The first-year Mutiny coach resigns after going 3-12-1; a last-minute home defeat Wednesday is the last straw.
By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 7, 2001
TAMPA -- With his team sinking quickly, Mutiny coach Alfonso Mondelo decided to abandon ship.
After several meetings with general manager Bill Manning that stretched into Thursday night, Mondelo thought it best to step down from the job he took on Dec. 6. Tampa Bay is 3-12-1 under Mondelo, the worst record in Major League Soccer.
Mondelo, 42, met with Mutiny players Friday morning before he packed his belongings and returned to his Tampa apartment. He said he does not know whether he'll return to his home state of New York or stay in Tampa.
"I couldn't go through the motions and collect a paycheck. That's not my style," said Mondelo, who had a two-year contract. "It's something that I've been thinking about the past couple of weeks. I just felt it was time to take some responsibility. The Mutiny deserves better than it's been getting."
This is the second time Mondelo has not completed a full season in MLS. In 1998 he coached New York/New Jersey to a 12-17-2 record but was fired with one game left in the regular season.
Assistant coach Perry Van Der Beck takes over for Mondelo, at least tonight. It's possible Van Der Beck could remain the coach until the end of the season.
Asked if Van Der Beck is the front-runner for the permanent job, Manning said, "That is a very good assumption." But he also said he did not want to make a decision right away.
Van Der Beck and Manning met Friday but nothing was settled.
"We're going to have discussions," Manning said. "At this point I'm not going to say who the head coach will be for the future. (Today) what's probably best for us is to get through this weekend and move forward next week. It's a huge responsibility to be a coach in this league."
Van Der Beck, 41, is familiar to area soccer supporters. He has been in Tampa since 1978, when he was drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League. He played indoor soccer for the Rowdies and Tampa Bay Terror and was interim coach of the Terror for 11 games during the 1996-97 season. He was 4-7.
Van Der Beck was Tim Hankinson's assistant from 1998-2000 and was retained by Mondelo this season. He interviewed to be the coach in November.
"If offered the job, I would want it," Van Der Beck said. "I supported Bill's decision to hire Alfonso last year. I was very loyal to Alfonso. Sometimes it's time for a change. (Manning has) communicated to me (about being coach). As far as offering, I don't have any comment right now."
For now, Van Der Beck will wear the interim title. Assistant Jim McGeough also was retained.
Manning picked Mondelo after an off-season search that included former Mutiny player and current San Jose coach Frank Yallop, under-17 national team coach John Ellinger and Pat Ercoli, coach of Rochester in the A-League. Mondelo faced problems from the beginning. Defenders Chad McCarty and Steve Trittschuh missed half the season with injuries. Forward Mamadou Diallo missed six games because of red cards and suspensions, and Carlos Valderrama also received two red cards before being traded to Colorado.
The team lost eight in a row and was winless in 11. It broke that streak, then crumbled in the last eight minutes Wednesday against the MetroStars, losing 2-1. The winning goal came in the final seconds.
"That was devastating," Mondelo said. "For the first time after a game I was speechless. That's when I felt it was time for somebody else to turn things around. That defeat was the final straw."
He talked to Manning after the game about resigning and was asked to sleep on it. Mondelo made it official late Thursday.
"I just think that last (MetroStars) goal just killed him," Manning said. "He'd obviously been thinking about it. As little as a month ago he came to my office and said, "Hey, do you think it's me?' I said, "No, I don't.' I gave him 100 percent support. But the way that goal happened, that did it. If we lost that game 4-0 he probably doesn't leave. But he felt there was something wrong here, and he pulled himself out of the equation.
"Alfonso's not a quitter. But it got to a point with him that it was starting to affect his health. He wasn't enjoying what he was doing and the losses took a toll on him."