The three-and-a-half turbulent years of the Georg Heitz era at the Chicago Fire received their latest landmark moment this morning with the firing of head coach Ezra Hendrickson, and questions surrounding the Swiss sporting director’s future took center stage at today’s press conference.
“We were trying to analyze properly,” Heitz said regarding the timing of the decision, “We just said, ‘Look, a season can slip away quickly,’ and we really thought that we had to change now.”
For Heitz, more could be slipping away than just this season. His contract is up at the end of 2023, and with the team on course to miss the playoffs for the fourth successive time under his leadership, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be handed a new deal.
It is for that reason that the decision to appoint Frank Klopas as interim head coach for the remainder of 2023 should not come as a surprise. Klopas took over as the interim coach when Heitz’s first failed coaching hire, Raphael Wicky, was fired, and he holds tremendous goodwill with not just the fans and players but everyone around the club. It appears that there is not too much of a rush to hire a new permanent coach, and based on his comments, it seems that Heitz will not be involved in the search for Hendrickson’s successor until his future is determined.
“Klopas will be our head coach for the remainder of the season,” says Heitz. “Then we’ll take it from there and see who will be there, who will be here to decide on the future head coach.”
Results on the field have been quite poor in recent seasons, and Heitz’s roster construction has been the subject of scrutiny. His Designated Player signings, in particular, have been notably poor. Robert Berić provided one good season in 2020, and apart from that, none of the DPs have clearly been a success. Gastón Giménez has been solid but not worthy of a DP label, which he held for three years; Xherdan Shaqiri has provided some moments of quality but has, in truth, yet to live up to his DP tag, let alone his eight million-dollar annual salary. Ignacio Aliseda was a categorical failure, and Jairo Torres has been riddled with injuries and barely played.
Despite that, Heitz is confident he will “most probably” have the opportunity to make another DP signing during this summer transfer window, though he refused to comment on a question relating that to his looming contract situation.
The situation is an interesting one for the man now in charge, Frank Klopas. This will be his third spell in the head coaching position at the club; not only did he steady the ship at the end of the 2021 season, as mentioned previously, but he was also the head coach on a permanent basis from 2011 to 2013. The Greek-born former U.S. international led the club to its second-most recent playoff berth in 2012 before he lost his job a year later when the Men in Red missed the postseason. That minimum expectation of reaching the playoffs seems to have been lost in the years since, as Veljko Paunović’s 2017 team was the only one to accomplish that goal, and Klopas is hungry to get the team back to where it belongs.
“I think I have the experience over my playing career and also have been a head coach here before in difficult situations to step in and do the job,” Klopas told the media, “For me, I’m going to put everything I have, all my energy and my passion. I care a lot about this club, about the city, and I will bring all my experience along with my colleagues.”
Though he was only promoted on an interim basis, Klopas’ reintroduction as head coach will write a new chapter in what is a crucial year for the ever-underperforming franchise. Hendrickson’s reign in Chicago may have come to an untimely end, but in the bigger picture, it’s even clearer that the Heitz experiment has failed. With all clues indicating that there’s a strong possibility he won’t be back in 2024, Joe Mansueto and the Fire organization must be ready to take a big step in the right direction later this year.