Why We Hate Gavin

Let’s start near the beginning.

In 2006, Wilkinson was the team Captain during the worst season the Timbers have suffered since the reformation of the club in 2001. The Timbers Army still loudly supported the players, but had issue with both the tactics and player personnel decisions of the manager at the time, Chris Agnello. We still sang our player chants, including one for Gavin. About 2/3rds of the way through the season, the Oregonian printed one of their rare stories about the Timbers. Rather than speak of the problems on the field, the story focused on language problems in the TA making the games an anti-family friendly atmosphere. This in a season when the growth in attendance of the TA and the stadium at large was almost literally the only positive story to be told. But more distressingly, the majority of quotes in the piece did not come from a front office employee, but from our Captain. The poor play of the team was blamed on the only people in the city of Portland who cared whether or not those players still had a job. Most of the TA around at that time will tell you that reading that article was easily one of the lowest points they’d ever suffered as a supporter. We couldn’t understand why this article had been written, but more importantly we couldn’t understand from whom it was coming.

At the end of the 2006 season, Agnello was replaced by Wilkinson, who took over both the coaching and GM duties. Everything started to make sense. Practically his first decision in charge was to eliminate all interaction between players and the TA. The Bullpen was a gathering spot after matches for players and fans to co-mingle and it was one of the most important factors in breaking down the barriers and making players feel like they belonged here. Fan favorite players like Hugo Alcaraz-Cueller and Byron Alvarez did not have their contracts renewed. Hugo went to Seattle and won a Championship with the Sounders in 2007. His second decision was to start an officially sanctioned supporters group to compete with, and hopefully replace, the TA. Called the Portland Timbers Official Supporters Club (or PTOSC), Gavin would use player interaction as a way to leverage interest in this group and take power away from the supporters. Ever wonder why Sal Zizzo went to the Thirsty Lion to hang with AO-PDX but you’ve never seen a Timbers player at one of our Food Bank drives, or at 442 to watch the Euros, or at the Bitter End during one of our offseason events? It’s not like the players aren’t aware of us. That’s a legacy of Gavin’s. It’s not simply that players may not mingle with fans, they just can’t mingle with the TA because the TA are drunk louts who offend genteel sensibilities. When you see a publication like Willamette Week hammer on an old, dead stereotype seemingly out of nowhere, remember who the first people they would call on a story would be.

I would refer you to this article, worthy of its own discussion.

This is 2007. Toronto FC was just about to enter the league and the Red Patch Boys were going to play a part in the solidifying the general movement away from catering solely to soccer moms and their kids and embrace real soccer supporters. The Timbers were still a minor league club with what was then almost universally recognized as the most legitimate, sizable, and serious SG in American soccer with the TA. In hindsight, it’s easy to make quotes like…

While we love the Timbers Army, we’d like to refine some of their behavior,” says Wilkinson, at age 33 starting his first coaching job. “I pose that the language they’re using is limiting the potential to bring in more and more kids. There are 60,000 kids playing soccer in Oregon, yet we’re not getting many of them at the games.

… look absurd but I can promise you there were just as many face palms 5 years ago. And in the sentence beneath, promises of added security and police. In literally less than 6 months, Gavin Wilkinson went from a beloved Captain and long-tenured player to a suit who banished the best and most popular players in the squad from the city, tried to supplant the best thing the club had going for it with a pale imitation, and threatened eviction or prosecution if we didn’t do an about face from being in the vanguard of what’s now known at “MLS 2.0” to embracing mascot races and t-shirt cannons. He was on the wrong side of the fans, the wrong side of history, the wrong side of empty, preening authoritarianism, and basically every single constituent piece of what “RCTID” and that Timbers MLS Marketing campaign was supposed to be about. But he did it for the children. As a modern ambassador of soccer, I guess he’s a pretty good youth soccer coach. But as a father with a child, I’d personally keep my kid as far away from that guy as possible.


I regret any language which made it appear I was alluding to any scandal. What I meant to say is that over the course of putting this article together, I had the opportunity to speak with many fans who have had the closest interactions with Wilkinson. From the old fan meetings to people who were friendly with old players, many of them ended up using a variation of a word to describe him.

A bully.

Players were consistently berated and degraded. Throwing them under the bus was just the public face of a more persistent problem. He refuses to accept personal responsibility for problems, he has a tendency to treat intelligent adults as if they were children, he plays favorites, and he fancies himself a hard-nosed disciplinarian which means that a culture of mutual trust and respect is to be avoided. In short, everything I would like least in a teacher/role model with the capacity of shaping the self-esteem and development of my kid.


