Thursday, December 8, 2011

Righting the Ship: One on One with Jay Heaps

Jay Heaps has a tough job. The former player turned coach is now in the process of righting the ship that’s lost its way in New England. A lot has been made of the Revolution’s choice to hire Heaps, whether it’s support for someone who knows the organization or criticism at his lack of experience.

Molded by some of the best coaches in all of sports, he has some fantastic experiences to draw on. Still, Heaps has heard all the criticisms and has a plan to create a culture of winning that the Revolution have lacked in recent years.

Jay Heaps wants to bring the Revolution into the 21st century of soccer and back to the MLS elite. He’s got an impressive plan to make it happen. Read on to find out how he found himself in charge of his former club, who he’s turned to for support and how he’s going remind the league that the Revolution are a club to be respected.

MLS Reserves: Can you start off by talking a bit about how your life has been since you took over as head coach?

Jay Heaps: “It has changed unbelievably in the sense that now, every waking moment is spent thinking about how to improve this team and how we do things at the Revolution. It’s been done the same way for a long time, so you think of how you take the good and positive success away from some of those teams in the past and then make advances fundamentally. Whether it’s strength and conditioning, technology…those are the things that are important.”

“More importantly than all that it’s reassessing the team. Looking at the current team, trying to find new players and we’ve been on two recruiting trips recently. One went down to South America and another down in Central America as we’re actively out there looking for players for this team. From day one, it’s been get up and go…I haven’t stopped since.”

MLS Reserves: How did the change come about? That is to say, who approached who?

Jay Heaps: “During the summer I was approached by guys I knew in the league on other teams who asked my take on getting back in the game. I’ve always wanted to get into coaching, the problem was that when I ended my career, there were more emotions than I anticipated. I was dealing with a lot of questions.”

“Still, coaching never left my mind. I always wanted it in some way. The last year in TV I was always processing it. I contemplated making a move and to what team. I knew that with the Revolution, it probably wouldn’t be the case as Steve Nicol had been there for a long time. I was doing the TV for New England but talking to other teams.”

“When the team went in a different direction after Nicol, I said I’m going to at least reach out to the powers that be and tell them I’d like an interview. It happened quickly and the next thing I know I’m the head coach.”

MLS Reserves: You’re now joining a group of young coaches who have entered the league with little to no experience. Have you spoken to or headed advice from others who were in your role like Jason Kreis or Ben Olsen?

Jay Heaps: “I do. Jason Kreis is someone that obviously went to Duke and reached out. He’s given me advice even before I took over. I like the way he approaches the game and how methodical he is in his approach.”

“Benny [Olsen] and I did actually connect and he gave me some great advice around Thanksgiving. He said “Listen, enjoy your holiday because it’s all about to start.” It’s one of those things where Ben and I were always on rival teams and would butt heads, but after the games I always felt he was one of the best guys in the league. He went on the field similar to me, where we play as hard as we can on the field, but once you step over that white line, we’re a fraternity and support each other.”

“His advice was great, because I needed it.”

For those who don't know, in addition to being a stand out player for the Duke Soccer Team, Heaps also played basketball, under one of the well known coach Mike Krzyzewski. 

MLS Reserves: You’ve played under one of the most respected coaches in all of sports with Coach K. How has his leadership as well as Stevie Nicol’s affected you and how much does it influence your intended coaching style?

Jay Heaps: “I’ll start with Coach K. When I was a player there, I saw the intensity every day and the preparation every day. It’s not just about individual games, it’s about how he builds a group for the entire season. When you’re a player for Coach K, you don’t understand his genius. You see the results, but you don’t understand how it’s happening.”

“When I went back there to watch him behind the scenes, I saw him sitting in a room with his assistant coaches asking what they wanted out of each individual player on a day to day basis. For me, when you see the time put into each player, that’s something I’ll go forward with every single day.”

“Steve Nicol is one of the best coaches around…he made me love the game. His training sessions were something guys looked forward to and were competitive. He let the players dictate the intesnsity and presence.”

“I want players to say the same. I want them to say ‘I love going to training. I love playing for Jay.’”

MLS Reserves: How will you distinguish yourself from Nicol?

Jay Heaps: “Right off the bat, I have two fundamental things that I believe in. Strength and conditioning is one. It has to be a blueprint for every player in the offseason and throughout the season. We have to gauge that.”

“Tactically there are different approaches. I want more of an attack mindset in certain areas. As a player, I loved game preparation and watching film. I wanted to know my opponent and their tendencies. Those were important to me and going forward I’m going to make sure my team understands who we are playing against, why our formation is the way it is and why our game plan is what it is. Those are the things I’m going to bring to the table.”

