Forward Madison FC Head Coach Carl Craig has been relieved of his duties after one season as coach, the soccer organization announced on Thursday. Forward Madison finished the 2021 USL League One campaign in ninth place with a record of 8-8-12 and finished second to last with 32 goals scored.
“We would like to thank Carl for his efforts this past season. He is a good man with a great understanding and passion for the game” said Forward Madison Chief Operating Officer and Owner Conor Caloia in a statement. “Since the season ended, we have conducted a thorough evaluation of the technical side of our Club. This evaluation included individual player meetings, discussions with technical and front office staff and engagement with our fans. After this process, we made the decision to make a change in the technical leadership of the Club.”
“We have high standards for the on-field performance of this Club and we believe these standards are attainable,” Caloia added. “We take responsibility for the results this season and understand it is our duty to hire a new coach that will regularly have this Club in the playoffs and bring a USL League One Championship to our great fans.”
Craig also served as the Club’s Technical Director, was hired by Forward Madison FC on Dec. 1, 2020. The former Minnesota United coach was named USL League One Coach of the Month for May 2021, when the Flamingos went 3-1-0 during the month. Thereafter, FMFC posted a record of 5-8-11, failing to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season. They were unbeaten in their last three following a long winless streak.
The move came as a surprise to many around the club.
“I was surprised to hear that Carl is being let go,” said referee and player liason Benny Delgado. “Carl as a person and his football I think really matched the energy and passion of the fan base and Breese Stevens. We’ve had two amazing Head Coaches the last three seasons. I know the next person to come in will have to look to be better in more than one way. Even though the results could’ve and should’ve been better the next person in line certainly has big shoes to fill & high expectations to meet!”
“It’s sad because Carl is a great coach,” said goalkeeper Phil Breno. “He’s enthusiastic, passionate, knows tactics and is great with the community. He’s a model coach. As a player, it makes you think that maybe if we capitalized some of those ties as wins, we make the playoffs and maybe he’s not in this position. But hindsight is 20/20. I am grateful for the opportunity he gave me and I can’t thank him enough for it. Many will miss him.”
Several other players didn’t respond to messages seeking comment or declined to comment on the record.
“I’m bummed,” said Andrew Schmidt, president of The Flock, the club’s supporter group. “I understand that this type of thing is a harsh reality of the sports & entertainment businesses but I don’t have to like it. I also do see things from ownership’s side. They’re losing a lot of money, and not winning.”
Craig noted the frustration of several games in which the Mingos had a lead and conceded a late goal to settle for a draw.
“We get all these draws, turn a few of those into wins, and we’re at the top,” Craig said in an interview Thursday. “I mean, we beat the top teams, we’re competing with the top teams. We just had a load of draws, and that’s it.”
Madison is the only team to beat regular season champion Union Omaha twice, and defeated Chattanooga Red Wolves to close the regular season, dropping them from second to third place on the table.
“We were four points off the play-offs. We didn’t get there, it’s a fact we didn’t get there. And I know they desperately want to be competing for championships, and I respect that. Totally respect that,” Craig said. “I think if you’re going to build a football club, you’ve just got to let the coach get on with it. It wasn’t a horrible year. Yes, we didn’t achieve what they’d like to, but we’re looking to build. And we still dealt with the COVID stuff at the start of the year, our budget spend was really low. I don’t want to bad mouth the club, because I don’t think it’s appropriate. But it’s a tough one.”
Craig said he suspects some players weren’t happy with their playing time, or their prospects with the club, which may have played into the decision. Some notable players — including 2020 leading scorer Michael Vang and Jake Keegan, the off-season’s most notable signing — didn’t even suit up for the last two games of the season.
“When players are not playing, they’re never happy are they? And that’s the reality,” Craig said. “But I think that’s football, you’ve got 11 guys. Only 11 blokes can go on the field, got a squad of 23 people. Not everyone’s going to play. And at the end, I’m sure there’s some of the fellows who thought they should have been playing, and were pissed off that they weren’t getting minutes, and probably expressed their discontent with (team president) Conor Caloia, and so who knows? It’s only speculation. No idea … The reality was, I was looking to turn over about 50 percent (of the roster in the offseason), maybe a little more than that, so you’ve probably got 50 percent of the blokes pissed off, and then that sways the balance, right?”
Craig said he believes the club has some work to do to build a long-term winning culture.
“Look at the constants and look at the variables,” he said. “Look at the constants, maybe you’ve got to look at the infrastructure. I’m certainly a variable, and didn’t achieve what I’d hoped to achieve and we didn’t get the results, we didn’t qualify (for the playoffs), and the club can quite rightly be disappointed in that. I don’t begrudge them that. But then you got to look at the infrastructure and everything else and say, ‘Well, are we going to just keep firing the coach every time we don’t get to the playoffs?’ Because it’s gonna be difficult to build a football club. They’ll do well to sit down, and as I was about to do, and go through everything with a fine tooth comb, and make suggestions. Because it’s far from perfect. There’s a lot of things need to change in the infrastructure, and within that sort of stuff. It’ll be tough, if they keep going on and firing coaches, it’s going to be tough for them as an organization.”
After making the four-team playoff in 2019, the team failed missed the two-team playoff in the shortened 2020 season and opted not to renew the contract of former coach Daryl Shore.
Craig also had a word for the supporters and community surrounding the club.
“I’d like to express myself to all the lovely people I’ve met in Madison, all the supporters, my junior colleagues at the club, I’m really grateful for the relationship,” he said. “Sorry it’s ended so soon, but I just want to express my gratitude and thanks to everyone who I’ve met and crossed paths with. Some absolutely lovely people surrounding this football club, and I wish the club and all the supporters all the best for the future.”