Hey, have you heard Chip Kelly is the longest-tenured head coach in Philly?? Of course you have! Everybody, including major national sports outlets, was spouting out that “fact” on Monday after the Flyers fired Peter Laviolette.
Of course, there are some problems with it. In breathless attempts to get their Tweets out, a lot of people didn’t include the word “professional,” meaning college coaches could have been factored in. Also, most people didn’t specify they were talking about the “four major” sports, meaning Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth was mostly left out of the conversation even though he’s been on the job longer than Kelly. And then, of course, there’s the issue of what constitutes “major” anymore.
If you look at average attendance, for instance, the Union have outdrawn the Sixers in three of the last four seasons. Does that mean they are one of the top four pro teams in Philly? Absolutely not. Does that mean we should maybe consider expanding the definition and saying there are five major professional franchises in Philly? Sure, why not?
After being introduced as the “longest-tenured pro coach in Philadelphia” to start his weekly press conference, Hackworth was asked about the whole thing (however dumb it may seem) and gave a pretty great response, downplaying it from a personal perspective but expressing annoyance that soccer can often be overlooked in this city. Here’s the entire quote:
“The first answer is that I think that it doesn’t matter at all. It’s completely irrelevant, especially with how long [I’ve been the head coach]. It hasn’t been very long. The second answer is that it does piss me off, to be very clear. But it’s not about me. I think it’s incredible that in this day and age, in the world we live in, with how popular our sport is, that in a city that says that it is such a sports town, to say that, ‘Eh, it doesn’t count as one of the top professional sports.' I think that’s crazy.”
Soccer certainly is popular in Philly, given that the Union usually sell out their beautiful 18,500-seat stadium in Chester. (For those saying that Hackworth shouldn’t be included in the longest-tenured coach conversation because the Union don’t play within the city limits, that argument doesn’t hold much water unless you also wouldn’t include the Giants and Cowboys in discussions about New York and Dallas sports.) And the fans are as passionate and critical as any of the city’s others four teams.
At the same time, the level of vitriol from the soccer-haters in the city is often too loud to brush off (see the comments that will invariably show up beneath this story). And perhaps even worse than that for the Union is getting ignored by so many sportswriters and sports talk personalities.
Amobi Okugo, one of Philly’s best young players and a big fan of many other sports, noticed the whole Chip-Kelly-longest-tenured-coach thing on Twitter and was asked about it after practice Wednesday. Here’s what he said:
“It’s crazy. Soccer’s still growing. Maybe if we can make the playoffs and the other teams stay on their downward spiral, we’ll get more recognition. I’m not wishing bad on the other teams but if we make the playoffs and do make a little run, it might get us a little more recognition. In the meantime, we’ve been like the little stepbrother no one cares about. But Philly loves winners. If we win, we’ll start getting some more recognition.”
Oh, that’s right. The Union are currently closing in on the playoffs with three games left in the regular season. Then, at least, John Hackworth will have the official title as the only pro head coach in town who’s made the playoffs.
Or something like that.