Owen Coyle regularly brought teams to America for preseason training and noticed that the standard in MLS was improving every year. Now he has the chance to be a part of that change as the new head coach of the Dynamo.
“For me it was just a terrific fit and a great challenge,” Coyle told HoustonDynamo.com before his new role was officially announced at BBVA Compass Stadium on Tuesday.
Considered one of British management’s rising stars as he took Burnley into the English Premier League in 2009, the Scot is excited by the Dynamo’s potential and the future of MLS.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest leagues in world football and anybody in the game wants to be involved at a high level. MLS certainly is and I think it’ll continue to progress. For me it was a fantastic challenge,” he said. “I’ve watched MLS extensively, back home we get live feeds and highlights so I certainly know all the teams in the league.”
Speaking to Coyle, or watching him on the touchline, it only takes a moment to notice the enthusiasm that’s often cited by players and media in the UK as one of the key reasons for his success. He radiates drive and positive energy. And as he adjusts to a new country it’s sure to help that he’s not new to Houston.
He took Bolton Wanderers to the Bayou City in the summer of 2011 for a Charities Cup match and signed former Orange standout and U.S. international Stuart Holden (as well as ex-New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream). “I always had a close tie in terms of looking out for the club and seeing how they were doing,” Coyle said, adding that he recalled the excellent atmosphere inside Robertson Stadium for the Cup game.
Now he has a central role as the club plots its new course in the post-Dominic Kinnear era. “I certainly know there’s a lot of intricacies in MLS, I’ve come out here not saying that I know everything about the league, but we’ve got a terrific staff here,” he said. “I want to build something with longevity, not just season to season but trying to put an infrastructure in place that’ll last this club many years to come.”
Aged 48, Coyle is one year older than Kinnear. Both were born in the Glasgow area. While Kinnear’s family emigrated to California when he was a young child, Coyle remained in Scotland and forged a successful career, playing for a number of Scottish clubs and also enjoying a spell south of the border with Bolton in the mid-nineties. That’s where he first met Kinnear, who had a trial with Bolton.
A talented striker, Coyle scored nearly 300 goals and made one appearance for the Ireland national side. He played his last game in 2006 for then Scottish second-tier club St Johnstone, where he was player-manager. He also had a period as co-player-manager of Falkirk in 2003 and coached at Dundee United.
Word of his coaching ability quickly spread and in 2007 he was offered the chance to take charge at Burnley, then a second-tier side and one of the founder members of England’s Football League in 1888. In 2008-09, Coyle’s first full season in charge, he led the small-town underdogs from northwest England to a place in the playoffs. Playing a dynamic passing style, they beat Sheffield United at Wembley Stadium to reach the Premier League, returning them to England’s top level for the first time since 1976.
Coyle’s aiming to bring his brand of attacking soccer to Houston. It usually features moving the ball quickly out wide and encouraging wingers to take on defenders and send crosses into the penalty area, though he plans to be adaptable.
“I won’t force systems and styles on players that don’t suit their strengths, so I need to assess the group we’ve got, but I think we’ll certainly be looking to pass and move that ball … it’s something that we’re going to work very hard at,” he said.
Burnley’s time in the Premier League began well, with a home win over Manchester United, but in January 2010, Coyle left for a more established top-flight side, Bolton. He kept them clear of relegation and led them to another mid-table finish and the semifinals of the FA Cup in 2010-11, his first full season in charge. He took future Arsenal and Liverpool stars Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge on loan.
Bolton were relegated out of the Premier League in 2012 and he left the club in October that year. The following summer he took the reins at Wigan Athletic, who were recently relegated from the top division. He left Wigan in December 2013 and has spent the past year waiting for the right opportunity. When Kinnear — the only head coach in Dynamo history — left Houston to return to the San Jose Earthquakes after the MLS regular season, everything fell into place following a discussion with club president Chris Canetti.
“Within the last six months I had six or seven good offers to come back in, both home and abroad, and I just didn’t feel it was the right thing or the right connection. What I wanted to do was wait for the connection I got with somebody,” said Coyle.
“When I sat with Chris I just knew straight away. It was a similar feeling to the one I got when I sat with [co-owner] Brendan Flood at Burnley. That feeling that they’re not only knowledgable people but really good men, which is so important.” Coyle will also work closely with new vice president/general manager Matt Jordan.
“This is an exciting time for the Houston Dynamo,” Canetti said. “As we move to the next phase of our existence I’m pleased to be adding Owen Coyle as our head coach. I know that he brings a wealth of experience and many great personal qualities that enable him to be the right fit for our club.”
Hard work and passion are guaranteed. “Anybody will tell you I’m quite a humble guy but I certainly know what I’m good at and I’ll look to try and impart that knowledge and experience and the qualities I have on anybody I come in contact with,” said Coyle. “We’ll try and build something with longevity, try and put a winning team on the park that’ll entice fans to come. We’ll try and play a brand of soccer that everybody enjoys watching but equally it can be a winning one.”
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.