Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs earned a three-year contract extension today. Watch or read his full comments, along with those of club CEO Ian Ayre.
Ian Ayre: “Good afternoon everybody, and as always thanks for your time. As Cristina [Maíllo Belda, Nashville SC VP of Communications] mentioned, 2020 season obviously is behind us now – but what an incredible challenge and a unique season it was for Nashville Soccer Club. I think we all expected it to be different and unusual from the outset, but not quite what we expected. But so many positives as well as the negatives – a record-breaking opening game, and to finish up there with a handful of teams that have ever had that level of performance in their inaugural season I think was incredible. I think it’s great testament to this organization and our supporters and on our partners that everybody managed to get through that despite the setbacks that the city had in the tornado, and then everybody was shut down for COVID, and our own outbreak whilst in Orlando.
“And I think despite that, reaching the semifinal of our conference doesn’t happen by accident, and it was a testament to great amount of work by an awful lot of people. As I personally reflected on 2020, what became clear to me was that it was the quality of the people we assembled overall at the club that got us through these most difficult times and were able to achieve what we achieved – whether that was players on the pitch or staff elsewhere, our owners, our partners – it was the assemblance of that group that really did it.
“I wanted to take the time today to hold this and talk a little bit about Mike Jacobs and the crucial part he played in that. Of course, all of you know what a GM does in a club, and Mike’s job here is the overall delivery of the soccer part of the club day-to-day, and that’s a hugely challenging role. You don’t get to pick the team that does out on the team – that sits with the coach – you don’t coach the players, and you don’t necessarily even attend all the games. But you literally have to have one eye on every part of the day-to-day operations at the practice facility and beyond in recruitment and equipment, and our academy. So it’s a not-inconsequential task day-to-day, and it’s important to ensure that we fully deliver in all those areas. It’s all those sum of the parts that bring the whole together. Just as for myself as CEO, I have to take responsibility for the whole operation – the sporting side and the business side – and Mike’s the person that I entrust that sporting side day-to-day to, and I have to say I couldn’t be happier than having Mike in that role. And Mike was actually the first person I hired in MLS, in our team. I was employee No. 1 and Mike’s employee No. 2.
“His initial contract finished at the end of 2020, and today is really an opportunity to say that I and the owners are hugely delighted to announce that we’ve reached agreement to extend Mike’s role here at Nashville Soccer Club for a further three years. He’s a hugely talented individual, committed, extremely dedicated, and anyone who knows Mike, that spends any time with him, knows that not only does he do a great job, but he eats, sleeps, and breathes this thing. I sometimes have to tell him to relax, you know, and not just think about it every moment of every day. That’s a great asset to have, particularly in a new club that’s kind of going places.
“So really before I hand over to Mike, I just want to thank him and let everyone know that his contribution to our club has been exceptional. I know he’s as excited as I am about continuing to build on what we’ve started here, and ensure that week-to-week, season-to-season, year-to-year, that we deliver something that Nashville can be proud of, and today’s about Mike’s part in that and big congratulations to him and his family.
Mike Jacobs: “Thanks Ian. First off, I’d like to thank John Ingram and our ownership group for continuing to have the confidence not only in myself, but our staff and players to continue to build off of this proof-of-concept that we developed during our inaugural season as an expansion team. The opportunity to work day-to-day like this wouldn’t be possible without those who I’m closest with on a day-to-day basis. I feel so appreciative to be able to come to work each day with the likes of Assistant General Manager Ally MacKay, Chief Scout Chance Myers, Director of Strategy and Analytics Oliver Miller-Farrell. Being able to work so closely with Gary Smith as our head coach really enables the leadership on the sporting side of the club to move in-sync every step of the way. Being able to lean on the direction, management, support of Ian Ayre – after leading one of the biggest clubs in the world, executing some of the most successful player deals in English football history – really gives me the ideal setting to continue to kind of thrive and be successful.
“In what was the most challenging year in Major League Soccer history for an expansion team: combatting two different tornadoes, global pandemic, having to withdraw from the MLS is Back Tournament, multiple-hour rain delays in Dallas, Miami, and even here in Nashville once after we resumed. Knowing all that, we still found a way to not only be one of the lone expansion teams in MLS history to not only advance in the playoffs, but to win multiple playoff games before taking the eventual MLS Cup Champs to extra time. The season was also capped off by putting together the best defense and goals-against average in MLS history for an expansion team.
“There’s a lot of exciting milestones that we went through this past year as we challenged through the 2020 season. But you know we also really appreciate the fact that 2020 was simply just that: it was our first season. We built really important steps, and it’s important to kind of understand that really it was the first step. No one in this group is going to rest on our laurels of this last year. The group on and off the field is pretty grounded and understands that we’re a continuing kind of work in progress with a goal toward building consistency and sustained success.
Heading into ’21, we’ve got a really firm handle of who we are, and what we have the chance to become. 2020 was a season where we were able to create a foundation and identity. And ’21’s going to be all about trying to build off that as well as adding and enhancing. With so much of our players and staff from a successful season in 2020 returning, we’re really looking forward and excited for what’s on the horizon in ’21.”
What was it about Mike specifically that made retaining him long-term such a priority for you?
