A couple of former Revolution coaches are predicting a bright future for Jay Heaps. But Fernando Clavijo and Steve Nicol, Heaps’s predecessors, say he will need to rely on capable assistants as he takes on a coaching role for the first time.
Heaps, 35, was named the Revolution’s head coach this week, succeeding Nicol as the team made its first coaching change since 2002.
“It’s a bold move, isn’t it?’’ Nicol said yesterday. “Obviously, I hope he does well. If attitude and commitment and hard work are involved in doing well, you know he’ll do well.’’
Clavijo brought Heaps to the Revolution by trading Brian Dunseth to the Miami Fusion midway through the 2001 season. Heaps soon earned a starting role and became a driving force as the Revolution advanced to four MLS Cup finals, two US Open Cup finals, and won a SuperLiga title.
“I think he will do well,’’ Clavijo said. “He has no experience, not even as an assistant coach, but he has the profile, he is mature, and, hopefully, they let him get his own people, his own staff. He will need somebody with experience.
“If you look at New England, they have had a lot of good players, but not as many today. He can be a great coach, but if he does not have the resources, they are not going to get better.’’
Both Clavijo and Nicol were impressed with Heaps’s attitude as a player.
“He always liked to study the game and he was not the guy who just followed along,’’ Clavijo said. “He was always ahead of the group, the player rep, he was always there and always wanted more than just, ‘Yes sir.’ ’’
Heaps was among the first pieces in Clavijo’s plan to rejuvenate the Revolution.
“First of all, I saw he was a competitor, I saw how competitive he was in Miami,’’ said Clavijo, now technical director for the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers. “He could play in different positions. He didn’t have the size for central defender but he had incredible jumping ability. More than anything else, he grows on you as a player.
“We had a lot of older players but we had some draft picks and we made changes and made a quick turnaround the first year, and also regenerated the roster. It’s going to be hard to do that now with how tight the salary cap is.
“I took a chance on Shalrie Joseph, we got Taylor Twellman in the draft, took Steve Ralston when some people wanted me to take Chris Henderson. Where do you get those players now? They are going to need some players who can change a game, and those are going to cost you money.’’
Heaps started as a winger with the Revolution, but Nicol moved him to right back and also used him as a central defender in emergencies.
“His desire to win, that in a defender is huge,’’ Nicol said. “A defender who cares about not getting beaten by his opponent is a huge step in the right direction.
“He played injured. You used to have to tie him to a chair in the dressing room if you wanted to stop him getting on the field.
“He’s a guy who would do anything to win, and that’s certainly what you need to coach. You need that desire and to be able to find a way of making it happen. That desire, it’s huge, and it’s infectious, and everyone feeds off that.
“But we all need somebody beside us who is the mixture of a lot of things - a calming influence, a cool head, and someone who knows the game. It’s important that whoever he gets beside him [as an assistant] is the right person for him, the two of them fit in well.’’
Nicol coached at Notts County before moving to the US as player-coach for the Boston Bulldogs in 1999. He turned down an offer from the Revolution because he was not versed in the rules of Major League Soccer.
“Initially, I didn’t know enough about MLS players and how the system worked,’’ Nicol said. “But [Heaps] knows a good part of it. I’m sure now he’s on the other side of the fence, a lot of things will make sense to him now that didn’t when he was a player.’’
Heaps has been working as the Revolution’s color commentator for the last two years, using the position partly as preparation for a coaching role.
“He has been looking at the game every day, but you get a completely different view of the game as a reporter or as a fan,’’ Clavijo said. “You might know what the problems are but maybe you can’t find a solution. You might want to try to change everything but sometimes you can’t.
“But one thing he has is passion for the game. He is not going to be sitting down on the bench - he was always fighting for 90 minutes and he is going to bring that to the team.’’