Thursday, August 25, 2011

Q&A with Martin Rennie, Future Coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps and current Coach of the Carolina Railhawks

Martin Rennie
Rob Kinnan Photography
I sat down with current Carolina Railhawks and future Vancouver Whitecaps coach on a hot afternoon in Cary, North Carolina. Martin Rennie’s life has changed a bit in recent weeks with the announcement that he’d be taking over as the coach of Vancouver upon completion of his contract with the Railhawks. 

Rennie has achieved an incredible amount of success with the NASL-leading Railhawks who have amassed 48 points thus far. Here is what Martin had to say in this exclusive Q&A about the present and his future with the Vancouver Whitecaps.


MLS Reserves: Were you approached by Vancouver directly and were they in competition with other teams? Many say Montreal…was that part of the negotiation at all?

Martin Rennie: “Yeah, they got in touch with me and it probably took a few weeks to get it all figured out. Not all that long. I have had other offers from other teams, but I don’t think that was part of the negotiation at all.”

MLS Reserves: Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to stay in Carolina and finish out the season? Consider what it might have meant to the players here and even those in Vancouver

Rennie: “I think there was the opportunity to do that because Vancouver had good people working there that were able to let me continue the job. I just felt that that if I could finish the season here that would be good. I had a three year contract here and I felt that I’d made a commitment to the players and had asked them make a commitment to me so I just felt that me being here until the end of the season was the best thing to do if they could possibly do it. And they [Vancouver] were willing to do it. So it’s worked out well.”

MLS Reserves: Was there any pressure at all to leave Carolina?

Rennie: “No.”

The simple, direct answer told all and in that moment I could see that there was a true comfort between Rennie and the people running the show in Vancouver. We discussed multiple times his relationship with the Whitecaps front office and Tommy Soehn.

MLS Reserves: How involved are you in any operations in Vancouver at this point versus taking over in November?

Rennie: “Right now, I’m just kind of observing and finding out more about the team and the opponents, the league... Not hands-on in any way but learning more, finding out more, getting to know people. That kind of thing.”

Rennie with former Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson

MLS Reserves: Do you talk to Tommy Soehn on a regular basis about players, teams?

Rennie: “Haha, mainly just about players.”

MLS Reserves: Are involved are you in selecting your replacement here in Caorlina?

Rennie: “No, I mean, maybe my opinion will be taken on board. That’ll be up to Curt [Johnson, Carolina President] and the people involved here to do that. They’ll probably ask my opinion and I’ve already offered some opinions. It’s a good opportunity for someone to come in and really enjoy it here.”

MLS Reserves: That brings up the point, Carolina has really been a hub for a lot of soccer talent that has come from MLS, that goes to MLS and even foreign leagues. What is it about Carolina that brings those upper echelon connections?

Rennie: “You know, I think in the past few years we’ve been fortunate to have recruited players here that have had the hunger and the drive to make it to the next level. They’re focused and motivated; working as hard as they can work so I think that’s part of it.”

“Overall there’s a lot of soccer connections here with the national team coming in, some of the best colleges in the country and even the best youth clubs in the country. There’s a lot of soccer here and it attracts people to the area… it’s a beautiful place to live and there’s an opportunity for the next level.”

MLS Reserves: You came from lower divisions teams. You’ve moved from PDL, to third division, then second and soon MLS. What would you attribute that success at all levels to? Not many people can go from fourth tier, third tier, second tier and eventually MLS.

Rennie: “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had good players to work with who have been very receptive to my ideas. You know, they’ve played well on the field and the teams have success so that’s most important. I’ve had good owners who have backed my philosophy and ideas.”

“They’ve helped me with resources that I’ve needed. I’ve had good assistant coaches at each place I’ve been to. They’ve all really backed me up and supported me with ever team I’ve coached. And then we’ve had a belief that there are certain things that are important to do if you’re going to win. We consistently do those things and we’ve had good results from that.”

MLS Reserves: Are there any direct lessons that you will take with you from coaching in NASL, with Carolina that you’ll take with you to Vancouver.

Rennie commands the most successful team in the NASL at present.

Rennie: “Yeah, for sure! Obviously you’re learning all the time at every level that you coach. You’re realizing that some of your ideas don’t work and some of them work more than you thought. Some things that you’ve learned from other people are more important than you thought they would be. You’re always learning whether it be from PDL, D2, D3 or business…they’re all part of making me a coach. Of course, when I’m in MLS I’ll continue to learn new things, adapt and adjust. Things might not work there and things that I knew would work here [Railhawks] will work there.”