Ayre: “Many things, really. I think, you know, I’ve said many times before that I’m a big believer that when you hire people, you want to hire at least 50% of that hiring should be done on the basis of who they are as a person as much as their skills. Mike came with a whole bunch of skills and experience across different leagues and organizations, but what I think we want to assemble a senior team here that really fit in together well, and have the tenacity and the commitment and the dedication that you need, and in a new club, there’s something new every day here. There’s a new challenge, or there’s something we haven’t quite finished yet.
“In 2021 we’ll be driving the bus along through the ’21 season at the same time building a whole new stadium, and you have to have people who have that dedication and commitment, but they also have to have the respect of their own teams and the rest of the team, and Mike has that in spades. I think it was those things – seeing his dedication day-to-day, seeing how his team responds to him and seeing how he fits so well into my senior team here – all of the above, really, and it was a pretty easy decision and just a matter of making the right deal with him.”
How important is the security of knowing you’ll be here to see the results of your project?
Jacobs: “Thanks Tom. It’s a great opportunity for us to kind of be able to try to work towards sustaining success. And from the get-go, we looked at this with the idea of putting a team together that would help us be successful straight away in 2020, but we always had an eye on what was going to happen in the future. When you look at our build, the idea of having young players – in either guys who came right in the team like Randall Leal or Alistair Johnston, whether it was players who gradually worked themselves in the group like Brian Anunga, or young talents that everyone’s really high on like Jack Maher – I think the thought was that this group was getting the chance to kind of all grow up together, and we’re really excited about watching this. We saw obviously an encouraging first chapter here this last season, to think about this exciting young group that’s going to continue to grow and learn under the tutelages of these established veterans that we have here, really it’s exciting to think about not only what happened in this first season, but what’s on the horizon for this group.”
What was the most pleasant surprise of the inaugural season?
Jacobs: “I think there were certainly some things that you’d expect from specific individuals. But what’s most-unique about an expansion team is – I referenced this after we had to go to Portland: when I was in Kansas City, not only was Portland one of our chief rivals, but for me, I would say it’s as tough a place to play as there is in the league. We went there against a nucleus of guys who have played together for, in some cases, six years, with our group that had been together for maybe like six weeks.
“It’s one of those things where, even when you draw it up on paper, you don’t know what’s going to happen until they get out there. What I do think was unique about what we did with our build was the focus we spent thinking about cohesion. Not just collecting good players, but who we thought would play well together. I think what I was – you could say surprised, I think I’d say most pleased about – was to see how quickly guys like Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy partnered in midfield, to see how quickly guys like Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney partnered in the middle in the back. As you watched those guys as the season went along, you’d have thought they were together for years, not weeks. It’s just amazing to kind of see how quickly they were able to kind of mesh and jell, and I think that had as much to do with them as individuals – their ability to buy in on the group – and I think the leadership of Gary Smith to find the best system, shape, tactics to put them all in positions to be successful.”
What does the 2020 season add to your journey in the soccer world, from New York through Duke and so on, especially given that it was a season unlike any other?
Jacobs: “Thanks, and I appreciate kind of walking through where I came from because you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from and who you are. What I think’s interesting is, the idea of taking pieces of each of those steps along the way to kind of form who I am now, and whether it’s things I drew from growing up in New York to the experiences and being somewhere with high expectations and demands like at Duke university or at Sporting Kansas City, to now gaining the confidence of people like Ian Ayre or John Ingram to be able to put them all to test here. I think all of those experiences helped to prepare me to do what I’m doing now.
“When I’ve been asked before about this job – it’s the dream job for me. Not just the chance to put a team together and help run a club, but to do it here in Nashville. To do it with people who I think have shared visions, people who get along real well. As Ian mentioned earlier about selecting staff, the premium placed on who they are as people. What’s great is this group here – the reason there’s a lot of buy-in, there’s a lot of shared vision for not only how a team should play, but how people should work every day.
“For me, I think it’s interesting. You mentioned the New York Knickerbockers who are now 5-3 this NBA season after a win last night. I was just saying to our guys here what I think I found most unique about what the Knicks are doing right now is they’re kind of doing it in a way that people associate with New York Knicks basketball: tjey’re doing it with very tough defense, guys who player really hard, kind of grinding out results. When I think about the teams that I’ve been a part of, I think it’s easy to be involved in recruitment or sales when you believe in the product. I think for me, a key component, probably, to growing up watching the New York Knicks, to Duke soccer teams, toSporting Kansas City teams, I think they all embodied some of those things that our NSC team had this past year. Where there’s still things that we want to be able to kind of grow into, to improve, to evolve and sustain – what I would say, I hope that our NSC team is always one that people hate to play against. I hope we’re always the one that makes it really hard to do the things that you want to do, that takes people out of their game, and makes them uncomfortable.
“To me, I think if we’re always doing that on the field, I think if our staff is always a collection of guys who are willing to kind of grind hard, and be willing to work hard and play hard, I think we’ve only kind of scratched the surface of what this group’s capable of on and off the field.”
With your contract situation squared away, do you know when you’ll be announcing further roster moves, including an update on the club’s negotiations with out-of-contract Eric Miller?
Jacobs: “Hey Tim, thanks. What I would say is that in the coming days and weeks, you’ll be getting updates on the roster. You’ll have some updates on players who are returning to our group, you’ll have some updates on some new signings, as well.”