MLS Reserves: How have you gone about selecting assistant coaches and do you have any already in place?

Jay Heaps: “We kept our goalkeeper coach from last year. We’re in the process of hiring two more people. I’m looking for experience though. I want someone with immence tactical experience.”

“I need someone that I can come up to and say ‘I need a session on this’ and they spit it out immediately. I want someone with MLS experience that’s been at the highest level of the league. That advice comes from Coach K.”

“He mentioned his experiences in the beginning of his career and told me ‘you need to have someone to lean on tactically while you bring the energy, awareness and attitude’. Someone who can help me set up things to help individual players.”

MLS Reserves: You’ve played with some of the players you’ll now be coaching. Now, you’re the one deciding who gets time and who doesn’t. How will you keep the respect of those players that are not used to seeing you in that coaching role?

Jay Heaps: “I think people think it will be difficult, but I don’t. I’m very honest and forthcoming. No player will ever think I’ve told them one thing and done another. I’m very upfront. They’ll know where I stand.”

“Every coach I’ve ever had: if they were honest with you, then you respected them. You may not always like the decision, but if they gave you a reason why the did what they did, then you respect it. If a coach says it the right way and is constructive you have something going forward.”

MLS Reserves: Shalrie Joseph was just awarded a Designated Player contract. How involved with that decision were you? And was his age a factor in the decision? 

Jay Heaps: “That was in motion before me, towards the end of the year. My opinion came in late but some people don’t understand.”

“Shalrie Joseph, based on his contract was set to have a five percent raise. Whether we picked up the option or not, at the end of the year he would have gone free. We would have lost Joseph for nothing and that’s the reality of it. Shalrie Joseph is the most dominant midfielder in a league and has been for a while.”

“Making him a DP though, people don’t understand, now the Kraft family is paying a portion of his salary so we can have more room on the cap. It’s actually a move that costs the Kraft’s more because otherwise we’d have had to pay down his salary with allocation money. We’ve been paying his salary down with allocation money all these years, now though the Krafts are paying the difference and we’re freed up. We’re in a position now where making him a DP helps us rather than hurts us.”

MLS Reserves: It’s been said by players and media around the league that New England has been a “cheap” team financially in recent years. What are your thoughts on that?

Jay Heaps: “People don’t realize, the Krafts are stepping up. The mentality and the culture here is going to change. When I had my interview, I was so excited from the conversations with the Kraft family and Mike Burns about where this organization needs to go.”

“I’ll be honest with you, it hit rock bottom for a while. But now we have a process to grow. A new locker room with updated amenities, with technology… a new weight room… Things going forward where players realize the commitment that’s been made. From the head coach, to facilities and the general managers. They’ll see that difference. It’s importance for players to see that.”

“We have a lot to prove now, but from every stone I turn I see someone who wants to help this organization push forward and step up to the rest of the league. We want to be on a technology level: even. On a strength and conditioning level: better. It can only get better.”

MLS Reserves:  What steps are you actively looking to right the ship that is New England? You’ve talked technology, you’ve talked strength and condition and you’ve talked players. Is there anything else you’re doing that you haven’t mentioned or people don’t know?

Jay Heaps: “We’re instilling a culture of winning. Looking at what those successful Revolution teams had. I’m not looking for the same players as those old teams, but certainly a core that have values and tendencies.  We need more talent. I need game changers as a goal scorers like Taylor Twellman. We have to find someone who can get us goals...”

Jay Heaps is dedicated to making New England great.

What is perhaps most evident in talking to Coach Heaps is that he’s extremely passionate about the club. Success is something he feels should be earned and is going to give the players the right tools to do just that. Moreover he seems to have found himself in a position where he’ll have the financial support to do so. That in and of itself is a fantastic step in the right direction.

The Revolution were once a proud and respected franchise. Of late they’ve fallen from grace. Initial concerns about whether Jay Heaps was the man to lead them back to the promise land can be tempered by just how professionally he is approaching the position. The recognition that he’ll need help along the way and that he’s open minded will be welcome news to New England fans.

It’s typically a long road back and the recipe for success in MLS usually takes three years. That said, if we see a steady improvement over previous years, then you can count his stint as a success. He wont though. Jay Heaps wants one thing above all else: to win. 


  1. I expect this club to make the playoffs next season. Anything less then that will be disappointing with 5 teams going. I think Jay Heaps will do a great job and I'm super excited about what financial moves the team will be making soon. It's also interesting that the Kraft's are paying some of Joseph's salary. Stage 2 is in only 2 days! Lets get the ship rolling and get back to the promise land!

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