This post has been published anonymously at the request of the author.

56 thoughts on “Why We Hate Gavin

    1. I see no mention of John Cunningham in this story. Do any of you even know who Cunningham was and what he had to do with the Timbers?
      Cunningham ran PGE Park and the Timbers during the 2006 season. Cunningham is the one in the FO that broke ties with the Timbers Army. Gavin was hired as head coach of the Timbers in 2007. It was Cunningham who had issues with the TA.

  1. ” But as a father with a child, I’d personally keep my kid as far away from that guy as possible.” What the hell does that even mean and it sounds like a seriously horrible thing to allege.

  2. It had to be anonymous, otherwise the author would get a ban form all Timbers games. Gavin does not care about the supporters

  3. I think it is a stretch to call Gavin a “beloved Captain”. He was a hard nosed player who basically lost his worth on the pitch around 2003 when injuries and physical limitations caught up with him. He was never a guy that the TA summoned over after a match and the one chant that was sung about him was sung by only a handful of people unlike more popular ditties about Alan Gordon, Byron Alvarez, McKinley Tennyson and Brent Sancho. Gavin left a lot of skin on the turf for the Timbers but he was always far down on the list of fan favorites, especially when he grew to become a huge liability in the backline (see San Jose USOC match).

  4. Wilkinson is the last reminder of the by-gone age of ownership who thought of the Timbers as a thing getting in the way of bringing a MLB baseball team to Portland. If Wilkinson is anything and as history has shown us, he is a company man. At the time he was hired, the company line was to be as anti Timbers Army as possible.

    The thing is he just doesn’t toe the company line, he shoves it down one throat. It’s that tenacity and peptic attitude that really rub me the wrong way with Wilkinson. That and the way he has/will throw anyone under the bus to fit his agenda. John Spencer joins a long line of people who were Gavin’s scapegoat. It’s how he has survived for so long. It certainly not his managerial talent.

    The thing is – or at least I hope – that he is finally being found out. Now the stakes are too high now. I hope Mr. Paulson realizes as much and splits terms with him at season’s end.

  5. I thought I would read it, the skipped it when it said authored by anon. If you don’t have the courage to put your name next to a statement like “Why We Hate Gavin,” (underline WE) then I have no time for you. I post because I would like management to re-think posting opinion pieces from any anon. They are worthless.

    1. Considering “management” has gone after people on twitter who have posted dissenting views and offered them refunds and stadium security was telling people that they would be removed from the stadium and given a ban through the end of the season for any anti-Gavin banners until the press got hold of that tidbit I don’t think it’s surprising this came from an anonymous source.

    2. That’s a pretty ridiculous attitude Travis. Just because something is published anonymously, doesn’t mean it’s untrue or has no value. There are very good reasons someone might publish something anonymously.

      Also consider that Kevin does not have a history of publishing random bullshit on this site. He obviously knows who wrote it, and if he thinks that it’s worth being here, that certainly says something.

      If you want to read the article and then decide you hate it, feel free. But refusing to read it and calling the author a coward it is just choosing ignorance and refusing to listen to dissenting points of view…

    3. With some of the tactics of stadium security regarding dissenting opinions and just generally behavior they don’t agree with, I totally understand the need to be anonymous. In fact the mere mention of a “GW Out” banner in a forum caused a shitstorm from 107ist board members basically threatening said stadium ban in place of the FO. (It irked me they just said it would happen rather than standing with their fellow TA who don’t like GW) Yes this will be anonymous as well. I like my season tickets even if the team is crap.

  6. I’d like to add a couple of clarifications and expand on some things.

    First, this article was written because it has been suggested that the Timbers Army is “against Gavin” due to some specific event or misconception. What I wanted to do was illustrate a pattern of behavior over the course of several years. Wilkinson has voiced a consistent contempt for the Timbers Army almost from the first time anyone ever bothered to ask him. Nothing would make him happier than to see you all replaced with 20 or so consecutive OYSA nights each season. His definition of a “tremendous” “professional” for “this organ-EYE-zation”, to use three of his favorite overused cliches, does not allow for fan interaction outside of team-sponsored events, nor any ability to retain the dignity not to be thrown under a bus at Wilkinson’s convenience.

