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Job fusing perfectly

Miami is winning under colorful coach Ray Hudson, who shares a kinship with his players but would rather not be coaching them.

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


Ray Hudson answered the phone hoping to get good news. If he figured right, the voice on the other end would offer him his dream job.

He got a job offer, all right, but not for the position he had applied for.

Not even the one he wanted.

He hoped ESPN was calling to hire him as a color analyst for Major League Soccer games. Instead, it was Miami Fusion general manager Doug Hamilton asking for a favor.

Hamilton had just fired coach Ivo Wortmann and wondered if Hudson would fill in temporarily.

Hudson had been the Fusion's community outreach manager for seven months, arranging clinics and outings for elementary school students. Now he finds himself in the unlikeliest of positions.

"I would've thought I'd be on a labor crew in a (expletive) corn field in England rather than doing this (expletive)," said Hudson, who adds profanity to any sentence. "I had no desire. I was looking for the ESPN job. I was really pushing for that. Then on the day that I get the Fusion job to help out, I get the ESPN job, and I have to give it up."

He wouldn't quit the coaching job before it began. It was a matter of honor, he said.

Since taking over May 8, Hudson has been an energetic motivator who has taken control of a team headed for disaster. The Fusion was 1-3-4 when Wortmann was fired.

Since his arrival, Miami is 5-4 and improving every game. (Two weeks after becoming interim coach, Hudson was given the job full time.) Wednesday night was proof when the Fusion routed the Mutiny 4-1.

"We learned quickly that Ray was a positive choice," Hamilton said. "We had so many positive e-mails and phone calls from people telling us to keep Ray."

The reason for Hudson's popularity might have something to do with the Fusion's turnaround or his longtime work in the community.

More likely it has something to do with Hudson being a colorful character who has no trouble speaking his mind. From the day he took over as coach, Hudson has been the talk of MLS, mainly because of how he talks.

For example:

On May 8, after being named interim coach: "I told the lads on the first day that "I'm going to be a babysitter, the toughest babysitter you've ever had.' The next guy will be their real boss."

After a 1-0 victory over New England on May 10, his first game as interim coach: "I am higher than a hippie at Woodstock. ... Our backs were totally against the wall. ... And the boys turned up with hearts the size of pigs."

Last week after forward Roy Lassiter was benched for poor play: "I don't know if Sigfried and Roy could get him back into the lineup with the way he's been playing."

On how some perceive him: "I think a lot of people identify me as that elementary school maintenance guy on the The Simpsons."

Soccer fans in south Florida have known Hudson a long time. He was captain of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League from 1977-84. He also played for the Strikers in the American Professional Soccer League from 1988-89 and '91. He had a stint with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1990.

After his professional career ended in 1992, he remained in Fort Lauderdale, became active in youth programs and was a coach at Nova Southeastern in 1998.

Also in 1998, Hudson became the Fusion's color commentator on Sunshine Network. He became popular with local fans, which led to the ESPN job offer he turned down.

A hard-nosed player in his heyday, Hudson relates well to players.

"He's been great," midfielder Nelson Vargas said. "He was just what we needed."

Though soccer is in his blood -- his professional career began with Newcastle United of the English Premier League in 1973 -- coaching is not.

"They ain't paying me enough (expletive) money for this (expletive)," Hudson said. "Dealing with the individuals and trying to pull the guys together. All the distractions and trying to keep good players happy. I'm not sure that I'm totally cut out for it.

"It's emotionally draining. I've got to look at this at the end of the year. I'll ride this thing out and give it me all, but it's brutal. There's stuff that comes about that people have no concept whatsoever about."

After Miami's win over the Mutiny, Hudson took a sip of beer, wiped sweat from his brow and pushed some of his red hair out of his face. He reflected once more on his position in life:

"(Expletive) coaches! I (expletive) hated the (expletive)!"

* * *

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