There's method to Newman's madness as leader of Sockers

December 21, 1990|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

It might be best to start with the bottom line, because that's the one area where there is no debate about Ron Newman, the coach of the San Diego Sockers.

Newman is a winner. His indoor soccer teams have won championships in eight of the past nine seasons. Six of those titles have come in the Major Soccer League, four at the expense of the Baltimore Blast.

The methodology he has used to reach that bottom line is where the debate begins. A tour of the MSL turns up so many different pictures of Newman, it seems the man is a mystery even to his peers.

He is a strategist. He is unorganized.

He has the most talent. He gets the most out of his talent.

He is loose. He is intense.

He motivates. He antagonizes.

His own players have called him an idiot, but Blast coach Kenny Cooper might have reflected the thoughts of many when he told The Los Angeles Times, "There is a fine line between being a borderline genius and a borderline idiot, and Ron borders on both."

When the seeming contradictions are presented to Newman, he squints his blue eyes knowingly. With a touch of cynicism in his voice, he lets his listener know he is not taken in -- either by compliments or insults.

"Someone once said, 'Once you get people calling you names, you're successful,' " said Newman, whose Sockers play the Blast at the Arena tomorrow night at 7:35. "It does happen and it hurts. I've been called a great strategist, I know. And I've been called a great recruiter [judge of talent]. A great motivator. And when I'm called any of these great things, it is because someone is trying to insult me in all these other categories.

"You see, if I'm a great motivator, then I haven't recruited very well. If I'm a great strategist, then I'm not a motivator.

"It's their opinion, and I have my own ways. I can't change it."

Sockers defender Kevin Crow, who has not always seen eye-to-eye with his coach, gives Newman the primary credit for San Diego's success.

"I'm sure we would have won championships," said Crow, reflecting on the talent assembled in San Diego. "I don't think we would have won them all.

"The bottom line? Ron lets the reins loose on his players. He doesn't necessarily bring in players to fit a machine. He brings in individuals and we kind of mold into what we want.

"He's always had great players -- the Juli Veees, Brian Quinns, Steve Zunguls. But whatever personalities we are, he has allowed us to express that on the field. It might not always come out positive, but he lets you be who you are."

What choice does Newman have? He has always been himself, too -- and a spontaneous self at that:

Once, as coach in Fort Lauderdale, he arrived at midfield in a hearse to prove his winless team wasn't dead. But, so the story goes, he refused to get into a casket, because he feared his players would nail the lid shut.

A few years ago, he came to practice and told Steve Daley, a midfielder, to run sprints. Everyone else watched. About the time Daley was getting tired, someone asked Newman what was going on. Newman explained he'd been to his doctor for a checkup and been told to "exercise Daley."

But there is the other side, too.

He has been fined as much as $6,000 for "tweaking" the ear of another team's general manager; he has called timeouts in the final minutes of games with his team winning by as much as 9-0; he has inserted a sixth attacker in the final three seconds of a game with his team ahead by five goals.

Here in Baltimore, he complained for at least two years about the inequity of the team benches not being centered on the field until, at last, they were changed.

To say the least, he has been a thorn in the side of many in the MSL, particularly the Blast. Baltimore can beat Newman's Sockers with some regularity during the regular season, but has failed four times in championship bouts.

"It's nothing that is evident," Newman said. "It's good fortune, the luck of the draw. It's only when it counts they've had the problem. Certainly, they're good enough to beat us. They're knowledgeable enough to beat us. It's hard to say why . . . I don't understand it either."

Newman does understand the sport. He introduced the sixth attacker. He created the defensive runner -- the ploy of inserting a defender in place of the star forward when the team is on defense, thus saving the star's energy for the attack. He came up with the lap of appreciation, when players circle the field after the game to slap hands with the fans.

And not surprisingly, Newman is the fellow who has made the most of the counterattack. In the MSL championship series between the Blast and Sockers last year, San Diego lived off it.

It was another championship run that again proved his mastery, or maybe simply added to his mystery. His team finished 25-27 in the regular season but waltzed to the title. He was criticized for allowing his team to coast until the playoffs.

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