James fired as interim coach; team GM resigns
Seattle Times staff reporter
Bernie James has been fired as interim coach of the Seattle Sounders and says it's because he refused to play the co-owner's son.
The co-owner, Neil Farnsworth, responded by saying, "I knew Bernie was going to say this because that's what he has to say. ... Just the fact he would say that gives you an indication of why he is gone."
Farnsworth said James was fired for a variety of reasons that included failure to make the playoffs, failure to play and develop younger players, lack of a productive offense and lack of professionalism.
James said he believes he was fired because he didn't play Farnsworth's son, Chris, a 22-year-old forward.
"I have an obligation to the fans to play the best players I have every game and I'm going to do it, even if it costs me my job, which it did," James said. "I believe in earning playing time and not being handed things. ... Chris is a nice kid and I like him. He's got some talent, but he doesn't deserve more than a limited role at this point and Neil wasn't ready to accept that."
James continued, "It's not fair to the other players if people are given things like a starting position that they don't deserve. Then team morale collapses. We needed to have strong team unity and morale because we had a third of the payroll of a lot of teams we played and beat."
Chris Farnsworth played in only one game. He played 31 minutes and didn't score. He also saw some action on a developmental team.
Farnsworth said he told James, " 'You should play Chris, because he is known as a goal-scorer and you need goals.' "
"He did not play him," Farnsworth said. "It's not so much that it's my son, but it's indicative of the way Bernie views younger players."
James countered, "We played more rookies than we ever had this season and had more local players on the team than we've ever had."
Farnsworth said, "I don't think that's true."
"He certainly had a lot of older guys on the field," Farnsworth said. "He cut a lot of younger players that I think could have produced. Remember, we are trying to develop young players from Puget Sound. ... It's not a place to recycle 30-year old players, or 35-year-old players or 40-year-old players."
In another development, Brad Kimura, the franchise's general manager the past six seasons, has resigned. Managing partner Adrian Hanauer will become GM for the A-League soccer team.
Kimura, 37, said he probably would have stayed on as coach if James had been retained. However, he said he wasn't leaving just because James' contract wasn't renewed.
"I think the soccer side of the operation was fine with Bernie," Kimura said. "What we need to work on to keep this franchise alive is to work on building relationships with the soccer community that put people in the stands."
The Sounders finished the season in August with a 17-13-2 overall record and 13-12-1 in the A-League. They averaged 1.53 goals a game and missed making the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Average home attendance was about 1,900.
This year's team was without eight starters from the 2000 Western Division championship squad. Among the players lost were the No. 2 and No. 3 scorers in the league — Greg Howes and Darren Sawatzky. The Sounders traded Howes, who was rookie of the year and had scored 17 goals, to Portland. Sawatzky, who had scored 16 goals, wasn't re-signed and wound up in Portland.
Farnsworth said he didn't think the team looked "professional" during warmups and in games. He also said he thought the team had sufficient talent to be a winner. He said the lack of scoring bothered him and said, "Let's remember, Bernie was a defensive player."
James, 42, was promoted to interim head coach with Kimura's strong recommendation when Neil Megson resigned just before the season started in May.
James had served as a player-assistant coach of the Sounders since 1994, when the franchise was resurrected, through last season when he quit playing. The Sounders won the A-League in 1995 and 1996.
Farnsworth said James rejected the opportunity to remain with the franchise as an assistant coach. James said he hopes to get another job in soccer.
James' career included stints with the Edmonton Drillers and the "old" Sounders of the defunct North American Soccer League and indoor teams Tacoma Stars and Cleveland Force and Cleveland Crunch.
James played on two U.S. national teams and was on the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 when the U.S. boycotted the Games. He graduated from Bellevue High School and lives in Kirkland.