Day after resignation as Spirit coach, Cooper endorses Stankovic

April 11, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The Spirit may not look long or hard for a successor to Kenny Cooper.

Cooper resigned as coach after Saturday night's playoff loss to the Harrisburg Heat. He has recommended that his assistant, Mike Stankovic, replace him.

Cooper, who will remain president and general manager of the team, recommended Stankovic to owner Bill Stealey yesterday. Stealey then departed for a week's business in England and was unavailable for comment.

Stankovic, 37, a six-time Major Soccer League All-Star with the Baltimore Blast, was Cooper's assistant for the past two years. He became a player-coach midway through the 1993-94 season when the team was struck with injuries, and he scored 27 points in 16 games.

A native of Yugoslavia, Stankovic became a U.S. citizen in 1989 and is a Baltimore County resident.

"Mike and I have had a 12-year relationship here in Baltimore," Cooper said. "He's intense about soccer and is a winner. Soccer is his life. I want someone as committed to soccer as I am.

"The final decision will be Bill's, of course, but I don't feel there's a need to look outside the organization. Mike understands the system and knows that a coach has to do other things like go out into the community and promote, sell and run camps."

It's possible goalie Cris Vaccaro could wind up as the Spirit's assistant coach. He said Saturday night that he is retiring after 14 seasons because the season was so disappointing for him, but that he does want to coach.

"Cris could be a player-coach if he decides to play," Cooper said, noting that arrangement (Vaccaro as goalie coach as well as goalie) was made and announced by the Spirit only a few weeks ago.

Cooper told Stealey in mid-February, when the Spirit was storming through the NPSL with a 20-4 record, that he might stop coaching if the team didn't win the championship. The Spirit finished with the league's best regular-season record (26-14), but was upset by fourth-seeded Harrisburg in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

"Life is standards, and I didn't meet mine and neither did the team," Cooper said. "It was time for a coaching change. It was time to stop wearing three hats and wear only two, as president and general manager. It's important that I work more on getting corporate sponsorships and selling season tickets."

Cooper's two-year contract will be up for renewal in July. He has said many times his ultimate goal is to be an owner, and it's conceivable he and Stealey might form a partnership. Yesterday, he was evasive on the subject.

Family considerations also governed Cooper's decision. He put so much of himself into coaching that he felt he wasn't devoting enough time to his wife, Irene, and their four children.

"Irene has been a trooper through this," Cooper said. "But our oldest child [Amanda] is 14 and at a critical age," Cooper said. "I want to be a parent in her life."

Cooper told the players before Friday's playoff opener in Harrisburg that he would resign as coach if the Spirit didn't win the NPSL title.

"He's done so much for Baltimore," said Spirit captain Rusty Troy. "He's Mr. Soccer here."

Said defender Eric Dade: "The guy put a lot of effort in. He did everything he could for us. This was a tough loss for him. I wish I could do something for him."

Cooper was stung by the crowd's reaction after the game. No doubt angered by their team's defeat, the fans booed when it was announced he would make a statement over the public address system and cheered when the coach announced that he would be resigning. In the Spirit locker room, players expressed their anger. Forward Goran Hunjak was scowling.

"The season had a good beginning, but a sore and bad ending," he said.

"We'll have this scar the rest of our lives."

COOPER'S RECORD

A breakdown of the 15-year coaching career of Kenny Cooper:

Season .. .. Team .. .. W .. .. L .. .. Pct.

'79-80 .. Houston .. . 20 .. . 12 .. .. .625

'80-81 .. Blast . .. . 21 .. . 19 .. .. .525

'81-82 .. Blast . .. . 27 .. . 17 .. .. .614

'82-83 .. Blast . .. . 30 .. . 18 .. .. .625

'83-84 .. Blast . .. . 34 .. . 14 .. .. .708

'84-85 .. Blast . .. . 32 .. . 16 .. .. .666

'85-86 .. Blast . .. . 24 .. . 24 .. .. .500

'86-87 .. Blast . .. . 33 .. . 19 .. .. .635

'87-88 .. Blast . .. . 25 .. . 31 .. .. .446

'88-89 .. Blast . .. . 29 .. . 18 .. .. .607

'89-90 .. Blast . .. . 31 .. . 20 .. .. .607

'90-91 .. Blast . .. . 21 .. . 31 .. .. .404

'91-92 .. Blast . .. . 19 .. . 21 .. .. .475

'92-93 .. Spirit ... . 27 .. . 12 .. .. .692

'93-94 .. Spirit ... . 26 .. . 13 .. .. .666

.. .. ... Totals .... 399 ... 284 .. .. .584

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