MLS Reserves: It was recently reported that you have a lot of sales experience and that drives some of what you do here, in coaching. Is that true?

Rennie: “Sure. Sales was great for me because it taught me that if you believed and did the right work, only you were responsible for your success. It taught me about goals and communicating effectively with people. Those lessons are just as valuable in soccer.”

MLS Reserves: When you look at Vancouver now, they’re obviously struggling in the league. However, they have a lot of things in place that will make them successful long term. Have you looked into their youth system at all? How involved will you be on all levels throughout the club? Your role if you will.

Rennie: “My main role is with the first team. But I’ll be involved in everything and make it all stronger…support people and help it be successful. They’ve got good coaches there in the youth program and my job is to make them feel there’s a path to the first team. That’s ultimately what we want them to do there.”

“We want those players to be successful. To me, that’s a big part of the opportunity that they have, as oppose to most other people as they have a very strong residential academy. I’ll be involved in that, but my main focus is the first team and making that work.”


MLS Reserves: You’ve earmarked the Carolina formation with a 4-3-3 that evolves to a 4-5-1 throughout the course of the game. Is formation that you are set on as a coach or one that has come from the players you’ve had available?

Rennie: “In the past I was more of a rigid 4-3-3 but at times I’ve played 4-4-2. It does depend on the strengths of the players. Last year we played with a 4-4-2 diamond because we had a guy in [Daniel] Paladini who was at his best at the top of the diamond. We have a philosophy of how we play, but we adjust it according to the strength of the players.”

It was here that I asked Martin if there was any particular player that he was excited to be working with, rather than single anyone out, he seemed genuinely excited to be with the team. He spoke at length about how all of the players had things to off to make the team better.

Rennie: “I like a lot of the players there. They've got a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of taking the pieces they have and adding to it.”

MLS Reserves: Are you excited to be working with more money? Things like the Designated Player rule?

Rennie: “For me, it’s more about the potential resources to get infrastructure that I believe in… to get the sports science the way I want it, the sports psychology the way I want it and the scouting the way I want it. To me, that’s where the resources can be used. Obviously you are going to have higher levels players with the extra budget that you’ve got.”

MLS Reserves: Many people want to know, what has been your proudest moment in Carolina thus far?

Rennie: “I think the first year was a big year for us. We took a team that had never finished above 8th and took them to within a couple points of winning the title. That was a big achievement for us. Many people didn't think that was possible. A small club that not a lot of people knew about went ahead of Puerto Rico, of Vancouver, Montreal and Rochester.”

“My first year with Carolina there was never any belief or expectation that Carolina was a contender. From that time on we’ve been right at the forefront of this level of soccer. We’re establishing ourselves as one of the best, if not the best team in North America outside of MLS. That was the original goal 3 years ago.”

MLS Reserves: Do you ever envision a time where, with Vancouver, you might play against the Railhawks either in exhibition or US Open Cup?

Rennie: “For sure. I think most likely in the short term it would be in an exhibition game. I know so much about the area and facilities and the climate there’s nothing to say we couldn’t do preseason here. That would be great, I’d love to do that.”

“I hope that I leave Carolina in a better place than when I came here. If that means it would be a benefit to the club to play an exhibition here then I’d love to do it. It would certainly be good for the Whitecaps.”

MLS Reserves: One of the natural questions is now, will you take any players with you from Carolina to Vancouver?

Rennie: “To be honest, I’m looking for players anywhere. If I think there is a player that can help, I’ll take them. Last year we [Carolina] had three or four guys go to MLS and do well. This year our guys are just as good as them so I know there are players here who can play in MLS. But there are restrictions.”

“It’s not as simple as saying yes I want to take them. There are guys with discoveries on them or what not. So yes, I think there are guys here that can play in the MLS but whether they end up with me or not is…it’s just not as simple as me saying I want them.”


MLS Reserves: For the Vancouver fans that don’t know Martin Rennie, the man and as a person, can  you tell them a little bit about yourself outside of soccer?

Rennie: “Obviously I like to hang out with my family and take time with them. I like to workout be healthy and fit. I take time for the gym. Haha, I play golf when I can. I like watching movies and of course soccer.  For me that’s a big part of it; I just love the game of soccer. I love watching games, scouting games, I love it. For me, I love coaching, so I do a lot of those things in my spare time as well.”

Martin will move his family out to Vancouver sometime around Christmas once school lets out. After seeing Martin in Carolina for years, I can think of no one more deserving of rising through the ranks and finding himself in Major League Soccer. The approach is humble and determined. Vancouver fans can count themselves as lucky and look towards a bright future. 

*All photos courtesy of Rob Kinnan Photography

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