Who’s Next?

Finding a replacement to fill the enormous shoes left behind by its most decorated manager in club history will be no easy task for the Revolution front office. That is a given.

But, the organization won’t be at loss for possible suitors. Although the Revolution may have posted a franchise-worst five wins in 2011, there’s still a number of talented players on the roster that could merge under a new manager. The challenge, of course, is finding the right man for the job post haste.

Here are six potential candidates for taking over the reigns at Gillette Stadium.

Paul Mariner (Director of Player Development, Toronto FC). By far, the most popular candidate at this juncture. In his six seasons (2004-09) as Nicol’s right hand man, Mariner helped mold an attack that often slashed through opposing defenses with ease. Moreso, Mariner’s niche seemed to be developing young players, and it was not uncommon for the former Ipswich Town striker to remain on the practice pitch into the afternoon guiding players on tehcnique. In short, he would seem to be the ideal candidate for the job. However, his services may not be easy to obtain given that Mariner is under contract with Toronto FC at the moment. Then, there’s the matter of compensation, of which Nicol’s former lieutenant will likely command a considerable sum to return to Foxboro.

Steve Ralston (Assistant Coach, Houston). At first glance, Ralston would seem to be another attractive replacement. There’s no doubt that Ralston has the smarts to coach, and given his familiarity with the Revolution organization, it would seem that he’d be another exceptional candidate. But, Ralston has never been a particularly vocal personality, and there are questions as to how well he’d do with the reigns on such a young team. Plus, with only one-and-a-half seasons of coaching experience, he may be the right man for the job someday. But that day may be a few years away.

John Murphy (Assistant Coach, Clemson University). Much like Mariner and Ralston, Murphy’s no stranger to southern New England. As a Revolution assistant from 2000-2003, Murphy was known for his scouting acumen, bringing in the likes of Taylor Twellman, Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, and Pat Noonan, the nucleus of the team that went to three-straight MLS Cup appearances from 2005-07. Given Murphy’s exceptional track record of talent assessment, he may be particularly well-suited for the job given the amount of rebuilding the Revolution need.

Mike Noonan (Head Coach, Clemson University). Noonan is another name that has ties to the region. As the head coach at Brown from 1995-2009, Noonan went 160-70-31, and led the Bears to 10 NCAA tournament appearances. Under his guidance, players like Cory Gibbs and Jeff Larentowicz flourished in Brown’s disciplined style of play, which emphasized technical skill rather than athleticism. But, if there’s one drawback to Noonan’s resume, it’s that he has no professional coaching experience. And in a league that demands so much from its coaches, it may be a risk to bring in Noonan.

Jay Vidovich (Head Coach, Wake Forest). If the Revolution are looking for winner, they needn’t look any further than the man who’s guided Wake Forest to a 233-96-33 in his 16 seasons at Winston-Salem, including an NCAA Championship in 2007. There’s no doubt that Vidovich, who unquestionably had Nicol’s ear when it came to the SuperDraft, has an eye for talent. Over 27 of Vidovich’s players have gone on to play pro soccer, including former Revolution players Michael Parkhurst, James Riley, Wells Thompson, and current striker Zack Schilawski. But, again, the question is whether he can translate that success to MLS.

Jay Heaps (former Revolution defender, current broadcaster). There’s no question that Heaps has the intellect, passion, and intensity to coach a professional soccer team. As one of the best players to ever don a Revolution uniform, you know what you’ll get with Heaps: accountability, instruction, and a wealth of experience at the pro level. But, with all due respect to the former defender, the hiring of a candidate with no professional coaching experience is a huge gamble. However, if the organization were to compliment Heaps with seasoned assistant coaches and a bonafide technical director, his transition into coaching would surely be smoothened.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He regularly contributes to The Associated Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or contact him via e-mail at BOConnell21@aol.com