right person to lead us as our head coach and we’re very excited to get him in and involved. We have a lot of work to do to prepare for 2012.”
At the league level, Heaps was ranked eighth all-time in MLS in games played (314), fourth in starts (299) and third in minutes played (27,363) at the time of his retirement. He closed his playing career with 17 goals and 34 assists overall.
More from the Revolution Press Release:
Heaps is also a former member of the U.S. Under-17 and Under-20 National Teams.
Heaps played collegiately at Duke where he won the 1998 Missouri Athletic Club Award as national player of the year. He was a three-time finalist for the Hermann Trophy, a four-time first-team All-ACC selection and four-time all-region choice. He left Duke’s program ranked third in career goals (45), fourth in career assists (37) and tied for second in career points (127). In addition to earning Soccer America’s national freshman of the year honors in 1995, Heaps also played three-and-a-half years of basketball under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke before leaving midway through his senior year to pursue his professional soccer career. He was named one of Duke’s “Top 10 Devils of the Decade” by the Duke Chronicle.
“I’m really excited about Jay becoming the head coach,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s nobody who has the combination of spirit, energy, charisma and talent like he does. I loved coaching him. He was a walk-on for our basketball team because he was an All-American soccer player, but everyone on our team always followed what he had to say. I see him spreading that same type of energy, spirit, and using his charisma to build back a storied program. I wish him the best. He’s an outstanding leader, and for management to have the confidence in such a young guy – that they saw a special guy – I think it’ll pay off greatly.”
Heaps accrued three years of collegiate coaching experience during his MLS playing days with the Revolution. In 2004, he was a volunteer assistant coach at Boston College under Ed Kelly as the Eagles went 13-5-2 and advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He followed that with a two-year stint (2005-06) at Northeastern under Brian Ainscough in the same capacity.
Heaps and his wife, Danielle, live southwest of Boston and have three children: John F. “Jack” Heaps IV (6), Olivia (4) and Jude (6 mos.). Heaps is a member of the Board of Directors of AmericaSCORES New England, and was the Revs’ representative to the MLS Players Union when he was a player. In 2011, he was inducted into the New England Soccer Hall of Fame.
Heaps, 35, will assume his duties immediately and will be presented in a formal press conference at 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at Gillette Stadium, which will be streamed live on revolutionsoccer.net.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at email@example.com.