    Second, to place into a broader context of team history, I’d say that Timbers fans generally have a strong desire to build a strong association of the qualities we look for in players and promote as many people to club/cult legend status as possible. Ian Joy was our captain for a single season and you won’t find a fan who doesn’t speak of him glowingly. Aside from the no-brainers like Scot Thompson and Cameron Knowles, you will find people venerating the contributions of role players like Tommy Poltl. The threshhold for such status is almost impossibly low, which should not indicate any lack of respect for the players but the force of passion the fans give them unconditionally. Journeymen who bounced around the league, guys who only lasted a season here, players with more grit and determination than skill… all of them have a place in our hearts. Not Gavin Wilkinson. Ask 20 people and you’ll probably get 20 different answers why, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would say it isn’t true.

    Third, to speak specifically to Landrewc’s post, I regret any language which made it appear I was alluding to any scandal. What I meant to say is that over the course of putting this article together, I had the opportunity to speak with many fans who have had the closest interactions with Wilkinson. From the old fan meetings to people who were friendly with old players, many of them ended up using a variation of a word to describe him.

    A bully.

    Players were consistently berated and degraded. Throwing them under the bus was just the public face of a more persistent problem. He refuses to accept personal responsibility for problems, he has a tendency to treat intelligent adults as if they were children, he plays favorites, and he fancies himself a hard-nosed disciplinarian which means that a culture of mutual trust and respect is to be avoided. In short, everything I would like least in a teacher/role model with the capacity of shaping the self-esteem and development of my kid.

    This may be the first of a short series. This is Gavin Wilkinson the person. If Kevin sees value, and our season continues down this path, I may write up a companion piece on Gavin Wilkinson the manager, scout and tactician.

    Thank you for reading.

    1. Absolutely.

      I understand your concern about anonymous posts, Travis – I’m not a fan of them myself and I’ve made it clear to anyone who has written for the site that real names are used, not internet pseudonyms or personas. However, I wouldn’t want someone who passionately loves this club, and has done for many years, to be on the receiving end of a spiteful ban for the sole reason of speaking his or her mind. I’m sure the author would be happy to put their name to the piece(s) if the threat of repercussions weren’t, sadly, all too real.

      I’d urge anyone who has a dislike of anonymous posts to look beyond the byline and address the content itself. If you agree or disagree with anything written then say so in the comments, or if you want to get in touch yourself, you are free to do so. Just click the Contribute link at the top of the page for contact details.

  7. Hi Travis,

    As we are all aware, the Timbers front office have threatened up to and including a year ban in the stadium for someone bringing a “GW Out” banner to the stadium. We know they read the local blogs and I have no faith that they would exercise any more discretion in allowing a fan to voice dissent on a website than in the stadium. I happen to agree with you that it’s very unfortunate that dissents like these may not be voiced publicly, but you might say that this is another legacy of Gavin Wilkinson at the end of the Timbers ship.

    1. I was not aware of this and only have what was posted here as word of this. If you care enough, then find away around it. Tell the FO you are about to put out a piece and challenge them to accept honest feedback.

      Let’s get serious here, unless the poster is whistleblowing, Penn State style, this is not a serious issue. You’d find that I agree in part with 90% of the negative things that have been said about GW, but these are not new facts being put out (I have since read the words because of the words said in these comments,) just opinion/editorial. Can you imagine an opinion piece being published in a newspaper by anon? What is the point? “Listen to my opinion because I don’t want to identify myself or stand by my words.”

      I’ll not even go into the loose and factless conjecture.

      I enjoy reading this site for it’s fabulous game insight and will continue to enjoy it for that reason. I think that faceless voices are beneath it.

      1. “I think that faceless voices are beneath it.”

        very true, but if he/she/it still gets to go to the games as a result, then it’s alright. it loses a slight bit of legitimacy, but it’s a great write up nonetheless

    1. So there is never any worth to protecting your identity for fear of being unfairly targeted? That’s what I call toeing the company line!

    1. When the FO has threatened to ban people displaying anti-GW signs I have no problem with people giving a history of the hostility between GW and the TA under anonymity. This story has been told again and again and again..

  8. When the FO has threatened the TA with bannings for anti-GW signs it forces anonymity. GW is total trash and anyone who refuses to read the history because of “courage” is an idiot customer drunk on Merritt’s kool-aid.

  9. Gavin Wilkinson may, or may not be, many things as a GM, Coach or person but based on the actual, primary evidence presented here you can’t make conclusions about any of those things. The points made are almost entirely by inference rather than substance.

