John Hackworth was named the Philadelphia Union interim manager on June 13, 2012. While he was officially named to the post on Aug. 30, one full year has passed since he was put in charge.
Philadelphiaunion.com recently caught up with Hackworth to discuss the one-year point and a number of other wide-ranging questions.
Philadelphiaunion.com: How has your life changed since that day?
Hackworth: I would say that it changed in a lot of ways. I have tried to not let it change me. I think the good thing about being a coach and having the experiences that I’ve had, this opportunity came up a year ago. It wasn’t like I had to change the coach that I was or the person that I was. I just had to deal with the demands in a much different way. While those demands certainly are different from being an assistant, it’s something I wanted to do the whole time. I didn’t think it was going to happen the way it happened. But I’m happy to be here and I’m very honored to be in this position.
PU.com: A year has passed since you received that interim title. Has it seemed like a year? Has it flown by for you?
Hackworth: In some ways, it has flown by. In other ways, it seems like it’s 10 years ago. I guess that as a coach, you live through every minute of the organization, especially as a head coach when you feel responsible for so many players and staff and you feel more responsible for the fans and what happens to your team. So those aren’t easy times to deal with, but they’re good and it’s exactly what you would expect it to be.
PU.com: When you surround yourself with good people on your staff, did you do that on purpose to take some of the demands off you?
Hackworth: Absolutely, you have to put people around you that are better than you at certain things and I am certainly very thankful that I have assistance, not just the coaches, but our athletic trainers, our equipment staff. It’s been a really good process. It was a difficult transition, but I think the staff and everybody handled it really well.
PU.com: I know you don’t like talking about yourself. But it’s got to be an awesome thing to have the players look to you as the manager. Do you take time to reflect on being the guy in charge?
Hackworth: It’s a good question but it’s not the way I think about it because I think I play a part of a team. I have to be the leader of the team in a lot of different ways. I have to manage a lot of different personalities and egos and whatnot, but I still think it’s a team. There’s so much work that has to go into it that I have to make sure I give direction to all of those pieces. I have to delegate and manage very clearly and concisely. You don’t really get very many chances to reflect on that because you’re so busy. A lot of my coaching colleagues who have asked, have said, ‘Hey, what’s it like being a head coach in the MLS?’ I’m like, ‘There’s great things. There’s some things that are more difficult.’ But the one thing is you don’t really get any time to rest and reflect on it. As a National Team coach, you go through World Cup qualifying, and you have this down time between qualifying and the World Cup. As a college coach, your season is a lot shorter, so you do have that down time. Literally, I feel like the only time I have off is between Christmas and New Year’s, where I just personally shut it down. So that time to reflect, if you dwell on it too much, you get behind. It is a grind. You’ve just to be able to manage it and really be able to have things in your life that ground you and take you away from the pressures and demands of the job.
PU.com: This is a time for your first break with the next league match coming June 23. Do you take some time to step back or do you keep working?
Hackworth: I always keep working, no matter what. There are other ways. I try to spend time with my family. They’re obviously the most important priority of my life. Whether it’s my children, my wife, spending time with them is paramount. I also try to get away and have things that I enjoy. I think that’s an important time because I’m going to work so hard, I have to have priorities that I can’t do it so much that it gets old. I try to make sure I involve myself in some activities that at least, whether it’s 15 minutes or a half-hour, allow me to escape the demands to being the head coach of the Philadelphia Union.
PU.com: When that year comes up, was there ever a point where you were ever worried that this might not happen?
Hackworth: Looking back on it, and it’s going to sound cocky, but I don’t think about those things. I always think very positively that this is the opportunity I’ve been given and I would feel confident in my ability to do the job. I think you have to because there are so many doubts that can come into your mind. I’m not going to say that I don’t ever have those doubts but I always thought once I got this opportunity, I’m going to work hard. I’m going to work smart enough and I’m going to surround myself with the right people. I’m going to select the players so that it’s not just a very small snapshot. This is a long term and that’s the goal for me. Once I set a goal for myself like that, I think that’s the expectation. Stuff is always going to change and I’ve had that happen in my career already.
PU.com: In a season like this, things change all the time. How do you stay even-keeled?
Hackworth: I think you stay even-keeled knowing those ups and downs are going to happen, especially in this league. You’re going to go on streaks and you’re going to have a run of good games. And then you’re going to have a stretch of bad luck and if you can try to be consistent with the way you prepare and the way your team is ready and training on a daily basis, I think it makes it easier. I think it’s harder when you try to change things, you try to reinvent something. It goes back to the fact that coming into this job, I had been a head coach at two different levels before this. I’ve been under pressure situations like FIFA World Cup and FIFA World Cup qualifying so even as a college coach, you still feel it. I coached youth soccer and you go into a game or a competition and you still have those same things. I guess what I’m trying to say that I’m thankful I’ve had those experiences which have certainly given me a lot of lessons which I’ve used through my career and in this job.
PU.com: Unlike Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League or the National Basketball Association where they play every day or every other day, you often have a week between games. That can’t be easily mentally. How do you handle that?
Hackworth: It’s tough. I refer to it as a grind sometimes. Alejandro Moreno, the first year he was here would always say, ‘We’re all living the dream.’ I think that’s a perfect way to put it. We’re very blessed as athletes and coaches to work at something that we truly love, that is our passion. Every time it gets too hard, I always take a step back and sit down and relax with my family and I just say, ‘Look, you’re in a good spot and you’re still living the dream.’ I still feel like that.
PU.com: What’s the most rewarding part about being the head guy here?
Hackworth: The best part of my day as far as my job is concerned is the work I get to do with the players. As a coach, you go on the training field and when the relationships you build, you feel like training went well, you think that those things are working, that’s a very fundamental and kind of core thing I always look at and say this is why I’m doing this. And it’s still just as rewarding. It’s fun when we score a goal and it’s great when we win a game, but whether it’s friends or family, after a win, they’ll say, ‘Are you so excited?’ I’ll say, ‘I’ve got a tough one coming up in three days.’ I’ve got one in seven days. The same way when you lose a game, people say, ‘Are you down?’ I think you’ve got to try to remain even-keeled. The best part, the most rewarding part is when you see the work that you’ve put into it, that it starts to come to fruition.
PU.com: I’ve got to ask about Jack McInerney. He’s talked about trust between you and him. Has he exceeded what you thought he’d accomplish by now?
Hackworth: Yes and no. I think you just said it, trust is the word. If it’s not the most important thing between a coach and a player, it’s certainly one of them. And the only way you truly build that trust is when you see things as a coach in a player and in the case of a young player like Jack, you have an opportunity and there’s production out of that player. There’s sustained production and he’s done all of those things. I think we’re in a good place together because I trust him and I hope he feels the same way. He certainly has continued to improve. I still always try to remind him that he’s got more to do. He can improve this. He can improve that. I’m most happy with the fact that he has seemed to keep all that and keep it in a good balance. I think that is a good indicator of long-term success for him.
Check out Hackworth and the Union take on rivals New York at PPL Park this weekend. For tickets: http://bit.ly/14GiXu8
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at firstname.lastname@example.org