By Kevin Koczwara
Jay Heaps jumped at the opportunity to work at Morgan Stanley after he retired from professional soccer in 2009. The offer: spend six-months in an intense program where he would learn to manage money, invest in the present and the future in an business environment (Private Wealth Management) where success is measured in tangible numbers. Where success is managed in profit and making progress. He took the job because he didn’t see any coaching jobs he really wanted, and because it was a great opportunity. And Heaps doesn’t miss many opportunities.
“At the end of my career, the uncertainty out there was that there wasn’t a position in the coaching staff here and there were a couple opportunities out of the league. On a flier I went and took an interview at Morgan Stanley and they gave me an unbelievable opportunity to get trained in New York and get a different kind of perspective that I leapt at,” Heaps said via telephone on Wednesday afternoon. “I will never hide the fact that I spent two years in an intense program, and six months and two years in an institution that gave me a high level education.”
That extra education should serve Heaps well in his new position as the manager of the New England Revolution. Major League Soccer has a salary cap — it’s a numbers league where teams need to be wary of contracts, salaries, and the numbers. And with the ever-growing use of numbers, statistics, and other evolved ways of evaluating players, Heaps should be well versed in crunching the numbers.
“There is no question that the salary cap and where players fit, how contracts work, and having that kind of background [will help],” said Heaps. “I was an econ minor in college and I understood it, but as a profession these last two years, we’ve crunched numbers and we did a lot of work. We worked with our own budget and worked with people from all works of life and what their balance sheet looked like.
“So, when you get into a situation like this, that is something I will certainly use to guide me on where someone fits in the salary cap and why they fit here.”
Success and Jay Heaps are well acquainted. The defender was a two-sport athlete at Duke. He played four years of soccer for the Blue Devils and also enjoyed three seasons with the basketball team, playing for the winning-est coach in the history of college basketball, Mike Krzyzewski. He became the captain of a very good Miami Fusion team in his second season, and he helped lead the Revolution to four MLS Cups during his playing days.
Heaps hasn’t stopped succeeding and making the best of his situations since retirement. That kind of drive, and record, plus Heaps desire to win, and his passion for the Revolution, guided Mike Burns and Brian Billello to hire Heaps as New England’s newest manager. And those attributes outweighed Heaps lack of experience in professional coaching.
“We were impressed with Jay from a personality stand point — with his knowledge of our roster to his knowledge of other players in MLS. I can honestly say that we interviewed a candidate that wants to win or have the Revolution win as much as Jay. Those were the selling points,” said Burns via telephone. “We’re quite familiar with Jay’s lack of experience as a head coach, but he’s always been a student of the game. He’s a tireless worker, and Jay’s got the personality that he’s going to be successful in life. Put all that together and weighing everything, we felt he was the right man for the job and our first choice. And we feel fortunate that he accepted.”
Heaps may lack coaching experience, but he feels his two years spent in the booth with Brad Feldman, the Rev’s play-by-play announcer, as a color analyst for the television and radio broadcasts served him well in preparing game plans and learning the tactics of the game, as well as the players in the league.
“The entire time I did the TV I started to break down [the game]. I think the first three or four times as an analyst I kind of thought of the game from a player’s standpoint, but by half way through that season — my first year — I started to think, ‘okay, what would you being doing right now if you’re going to play against Real Salt Lake, how would you attack them? What would you be doing?’ I took a different approach,” said Heaps. “For the last two years in the analyst chair, I was trying to carve my coaching and see what I was thinking was going to come to fruition.”
Studying film before and after games gave Heaps a foundation to build on. It gave him the knowledge of how different coaches use different players. It helped him understand where certain players fit and what kinds of players do what on a field. And covering the team he coached for two seasons, seeing every game they played and studying the team week-in and week out, helped him gain the basic knowledge of game planning and breaking down opponents and his own team. He hopes it will serve him well as he spends the next few weeks evaluating the team and players he inherited fit.
The journey to coaching has been in Heaps plans since he was a player. During the offseason, Heaps says he would go back to Duke to learn, to study coaching, especially that of Coach K. And how he’s getting his chance to use that experience, along with his playing and analyst experience, with the team he spent the majority of career. He may be young — the second youngest coach in the league behind Ben Olsen of D.C. United — and inexperienced, but that hasn’t stopped Heaps from jumping at the opportunity.
New England was in need of some new blood in the coaching seat at the end of last season, and Heaps may just provide that new blood. He acknowledges the fact that he will need help, experienced help. And anyone who can admit to their short-comings and supplement that is never a bad person to chose to lead your team. That willingness to look for answers and seek out advice and openness will only help Heaps as he tries to work over a roster in desperate need of change and ideas.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.