    In short this reads as, “We used to think Gavin was our friend, but then he moved to a different table at lunch and that really hurt our feelings”.

    I don’t think GW has been a particularly good GM and I think there is a good, and entirely rational, case to be made against him on the merits alone. If this article does anything, it distracts from that rational argument by making the case against GW seem entirely personal and more than a little petulant.

  10. Great Article, but the below statement is out of context

    “Ever wonder why Sal Zizzo went to the Thirsty Lion to hang with AO-PDX but you’ve never seen a Timbers player at one of our Food Bank drives, or at 442 to watch the Euros, or at the Bitter End during one of our offseason events?”

    AOPDX has no affiliation with the Timbers FO, the Timbers players, or the TA. Sal Zizzo went to an event because of his time with the US U20/23 squads and his match with the USMNT. AOPDX filled out the official request for player appearances that is available online, and got approved (Cooper was coming to, but we traded him right before the event). If you want a player to show up to anything, fill out the paperwork.

  11. The one thing I’m not sure if it is fair to hang on Wilkinson is shutting off the contact between the players and the Army. I’ve lived in two other U.S. cities with top-level sports franchises and found in most cases that the management either discouraged or outright forbade the players to socialize with organized supporters groups, or even put themselves in a position to encounter groups of fans (such as hanging out in popular sports bars).

    I’m not saying that Gavin wouldn’t do this, just that it’s fairly common in other big league outfits. I would suspect that the Boys would have been told during the 2010-2011 offseason “Do NOT get caught fraternizing with the fans.” regardless of who was the GM.

    Otherwise, my thoughts would be:

    1. Tho I’d prefer to know who’s speaking for “us”, I do believe the explanation that the author is likely to face real sanctions from the front office for writing this. I think the “real” opinion of Merritt & Co. is much less excited and pleased with the Army than the public statements, and I suspect that they would, indeed, take action against a vocal detractor of the current coach.

    2. That said, I’ve been in the north end since 2002, and I’d have to say that if I had written this my title would have been “Why we don’t give a rat’s ass about Gavin but wish the sad bastard would go somewhere else.”

    As a player I just remember him as kind of a generic hard man, a sort of Cam Knowles without the leadership. I think Roberto gets it right; he was a solid player, but not anywhere near as beloved as Scot, or even Taka (damn it, Taka, why didn’t you ever shoot when you were unmarked..!? Still, you did swim here from Japan…)

    Gav as a manager was…irritating, I guess I’d call him. I hated the ugly tactics, his inability to figure out when his player selections weren’t working (or when opposing coaches had sussed out his tactical scheme and neutralized it), the way he’d mule a player long after the player was burnt out or exhausted, and his eternal excusing himself and slagging off on his players – the same things we’re seeing again for the first time (I swear – is there anyone at the Oregonian who actually saw a Timbers game before 2011?). I was unimpressed with the performance of the team as a whole; his one “honor”, winning the league in 2009, was perhaps his lowest point – he never did solve the problems in the backline largely created by the loss of Knowles…the awful defending at Swangard, losing 2-1, getting ousted from the playoffs. Damn. Now I have that “Gavin feeling” again. I hate it.

    But the guy never seemed awful enough to hate, IMO; his mediocrity was – and is – deeper than a well and wider than a church door. But he never seemed to me to be the evil Sith Lord he comes across in this article. Just a nasty little man with a nasty little second-rate soccer brain.

    I do sure wish we’d be shut of his Kiwi ass, though. Time and past time.

  12. People who consider this anonymous commentary “invalid” precisely because of it’s anonymity are rather hilariously missing the point. The whole idea that one feels they must remain anonymous in order to publish criticism of Gavin Wilkinson speaks volumes about the man, our owner who employees this man and our football club in general.

    Anonymous whistleblowers have a long and storied history in our society.

    Is the Wordword and Bernstein piece on Whitewater any less valuable because they relied on an anonymous source named Deepthroat?

  13. Good to get some background for a newcomer like myself.

    But if GW was so strongly anti-TA, it seems like FO policy wouldn’t continually take shape the way it has over the last couple years. The man clearly has the ear of the owner for better or worse. Hold on–strike ‘better’ from that last sentence.

  14. Just a quick note – if you want to take digs at another fan, by all means seek them out on twitter, facebook, or do it face to face, but leave it off here. They will be deleted as I’ve got no interest in that kind of nonsense. Keep it on topic please.

