INTERVIEW – This is the continuation of our interview with Austin FC Head Coach, Josh Wolff. (Part 1 here)
LWOS: You’ve experienced so much in your career both domestically and internationally as a player and as a coach; can you put into words that feeling of walking out at Q2 for Austin FC’s first home game? And were you able to properly take it in?
Josh Wolff: Being here from the birth of all this it’s been a wild ride! To be able to help with ideas and design things…I’ve been a player and a coach and it’s not really who I am as far as like architecture or fashion or anything like that. But it was really nice to be part of it because you start to see all the detail and everything that’s layered in. When I would sit in the front office with our marketing people, our communications team, ticketing, everybody, being around all those people you get an appreciation for what everyone’s role was in this. Mine was just another role. But that’s why I’m so tied and bound to this project because of the people that are involved. It means more to me than money and contracts. Those things take care of themselves in time, but it’s more about providing this opportunity for this community, this organization, and the people involved in it, because they’re incredible people.
The experience at Q2 Stadium is a whole other world. Having been in this league since 1998, it’s been incredible, that stadium is remarkable! Davy (Arnaud, Assistant Coach) said to me at one point during our first home win, ‘Sit down and just enjoy what’s going on right now!’. It didn’t take that long for me to really enjoy the place, but he was like, ‘Make sure you take a moment to savor it. One, you’ve built a team. Two, you’ve been part of the inception of all this, it’s a proud moment.’
I walk out on that field before pretty much every game and it’s an incredible place, an incredible feeling. There’s an electricity, an energy in our stadium that many can’t match, certainly in our league, but also around the world. It’s certainly got a lot of Austin built into it, which is what makes it a really unique experience. And we say it a lot, but it really is about the incredible community we have here, remarkable people who have taken us in in a really, really welcoming way, an endearing way. They supported us the whole time and that’s what fan bases are for, but not all of them are the same. We all feel blessed to be here.
Man On: With Austin FC’s Head Coach, Josh Wolff (Part 2)
LWOS: You have two kids that have become professional soccer players, Tyler at Atlanta United, and Owen at Austin FC. How proud does that make you but also, from a coach perspective, what are you thinking when you send them out onto the field? Are you able to compartmentalize that and think, ‘I’m his boss, now’?
Josh Wolff: I am proud of them. But I also tell them they got a lot of work to do. That’s the reality. This is just the beginning. It’s an opportunity that they’ve earned. They’ve been around me long enough as a player and certainly as a coach and as a dad to know I’m very candid with them and very honest. They’ve seen the professional sports world for what it is, the good and the bad of it. I think my wife and I took that very seriously, we don’t really sugarcoat it, we don’t shy away from things, we paint real pictures. They’re two pretty intelligent kids who know they have an opportunity. But they also know there’s a lot to be done from this point forward.
But, of course, I’m proud to see them both out there. What I tell them is you’ve got to be impactful. You got to keep learning, you got to be coachable. You got to be constantly engaged and you got to be ready for the challenges. This is not going to be a straight path up the mountain. You’re going to find the pitfalls, and it’s how you navigate that is how you’re going to find the successes. I hope the best for them, but there’s nothing guaranteed. They’re two very similar guys, but very different in many ways. They have an opportunity, and we will see what they do with it, but it’ll be good to watch them. I’m hopeful for them.
They do need to understand that it’s a job, and quickly realize that you’re taking minutes and possibly money from other people. Soccer in our world (in the US), we’re so welcoming to teammates, people that come into our space from abroad. Elsewhere else in the world, it’s much more shrewd, much more cutthroat. That probably doesn’t register with my kids yet, but I frame it that way. You’re trying to take away a job from someone else and the next person behind you is going to be trying to do the same to you. Not everyone’s going to be as genuine as we may be. It’s seeing the world in a real way, for what it is. You’ve got to come ready to work.
