The Utah Royals fired their head coach midseason and currently sit at the bottom of the NWSL standings. What will the team focus on for the remainder of its inaugural season?

Sporting director Kelly Cousins and Real Salt Lake president John Kimball met with the media Tuesday to address the club’s recent reorganization: the firing of head coach Amy Rodriguez and team president Michelle Hyncik’s transition to a role outside the team.

Their responses throughout the press conference reflected a shift in focus to next season and beyond.

“The reason for now is I believe that we’ve got a good six months to turn things around ready for next season,” Cousins said. “I think it gives the team time to really address where we need to be better, on and off the pitch, and for us to be ready to step into next season and really, really compete in this league. I think we’ve got a talented group that can do that.”

The Deseret News asked Cousins what success looks like for the club this season with 11 games still to go.

“Success for the rest of the season is making sure that we get to the end of the season with a true identity, a style of play that we reckon that we can be ready to step into next season and compete. We need to bring the best out of the players,” Cousins said.

But developing a style of play for the future now could prove counterproductive depending on when the new head coach is hired. It could conflict with the next coach’s preferred style of play or limit the search to candidates who only employ that style.

Utah Royals fired head coach Amy Rodriguez. Who will replace her?

Cousins and Kimball didn’t give a timeline of when they expect to hire the club’s next head coach. They both insisted the organization will take its time to do its due diligence.

“We need to make sure that the search is right,” Cousins said. “We don’t want to make a mistake on this. We want to make sure that the next people that we’re bringing in — whether it’s head coach, goalkeeper coach and president — we need to make sure they’re the right people. So it’s a case of taking our time with that process and finding the right person for that role. And if that’s in a month, or if that’s in six months, I think right now is to settle the team and get those settled.”

Why did the Utah Royals fire Amy Rodriguez?

The decision to fire Rodriguez, a first-time head coach, was “performance-based,” Cousins said. The team currently has a record of 2-11-2.

Cousins said it was not a rash decision and was made with patience.

“We want to be performing. We want to be getting those points on the board. But I think right now for us it was, ‘What does next season look like and if we leave it any later, does that hinder next season?’ and that’s why we felt it’s the right decision to make now,” she said.

Kimball claimed the decision to fire Rodriguez “was not disciplinarian” and that Hyncik’s departure for the David Blitzer Family Office — Blitzer is a part owner of the club — allows her to “really focus on the things that she loves most, which is her children and the law.”

Utah Royals head coach Amy Rodriguez yells out instructions to her players as the Utah Royals and Chicago Red Stars play at America First Field in Sandy on Saturday, March 16, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Cousins praised Rodriguez, who was a player for the first iteration of the Royals before they were sold and moved to Kansas City after the 2020 season.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be a light decision, and we wanted to treat it as delicately as we could because of who Amy was and how she’s respected in this community, and she is a fantastic person and somebody that is highly respected,” she said. “I know this is an upsetting and a sad moment for everyone — and that includes us as an organization. But life takes different paths.”

When the decision had been made, Cousins met with the players to discuss the news and the next steps for the club.

“They’re fully on board, and they’re true professionals — and they’ve shown that over the last couple of days,” she said. “They’re truly focused on the weekend for Seattle.”

Who is Utah Royals interim head coach Jimmy Coenraets?

Assistant coach Jimmy Coenraets has been promoted to interim head coach. Coenraets only joined the club in June, but he brings almost a decade of experience coaching the women’s game, according to the Royals. He most recently was the head coach of the OH Leuven women’s team in Belgium for five seasons.

Cousins believes the Royals can climb the standings a little under Coenraets. The team has one final game before the Olympic-break and will use those six weeks as a “mini preseason,” as Cousins called it.

In Belgium, Coenraets took OH Leuven from last place to a title contender and won manager of the year just in his second season as head coach.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that we’re going to finish in X position. But I truly believe that we will creep up the table. I think for us we don’t want to finish the season at the bottom of the league,” she said. “(Coenraets) is a true competitor. He’s been in this position before, so he knows what it takes to be successful as he was at his last club. I know he’s been thrown in at the deep end, but he’s definitely ready for the challenge.”

Will the next Utah Royals head coach be a woman?

After its relaunch, the team prided itself on being a team run by women for women.

But women are no longer at the helm, with Coenraets and Kimball replacing Rodriguez and Hyncik.

Kimball was asked if the club planned to return to its run-by-women-for-women philosophy when hiring Rodriguez’s and Hyncik’s long-term replacements.

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“Our intention, of course, is to have this club run by women empowering women. At this point, I think on the employment base, we’re over 70%. We’re very proud of that. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “We are in the process now of trying to find the right people at the right time.”

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It’s unlikely the club targets another first-time head coach like Rodriguez.

Cousins said her priority is for the next head coach to have coaching experience, especially coaching women.

“For me, someone that has just been in the female game for a length of time is so important,” she said. “To know what the players want on a day to day basis and being able to give that to them, is so important, and we need to make sure that that person can step in and deliver to what those players need.”

The Royals travel to Seattle to take on the Reign on Sunday at 4 p.m. MT.

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