  15. Wilkinson deserves to be let go just for performance alone. Since we’re not a little USL squad anymore Merritt doesn’t need to depend on him going forward. The club can do better.

  16. “As a modern ambassador of soccer, I guess he’s a pretty good youth soccer coach. But as a father with a child, I’d personally keep my kid as far away from that guy as possible. ”

    This damages your message a great deal, no matter how legit. Even if you’re not insinuating Gavin is a raging nonce that is how it looks.

  17. Diskin, chill. Remember there are many ex-players that don’t want their names out there. Ian Joy has been writing stuff, and there are many good guys out there that put their heart, soul, life on hold to play soccer in odd places around the world. Now they are soccer specific, and the only jobs they can get is for any front office they can get on with. Show me the money.
    Don’t forget that, it’s a small industry and many have put marriages in the trash due to this career choice, the FO’s paying them may be all they got.

  18. If Gavin is a company man, who has been in charge of the company since Gavin took over as head coach and GM in 2007? It amazes me how most of our fan base is always thirsty for a target to hate, and unthinkingly always falls in line with the first clever slogan thrown their way. btw, the answer to my initial question is Merritt Paulson. Gavin is a company man, and kicking him to the curb won’t change who is in charge of the company one iota. However, if the fan base, and especially the 107ist, start focusing on the real problem, namely Merritt Paulson, we can finally get an ownership in place that we can be proud of.

  19. Gavin’s record is speaking for its self. Which is to say I don’t see him staying for long. I’m not seeing improvement in the young players or better consistency. I’m not seeing our newly acquired players vastly improving the team. I am however seeing the MLS improving and leaving the Timbers behind. Gavin isn’t keeping up with the pace of the league he is playing in. Leaving the personal politics aside the facts are not in his favor. We need a GM and a coach who want to compete on the world stage because the MLS will eventually have world class teams. I don’t think anyone here thinks Gavin is the man to get us there. It’s nice to get a little history on the animosity, some of which I knew but not all.

    1. Of course Merritt wants to win. He wants the spotlight on him. He wants to be pat on the back. He wants to be the big shot. But he hasn’t done anything to deserve his position as leader of the Timbers. It wasn’t his money that bought the team, and it wasn’t his hard work that got Civic renovated and got the MLS expansion team negotiated (that was Sam and Randy in both counts, btw). He made himself president, and he has instilled a culture of fear and blind obedience in the Timbers org. That is a big reason why Gavin, in spite of what kind of personality he might have, does some of the things he does in his role as a company man. And that is why JS is gone after speaking his mind too many times.

      It is a pipe dream to think that if GW is gone, Merritt will magically hire an independent GM or coach who is free to do the right things. That is not how it works in the Timbers org right now. It is practically a cult of Merritt. It trickles down all the way to the players’ attitudes. I’ve heard through a couple different second-hand sources that most of the key players don’t respect Merritt, and firing JS was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. That doesn’t surprised me because I’ve witnessed first-hand the way Merritt behaved during the stadium negotiations.

      1. Neal, that’s not entirely true. Sure, we needed the elder Paulson and family to invest in the team. And for that people are grateful. But the reason the “money” and “vision” was there was because the fan support and Timbers Army was already there.

        Without the fan support during the USL days it’s most likely MLS skips right over us, regardless of who the owner happens to be at the time. When MLS was founded they did a sports marketing study that ranked cities and their viability for a successful soccer franchise. Portland ranked 24th or 25th. Also, people need to remember that MP did not buy the Timbers by itself. He bought a baseball team and the Timbers were basically a throw-in, sort of like a “Wait, there’s more!” bonus. MP saw the weak baseball support, then saw the strong Timbers support and thought “whoa!”. Without the pre-MLS Timbers Army we’re an afterthought to MLS and we’re unlikely to be having this conversation at all.

      2. Judging by the termination of Spencer, it was MP who appeared to feel the pain of that action. GW appeared to just be happy that he didn’t get the axe.

        A reason that many of us feel that Gavin must go is precisely because MP depends so totally on his staff for soccer-related matters. If Gavin stays, he’ll continue to operate without much soccer oversight. Player choices, player interaction, coaching choices, etc. will continue down the path they’re on now.

        I do worry that it’s not just one bad season. We’re being left in the dust by our rivals in the Western Conference. And more USL-quality decision making won’t help a bit.