The other day when Owen got in (for his MLS debut during Austin FC’s victory over Sporting KC), you’re trying to give them information but obviously, they have energy and I’m sure there are nerves, but just give him bits and pieces to help him try to remain focused. He’s going to find his way into a deeper pool now and it’s important that he’s able to navigate it and deal with all of it, success, failure, keep learning, and keep growing.
LWOS: Now that the season is over, what do you wish you’d known at the start of the year that you know now?
Josh Wolff: That we’re not gonna have any strikers! I wished we’d got some more! Obviously, you’d love to know where your gaps were going to be. We built this roster knowing that we would probably need to add some things in the summer, so you don’t fill it out all the way so you have some room to bring in other players. But not having a striker was crippling to some degree. Some of the injuries took away depth and were also concerning throughout the year, but it forces you to be creative. It forces you to try and find new ways to keep the game model of how we want to play. You’ve got to layer in some new information. Some players were doing some things that they probably haven’t done in the past.
Those things were challenging, but there were lots of challenges and adversity this year. I’ve talked to Greg (Berhalter, USMNT coach and former colleague) about this he’s like, ‘It doesn’t matter whatever year you’re in, if you went to MLS Cup it’s gonna be a roller coaster from start to finish! It’s just different things that cause the roller coaster’. We had the injuries, we were on the road for a while, getting used to a new stadium, I took a lot of heat for how we navigated the congested schedule at points. Those were things that we couldn’t really foresee.
There’s the physical side, but there’s also the emotional side. You’re creating a decent amount of chances and you’re not scoring goals and then, in turn, you’re not winning games to get that validation of all the work we’ve been doing. Confidence waned. If you can string together results, that develops confidence and buy-in, and believability. You also have expectations and perceptions of what this year was going to look like versus what the situation really was. You know that’s always going to be fodder in the community. They’re going to be able to talk about that in media and poke holes in it, whether it’s believable or not believable. These are just some of the challenges that we were navigating. Some of them I think we did in a good way. Some of it, you know, provided to be too much of a challenge. But again, I think we’ll be better for it in the long run.
You’ve got to keep in mind how this year started. COVID, no fans in the stadium, we’re meeting out in the dog run, no face-to-face meetings. It was always going to be a challenging year as an expansion team, but I never used that as a crutch or an excuse. I wanted to come out competitive and have a team that was fast, up-tempo, aggressive, and we started the year that out way. And once we adjusted some things and brought in some more players, you can quickly see that it’s still a very strong group that has loads of quality. We started to see who we could be, and what we hope this will be next year.
LWOS: What do you see the career trajectory being for Josh Wolf, the coach? What are your ambitions domestically, perhaps coaching overseas, or on the international stage again?
Josh Wolff: I say this to our players, you have to have a plan. What is it you want? As a player myself, I created that right away as far as the things that I wanted to achieve and felt that I could believably achieve, and I was able to do all of those things. As a coach, right now, it’s starting with this, Austin FC. I’m not saying that I want to go to Europe, but I want to have a long coaching career. In order to do that, you certainly have to have success. In our league, in the sport in general, as it’s grown in popularity, financially there’s more pressure and there’s going to be more and more coach turnover. But success here in Austin, in some form or fashion, hopefully, keeps me here for the long term. Growth and development as a coach is critical. Wherever that takes me, if it’s here for 10 years and now I can carve out my next real desire, then that’s it. But for right now, it’s about having some level of success here in Austin and being here as long as I can.
I appreciate the opportunity here, and I’ve got lots to grow on, but I also believe I truly am ready. What I’ve built, what we’ve built here, is a good start, a good foundation, and I think there’s a lot of good things still to come. So, the first thing for me is making this a winning organization and from there, I have in the back of my head what I want to do but it starts with this. And if I’m unable to do the things here that I want to achieve, it won’t go much further.
LWOS: Can you go on record as saying you have no interest in being Derby County’s manager, then?
Josh Wolff: Ha! I could probably say that for now!