OTF Roundtable: What to Make of Hunter Jumper’s Chicago Fire Criticism
If you’ve sworn off the #CF97 hashtag for the rest of the year you missed a (*ahem*) Fire Storm earlier this week when former Chicago Fire defender Hunter Jumper tweeted for HOURS about the Fire organization. Most of Jumper’s Tweets are still up if you want to track back.
If you’re looking for a straight recap with minimal commentary, Fire Confidential has captured the rant for posterity’s sake. Here’s what some OTF contributors had to say about Jumper’s damning tirade when asked…
“What’s your biggest take-away from Hunter Jumper’s Twitter Comments?”
There was SO MUCH in that string. When the dust settled, for me, one word came to mind: dysfunction.
I don’t want to pretend like running a soccer franchise is easy, but my goodness. If the Fire were in the business of selling paper clips or baking bread everything in there remains mind-numbing.
Comparing practice sessions to high school? No additional time on the field for practice? Acknowledging there are, in fact, competent people at the club without enough pull to change the culture? Support staff didn’t get along with the coaching staff? And he was willing to let Public Enemy #1 Andrew Hauptman off the hook quite a bit. Just head-scratching stuff from beginning to end. And that was just the team stuff!
He also regretted his three years in the league, shook his head at the wage gap, and thinks the players ‘lost’ the latest CBA negotiations.
Rereading the timeline really didn’t offer any hope, either. He’s absolutely right about guys like Brendan Hannan and Jeff Crandall — liked and respected and GREAT AT THEIR JOBS — leaving. That’s in addition to the players on the roster over the last few years who have moved on and remained successful in the league or elsewhere.
The dysfunction revealed in Sunday’s tweets is a couple years old, sure, but what has REALLY changed since then? Is there a single solution-oriented person currently in the organization who can even identify these problems and fix them? When I see notes about “model business practices” wedged front and center into the latest round of dysfunction my answer is simple:
I don’t think there is anyone solution-oriented enough to fix it.
No organization pleases all the people, all the time, and this is not the first time a former player has criticized the club – Baky Soumare being the best example. But Soumaré’s famous criticism came from an experienced, high-salaried player with a history of confrontation in Chicago and elsewhere, and who spoke out when on the roster. Baky had his longer personal history to draw on, citing the Fire’s decline since 2007 – the beginning of the Hauptman era. Still, “Baky will be Baky,” it was easy to say…
Jumper was a more soft-spoken player at the beginning of his erstwhile career, and saw just two years of club doings. No surprise that he didn’t say anything earlier, but he also has nothing to gain now with his thorough criticism.
Two former players, two different careers, two critiques similar enough to cause concern. Both pointed not just at coaches, management, ownership or other players. Instead, they critiqued the organization and its culture as a whole, from management style to practice facilities. I study culture and organizational behavior, so this disturbs me. When individuals in such different positions offer a similar critique, there’s a problem.
Dan Lobring said, “The inclusive and authentic nature of our culture starts from the top down.” Almost – let me correct him: The culture of a club-as-corporation starts from the top down.
Dan, Baky, and Jumper are all right. There is a cultural problem with the club that began in 2007 and can be traced to the top.
What I found most exciting about Jumper’s “Truth Syrup”-fueled string of Fire commentary earlier this week was that he confirmed a lot things that outsiders had previously suspected about the Fire organization, namely: Sub-par training and development methods, a toxic work environment, and a paranoid office staff afraid that someone will soon realize they have no idea what they’re doing.
As mentioned by Jon and Craig above, many former Chicago players (Rolfe, Baky, Quincy Amarikwa) have recently had similar criticisms about their former club. What differed with their comments was that they were always in a guarded way. Major League Soccer is still a very small world so any active player has to speak softly about the league lest they risk the wrath of their employer.
Jumper, whose career is over, has no reason to pull punches, and so he punched his weight and then some.
The biggest highlights for me were:
- Andrew Hauptman Cares: Throughout his Twitter rampage Jumper points out that Fire owner Hauptman really does want to win. As supporters it’s probably time to stop saying “Hauptman Doesn’t Care,” or “Hauptman Doesn’t Spend Money,” because neither are accurate. Hauptman wants to succeed, he is just incapable of doing so. It’s time to imagine AH not as some sort of evil capitalist, but simply an inept one. When asked directly about if “The owner really cares,” Hunter replied, “If you entrust the wrong people to run your company, you will lose every time.“
- Troubled Coaching Staff: Jumper describes Frank Klopas’ staff as a culture of fear, negativity and uncertainty where players were berated in the locker room and during coached practice sessions which he described as “worse than that of high school program in America.” He also mentions that the staff themselves would refuse to eat together during away matches.
- Muddled & Meddling Front Office: Jumper (though likely did not have much insight into its inner-workings) depicts the Fire Organization as bureaucratic and meddling, where “coaches, a general manager, director of soccer operations, technical director, and an owner all thinking they know who should play,” where the final decision maker for players and playing time was “laughable,” where talented executives within the organization were stifled through “a terrible culture,” while “all of them were blaming each other for the organization’s mess-ups.” All this levels back up to a clear lack of leadership and accountability that a Club President is expected to bring to an organization. The President position is currently vacant in Chicago and has been back-filled by “de facto” Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla.
- Player Health & Development: Most unsettling was Jumper’s reference to former U.S. Men’s National Team U-17 and U-20 player Michael Vidiera who, according to Jumper, was made to play though post-concussion symptoms. An especially damning suggestion considering Vidiera’s concussion was addressed with Taylor Twellman on the Fire “All-in” podcast soon after, in which Twellman talked about his ThinkTaylor Foundation and the concussion symptoms that forced him into early retirement. Jumper also insinuated that Fire training may have also negatively affected injuries that forced his retirement, but that he could not go into details. Jumper also cast doubt into the Fire organization’s ability to develop talent, citing that he was not permitted to stay after practice to work on skills, and that “Nobody can develop in an environment that literally fostered negativity and fear.“