      3. Bucky, Merritt cried because he is a cry-baby. He is out of his element. He wants to be respected and feared without actually earning it. John Spencer put him in his place. All the niceties said at the presser were just hot-air meant to disguise what is otherwise a total embarrassment on the part of Merritt.

        Neal, it wasn’t Merritt’s money that did anything. It was his dad’s money, and the cit of Portland’s money. It also wasn’t his vision that did anything. That was Sam and Randy flying to New York to negotiate with MLS, Sam and Randy smoothing out the political wrinkles in the city council and business community, and the TA basically holding Merritt’s hand and telling him what to do (which he doesn’t always listen to, even though he knows he is clueless and wants to feel like part of the “in crowd”, but he also wants to be the big cheese).

        Stop worshipping this guy. He is not a savior. So many other people put in the work and the money to make MLS happen. And yet Merritt gets off scott free for his poor leadership and self-centered playing-with-a-toy treatment of the Timbers. Meanwhile, Gavin is just another scapegoat because he’s an easy target, and no one wants to admit to themselves where the real problem lies. Maybe because firing a read-headed kiwi is really easy, and will make you feel like you accomplished something, but running an undeserving owner who is bad for the team out of town would take some work, even though ultimately it would be the best medicine for the Timbers.

  20. I love this site, and the analysis it gives. Thank you Kevin!

    It seems like what this comes down to is the TA being hurt their asses were not kissed long ago. No Players at TA events? oh no…players were no longer allowed to go to the bar after the game to hang with fans? Sounds like a good move to me.

    Concerns over language? Yeah, YSAH was a great chant. Didn’t it get eliminated by the TA anyway? It was bush league, and we knew it. Yet, GW is evil for wanting the same…?

    Getting rid of players the fans liked? Hmm…Perhaps there is more to personel decisions than who the fans like?

    Being a suitcompany man. Not sure I see the problem in that. Most of us who work in the real world are the same to a degree.

    I am not saying he’s the answer to our prayers. In truth, I believe MP should have went after an experienced GM at the MLS level IMMEDIATELY upon the move to the MLS. I doubt he stays around for another year. But booing the guy off the field after one of our better performances of the year this weekend via Chivas, made the TA look like a bunch of bandwagon cry babies. He gave the coaching reigns to Sean Mcauley. Yet some in the TA think it’s some master plan of his to toss the guy under the bus when they do not succeed. LOL.

    Honestly, I love the atmosphere the TA creates. I just sometimes get the feeling they feel like they are biggermore important than they are and the club.

    Perhaps it’s just me…In the end, I would like the on the pitch performance to improve, so we can focus on it, and not this BS!

    Thanks,

    Anonymous.

    1. It’s interesting to read this in hindsight—-probably the most complete and historical critique of GW I’ve seen thus far. No doubt there’s some truth here.

      As far as the TA being pressured to clean up the act a little, well, sorry, if they were throwing out chants like “You suck asshole”, I guess I have a hard time taking their side on that.

      However, I’m not sure if it was handled as well as it could have been from GW’s end either. You have to be EXTREMELY careful how you relate to the fans.

      I also think, given his conduct this year, he has clearly learned from past mistakes. He certainly has done well to keep his mouth shut about the fans, despite all the insults, except when he’s got something decent to say. Certainly, the hiring of Caleb Porter, tells us something about how he views effective player management. If he was a bullish coach who demeaned his players, it seems he’s grown out of that a bit, or at the very least, recognizes the legitimacy of more nurturing methods, even if he’s not good at that himself.

      I continue to look at GW as a GM who hasn’t done enough to deserve getting fired, and who has learned meaningful lessons, even if he wouldn’t acknowledge that, and as long has he’s not a long-term coach, I think it’s too early in the MLS-Timbers to sack him. I mean, the guy did succeed in getting Caleb Porter, after all. I realize some will disagree with me, but I think that’s a pretty big prize. Now we’ll see how they work together. We’ll give him a pass on Spencer, but if this one goes south too, the case against him is building.

  21. You can never know for sure about these things from the outside, but it looks like the Timbers–like many other professional sport franchises–is a charismatic bureaucracy. That is, a bureaucracy built around, and extending the personality of the visible figure on top. Thus the whole Timbers organization is an outgrowth of, and magnification of, Merritt Paulson’s personality.

    There are two ways to thrive in this type of organization:

    (1) think like the guy on top. You share a philosophy and approach to life. Given the same information, you would consistently come up with the same decisions.

    (2) baah.

