Two MLS Cup titles. Four conference championships. The playoffs in every season bar 2010 and 2014. A 152-116-107 record in all competitions. And, for just a few days more, the longest tenured current head coach in MLS, with 286 regular-season games.
The number will rise to 287 when Dominic Kinnear takes charge of the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium for the last time on Thursday (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS) in the team’s penultimate match of the season, against the New England Revolution.
It is Houston’s chance to say goodbye, and it will be a strange feeling — for this club, this city, has known no one else since day one of the Dynamo. In the history of MLS, Steve Nicol, New England’s head coach between 2002 and 2011, is the only head coach to have stayed longer at the same club.
Those are the raw numbers; behind the stats is the personality that made them possible. You see it on the training ground: Kinnear always out there in the middle, directing, cajoling, encouraging and demanding. And yes — sometimes shouting, sometimes rebuking. But always there, always teaching.
Regardless of the day, the weather, the standings or the time of year, the work ethic is constant, the highest expectations are set. No slacking, ever: this is the Dynamo. This is a Dominic Kinnear team.
The intensity and unremitting will to win that is obvious as he prowls the touchline on matchdays is ever present, every day, no matter whether 20 people are watching or 20,000. The job is not just what Kinnear does, it’s a big part of who he is.
And from the very first match in Houston back on April 2, 2006, to last Sunday’s battling defeat by D.C. United, Dynamo teams have reflected their coach’s character. It’s not just a playing style, it’s an identity. It’s not just an aspiration, it’s an expectation.
And it’s a hunger for excellence that helped make the likes of Brad Davis, Brian Ching, Geoff Cameron and Stuart Holden who they are as well — to name just a few of the pupils who flourished under Kinnear’s tutelage.
“The most important thing for me was winning,” Kinnear said at a press conference on Wednesday. In a turbulent, always-evolving sport, the 47-year-old’s record is one of consistent achievement that deserves to see his name mentioned in the same breath as the finest coaches in the U.S. and abroad.
“Dom is wholly responsible for a lot of what this club stands for and what it represents and a lot of those things will never change, they’ll be characteristics and traits of this club and organization hopefully for eternity. And I think that says a lot and it means a lot,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti told reporters on Wednesday.
“We’ll carry that base, that foundation of who were are to the near future and the distant future, always with what Dom created in mind.”
For Ching, who spent the vast majority of his storied career playing for Kinnear, “what makes him a great coach is his passion, his desire not to lose … he expected to go out there and win every game, he expected his team to fight, to go out there and put in the effort as he did on the sidelines.”
In a unique and challenging situation when the team moved to Houston from San Jose in 2006 and a new franchise was born, Kinnear led the squad into a new era and fostered a special bond that swiftly led to back-to-back MLS championships. “He was the father of that family,” Ching told HoustonDynamo.com. “He got the team to fight for each other.”
The former striker, now managing director of the Houston Dash, described Kinnear as a coach with genuine empathy for his players. “When you really get to know him he’s a fantastic person, a great guy, he cares a lot about his players,” he said.
Another former Dynamo stalwart, Eddie Robinson, echoed that sentiment, saying that Kinnear developed a deep affinity with many of those who worked for him despite the pressure and impatience of the modern game. “The relationship with his players — it’s special, it’s different. He’s an old-school coach and he cares about his players,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
Robinson also paid tribute to Kinnear’s hard work — summed up by the many hours of pre-match analysis he puts in — and to his ability to get the Dynamo challenging for honors year-in, year-out despite a smaller budget than some rivals. “He’s been able to do it with a mix of talent, attitude and a bit of the unknown — he sees things in players that other people don’t,” he said.
The Dynamo have never been the richest or most glamorous club in the league, but thanks to Kinnear’s coaching acumen and the blue-collar values that he instilled in generations of players, they are one of the most successful and respected. He helped make the club a beloved and essential part of this city’s sports landscape, and he’s more than earned the chance to go full circle with his family and head back to California.
“It’s an unbelievable story I think, for us to go as far as we did,” Kinnear told the media. “It sure was wonderful to be a part of it.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.