The Portland Thorns have announced Mike Norris as the new head coach of the club. After reports popped up before the weekend suggesting that the assistant coach was set to take charge, the club made it formal today.
“We are excited to have Mike move into our head coach position,” said Thorns FC general manager Karina LeBlanc. Norris served as an assistant coach to the Thorns during their championship-winning 2022 season, and that continuity and positive relationship with the players was a key part of his hire.
“During his time with the club, he has exhibited an ability to connect with the players by not only helping them develop as athletes, but also grow as people,” LeBlanc shared. “Mike is an asset to the Thorns, and we look forward to him leading us in this new direction. We believe he is the right person to help us continue to improve and capitalize on our previous success.”
Rose City, welcome your new head coach— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) January 9, 2023
We’ve named Mike Norris as the club’s new head coach. #BAONPDX
On Monday, the Thorns held a press conference with Norris and LeBlanc introducing him as the fifth head coach in team history.
The common themes throughout the introductory press conference was continuity, player buy-in, and safety.
Karina Leblanc’s Opening Statement:
“Today’s a very excited for us at the Thorns because we get to announce the great Mike Norris as our new head coach. Woo! As everyone knows me, Mike, his history speaks for himself in being able to lead success. Obviously coming off Olympic Gold Medal and our reigning champions last year, he led a lot of things on the field.”
LeBlanc On Norris’ history with the club, and what he brings to the role:
“He was in charge of our scouting for other teams. Did a lot of game day prep. The players love him. They bought into him. I think even today we saw some tweets for some of the players, which is a testament that we have their buy-in obviously as a club. He has our absolute buy-in for his character, it’s phenomenal. I’m sure all of you will get to see that. Some of you may need translations when Mike starts speaking with his Newcastle accent which we always tease him about. He loves food. He’s a foodie. If you want to get an in with Mike, bring some food into the press conferences cause that’s him. But most importantly, he’s well qualified for this job. It is an absolute honor and excitement to introduce Mike Norris to all of you.
Mike Norris on being named head coach:
“Obviously huge honor, very grateful to be named the head coach of the Portland Thorns. A club with great history of success, terrific fan base, which I experienced last year. So just really proud and excited for the challenge ahead and to get started.”
LeBlanc on the hiring process:
“We went through a really good process. Obviously, I spoke to some agents who have a lot of head coaches in the business, and we went through the process of looking at who had applied previously. Spoke with the several people, but I think the big thing that stood out for us is thinking of player safety, getting that continuity from winning the championship last year. Mike was loved by the players, loved by the club. I think it was the perfect transition to have Mike come in and lead. And obviously we had a hard conversation, just before this and said, Mike ‘is this what you want?’”
“I think it’s a testament to this character that he asked if I had the players buy-in, do I have the staff buy-in and everything, and everybody was on board. I think over the year you’ll see why Mike is more than credible for this, why he’s the perfect person to lead us. We went through different processes, but in the end it was a no-brainer for us and you guys will see that.”
Norris on his coaching philosophy and how he’d like to see the Thorns play this season:
“I’m really passionate about tactics and strategy and I think the collective how you get 12 [sic] players on the field working together, that’s a big piece. Breaking it down then looking at the individual skill sets to bring that stuff alive is part of what I believe is my philosophy. Then how I bring that to life, which as a club and a fan base, we enjoy and expect attacking football. I am a goalkeeper by trade, so defense is always at the core of everything, I think in terms of how you attack. I think we expect a similar approach in terms of what we expect as a fan base and a club moving forward. Hopefully exciting football which is a good experience for the fans.”
A key theme during the press conference was on the importance of getting support and buy in from the players, and both Norris and LeBlanc spoke of how they felt that they their goal was maintaining trust with the current group.
“That was one of the big things I said to Karina and the club was, look, if this is not what the players want, I can put my sort of desires to the side and move on if that’s not what’s needed,” Norris said of his hiring. He said his hiring “speaks to the connection I built last year and the trust in terms of how I work with the players.
#BAONPDX HC Mike Norris and GM Karina LeBlanc on the importance of getting player buy-in— Taylor Vincent (@tayvincent6) January 9, 2023
LeBlanc echoed those statements, sharing this anecdote: “When we spoke to some of the players about it, one response from a player was ‘He’s not only made me a better player, but he’s made me a better person.’”
That type of positive reputation appears to be reflected in the social media posts from players. The Thorns players almost universally expressed their approval and excitement for the hire across social media.
The Portland Thorns officially have a new Head Coach in promoted assistant coach Mike Norris. @ThornsFC, and its players, are ready for the 2023 season under Norris. pic.twitter.com/skqqctqis1— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) January 9, 2023
Norris of course came into the role under unique circumstances, with former head coach Rhian Wilkinson abruptly resigning. LeBlanc specifically spoke to how the club and management are trying to regain trust with the players and continue to improve the culture. in the wake of Wilkinson’s resignation.
“I think the big thing is, we’ve learned from it. We’re moving forward,” LeBlanc shared. “In terms of our plans with the players, Mike (Norris) and I, this is one of the things we’ve probably over-talked (about) to make sure we’re sensitive to every person’s feelings and thoughts about what’s happened so we don’t make it seem like it didn’t happen. And find that balance of how to move forward.
Full quote from Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc on the unique situation of Rhian Wilkinson's departure, regaining trust with players, and charting the path forward with Mike Norris as head coach. #BAONPDX #NWSL pic.twitter.com/6rG1ikHsTj— Ryan Clarke (@RyanTClarke) January 9, 2023
You can read the full press release on Norris’ appointment here.
What was your biggest takeaway from the Mike Norris hire? Let us know in the comments.
(Ed. note: It’s NWSL draft week! Be on the lookout for content coming up in the next few days from Melina and Phuoc.)