    Loyalty is key in this set-up, confidences are the doors to survival. Honest dissent is seen as irrelevant at best and often pegged as “destructive to morale” and stomped out. There may be a clear vision to the guy on top, but everyone else is trying to read the leader’s mind.

    If this is the case, then Gavin is either a sheep carrying out Paulson’s orders, or he is of the same mind as the owner. In the first case, changing him won’t change anything; Paulson will only hire another sheep. In the second, then removing him is necessary to chip away at the flawed vision of the owner, for until he is gone, Gavin and Merritt will simply reinforce each other’s decisions, constantly recreating a worldview that precludes any other conclusion, any other possible alternative.

    I don’t know if we can know what “philosophical differences” existed between Paulson and Spencer. I sure would like to know. And the question “what is the guiding philosophy of the organization” seems to be a legitimate question.

    At least we are talking about an endeavor where there is clear and immediate feedback; this problem exists for decades in some businesses without it being clear that things are not working.

    Professional athletes are not machines; they will play their hearts out for someone they love and trust, but will look for ways to blame others for the failures when someone they do not respect is in charge. This gives us one of the only available pieces of evidence to come to a conclusion about whether the problem is coaching, management or ownership.

    It is clear we have the player talent we need:under Spencer we won key games at home. Failure to perform on the road points not to a lack of player skill, nor of team chemistry, but of motivation. Either the coaching staff was unable to motivate the players away from the overwhelming support of the Timbers Arrmy or there was some motivation problem within the organization that was big enough to keep the team from winning without the Timbers Army, but not so big that the TA could not compensate for it at home.

    Personnel cannot explain the difference between beating Seattle and SJ at home, then getting decimated by Colorado and FCD on the road. An unworkable mix of players or lack of talent would not have enabled the Timbers to achieve the victories they did against really good teams. Even the best most powerful support cannot make mediocre talent better, but it can make the difference in the level at which good players perform.

    Problem is, we cannot know for sure which is the problem without risking trashing another season. Simply removing Spencer does not fix anything; the problem was not what he was doing, but (potentially) what he was not doing. Friend or foe, Gavin is not a coach at the MLS level and as interim, even the best coach can have little impact on the team when you can count the number of games before you know he will be gone.

    So if the problem was coaching motivation we replaced a coach who was not doing the job with a crippled and inexperienced coach (sorry, but MSL is a different thing than is USL). How could we look at team performance now and tell? Only if the team suddenly blossomed and started winning on the road. That did not happen.

    If the problem is motivation because of key differences between the players and management, then you are facing the choice between finding a coach that will reinforce the attitude and philosophy of the FO, thus leading to open conflict between the players and the coaching staff, or you replace one coach who had acted as a buffer between management and the players with another coach who will face the same fate as Spencer.

    It seems these are important questions to answer:
    What were the philosophical differences between owner and coach?
    Do players side with FO or coach, or does it matter?
    Did the players share philosophy with Spencer, or was he swimming against the current?
    Will a new coach share philosophy with Spencer? with players? will management allow differences in opinions or approaches?
    Or is it that Gavin and John had the differences, and Paulson merely chose (Gavin) between them?

    These are not questions fans could likely get answered, but an energetic, working, entrepeneurial media could get answers out into the public.

    Until then, this discussion is just a matter of picking your favorite and guessing he is right and the others are wrong. Not an exercise likely to be particularly productive.

  22. Slight tweak to lede on this piece: The article in which Gavin and then-GM Jim Taylor called out the TA for language was published as “Language Barrier” in The Oregonian of August 25, 2005. I can access it and print it here if I’m permitted enough space (it runs just over 1000 words).

      1. Here it is, then, for the sake of posterity (who, by the way, have never done a DAMN THING for me….):

        Language barrier
        ABBY HAIGHT
        Publication Date: August 23, 2005 Page: D01 Section: Sports Edition: Sunrise

