I've developed a reputation for defending Gavin Wilkinson, even as I've acknowledged that he's made some poor decisions.
I'm realizing that Diego Chara may actually be one of them (credit to #1 Leverage Fan's correction of a misguided statement I made about Chara's DP status for the inspiration of this post). Not that Diego isn't a good player that we should keep and utilize. He's under contract and he fits the system well, so he, personally, should be commended. But of all the things I've learned about the Timbers over the past few years, it somehow eluded me until today that we'd forked over $2 million to bring Chara to PDX. THAT is too much money for Chara's abilities, even if he does prove to be "one of the better" d-mids in the league. Gavin also brought him in on an attacking platform and that part of Chara's resume has fallen flat.
We can debate players all day, regarding who GW's guys were and who Spencer's recruits were. What I think we would all agree on, is that prior to this last offseason, the sum of GW's player moves have left him's in the red.
My theory is this. Gavin fancied himself as an unusually brilliant mind who could blow everyone away with his scouting and hiring abilities. He couldn't wait to show the fans and Merritt what a good team he could build for MLS. The last two year's have been a harsh learning experience for him. He's had to swallow his pride and speak well of the fans, even as they called for his head. He's found out more about the players he recruited, sometimes to his disadvantage. He's found out more about the quality of other MLS teams. He's realized that MLS is an evolving league with a growing reputation, meaning each year year, new talent arrives and the quality gets better. So he's learned that what was good enough in 2012 isn't necessarily good enough in 2013.
Gavin has likely had to admit to himself that he'd gone about some things wrong. He's had to "get all the stupidities out of [his] head". He's had to let go of many of the things he controlled, and bend over backwards to lure a guy who probably had some pretty strong personal stipulations to taking an MLS job. He had to let go of his dream of being seen as the brilliant guy, and instead, focus on simply becoming a good manager.
His willingness to do this is probably part of the reason Merritt Paulson has stuck with him, even in the face of a fanbase that was calling for his head. But can he keep it up?
Gavin Wilkinson's future hinges on three people. 1. Caleb Porter. 2. Diego Valeri. 3. Gavin Wilkinson.
1. Caleb Porter: he was hard to get. Gavin got him. He's probably the most impressive Gavin-hire ever. Sure, Gavin probably had some help. But Porter wasn't going to take any job, and Gavin did enough to ensure the conditions were right for Caleb. But with all of Caleb's accolades come VERY high expectations, and if Caleb's efforts fall flat, Gavin is in just as much, if not more trouble than Caleb will be.
2. Diego Valeri: he is, for all intents and purposes, a Gavin recruit. That doesn't mean Gavin discovered the guy. It's possible he did. It's possible Caleb or someone else from the team did, and Gavin simply went to see him, said, "Looks amazing, but what do you think Caleb?" But it is plausible that Gavin was a big part of it, given his many trips to South America. Gavin certainly gets some credit for making a transaction happen for a player of that caliber. So certainly, he will bear at least part of the benefit or brunt of Valeri's success or failure in MLS. FInally, if Valeri succeeds THIS year, we have to have what it takes to keep him around for AT LEAST another year. He is only on loan and I have no idea what kind of flexibility exists in the option to buy him at year's end.
3. Gavin, himself: Mr. Wilkinson needs to look to Toronto FC's Kevin Payne for an example of how NOT to work with a brilliant coach. Kevin Payne is NOT a complete disaster as a manager, by any means. But the enormously successful DC United of the late '90s did appear to suffer in the following decade because of Kevin's ego. He is said to have had a sketchy relationship with Bruce Arena that may have been damaging to Arena's interest in staying with the team, or coming back to it after coaching the USMNT. He's also said to failed to get Caleb Porter in 2009 because he wouldn't give up control of certain aspects of the team. Brilliant coaches come with big demands. You have to agree to do things they're way. Gavin has pulled that off and gotten Caleb. But it also takes a lot to keep a guy like Caleb on board. Gavin has to back up his promises, let Caleb be Caleb, and continue to cater the team to him, even when things aren't going as well as everyone thinks they should. If the team IS eventually successful, he has to maintain a respectful and productive relationship with Caleb. And if things go enormously well, Gavin has to keep Caleb in an environment that he is inclined to stay in for awhile. If he's successful but not happy, there will be other opportunities that give him an easy out, as the USMNT did for Bruce Arena. Gavin also needs to be a true learner. The mistakes he has made in the past are INVALUABLE learning tools, which is why I personally think you keep him on board. However, that is only true if he actually uses those tools to learn, and many fans with more history than I seem to have doubts about his ability or willingness to do that.
If Caleb improves the team, Valeri remains brilliant on the pitch, and Gavin maintains a constructive working relationship with Caleb, it will be time for all of us to admit that he's leveraged his mistakes to improve and become a decent manager. If things fall apart yet again, it's time for Merritt to try someone else in the GM role.
Until then, I commend the #GWOut folks for taking it easy and focusing on the positives we think we have in Caleb Porter. We may not all agree about what kind of GM potential GW has, but most of us have a lot of hope in Caleb Porter as a coach, and Diego Valeri as a legitimate DP.
Here's to a quick learning curve and eventual success for a revamped Timbers in 2013!