        SUMMARY: Many soccer fans take issue with the Timbers Army’s choice of cheers

        The PGE Park stands were teeming with kids Saturday for the Portland Timbers’ Oregon Youth Soccer Association night when Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Preston Burpo prepared to kick the ball from his goal.
        A rumble like an approaching train rose from just behind Burpo, in Section 107, where the loosely organized Timbers Army supporters stand.
        As Burpo put foot to ball, a couple hundred voices screamed an obscenity at him.
        The epithet rolled out to the Multnomah Athletic Club walls and over the crowd of 8,242.
        Timbers officials winced.
        The Timbers Army, a boisterous, passionate group that on some nights numbers several hundred, has grown in popularity and presence this season.
        And so has the headache it creates for the team’s management.
        With a goal of increasing attendance, and a pledge to reach out to youth and community soccer, the Timbers organization is intent on maintaining a family friendly atmosphere at games. Although the Army has many chants that are clever and PG-rated, the group has alienated some fans by the blue language that has become more frequent this summer.
        Some of those fans have let management know. General manager Jim Taylor said he receives at least a couple of complaints weekly and said the number is increasing.
        “The issue of language is becoming an increasingly troublesome one for me and for my staff,” Taylor said. “People should not come to a sporting event or any event and have to listen to this kind of language…There is no explaining away the actions of that group. It’s unacceptable.”
        But in the same breath, Taylor expressed another truth.
        The Army is a huge part of the Timbers’ game nights.
        “It’s something you want,” Taylor said. “You want that zany, craziness that they create.”
        When the Army is in full voice, other spectators, including families with children, have no choice but to listen to the chants that often include obscenities.
        The Schierman family of Portland have attended Timbers games for years. Their children play soccer — daughter Maria played at the University of Portland under former Timbers legend Clive Charles. Dave and Theresa Schierman were at a recent game while their youngest son, Joel, was a ballboy with teammates from the Southside Soccer Club.
        Theresa Schierman said she was dismayed when she heard some of the Army chants — shouted just feet away from 10-year-old ball kids. It was the last game the family will attend, she said, unless the atmosphere changes.
        “If they were truly supporting the Portland Timbers, they wouldn’t do this, because it’s clearly in violation of what the team is about,” she said. “They could contribute so much to the fun and to the game by cleaning it up. What’s wrong with that?”
        Gavin Wilkinson, a player-coach known for his hard-nosed play on defense, said he thinks the team should market to families — that free tickets for kids would bring paying parents and eventually build a wide fan base.
        “You hope the kids are admiring what’s going on on the field, but it’s hard to ignore the rest of it,” he said. “I think (the Army) is an attraction in themselves. It’s a fine line between showing emotion and passion in the game, and the words they use in some of their chants.”
        Last week, Taylor, the Timbers’ general manager, asked on the Army’s message board and in letters handed out to Section 107 before the game on Saturday for supporters to quiet their obscenities, if only in deference to young soccer fans in the stands.
        The Army did not oblige.
        In addition to the goal kick chant, the Army had succinct words for the referee when Timbers players were whistled for fouls, and similar obscenities were directed at a small group of drum-banging Sounders fans.
        Kurt Schubothe, a current member of the Army and the “Drum Man” who has been pounding out cheers for the Timbers since 1975, said the group has grown into a marketing force that has teamed with Timbers players in charity work — and into something of a monster.
        “It’s a mixture of two groups — basically the ones who are there to be there, into the scene, into the game and into what’s going on,” he said. “And those who are there to entertain the crowd.”
        The Army has been bolstered by some recent media coverage that celebrates its ruder behavior. That has drawn some who are more interested in acting out than watching the game — fans who some players and Army members refer to as “hooligan wannabes.”
        Many Army members are happy to clean up the language. Many others aren’t.
        Without leadership, it is impossible for some members of the Army to tell others how to behave, Schubothe said. And probably equally impossible for management to force a change, he said.
        “Jim Taylor has a hard decision down the road to make,” said Schubothe, who was a member of the first Timbers supporters, the Cascade Rangers. “You need everyone there to watch the game. You can’t turn people away, whether it’s offensive language or behavior. They’re going to have to decide whether you’re going to clamp down on these guys.”
        Claiming management or security can’t do anything about unruly fans is a cop-out, Schierman said. “They can set a standard,” she said.
        Several security personnel stand between the Army and the field during games. But with only two home games left in the regular season, Timbers management isn’t likely to take more drastic steps this season. Taylor said the club plans to open up general admission seats near the Multnomah Athletic Club to appeal to families next season.
        So far, the team hasn’t ejected unruly fans.
        But it might be time for fans to meet the same standard as players, Wilkinson, the player-coach, said.
        “You could always use the example of players on the field,” he said. “If they behaved the way those fans do, they’d be removed.”

      2. Thanks for the article. It is interesting that this is one of the things the TA vets cite as being a reason for the GWOUT movement. You suck asshole was a stupid chant. Getting rid of it was a good move. It does not even seem like it was just Gavin, but also Taylor.

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