Mania management takes shot on firing

Stara: Speaking up on problems cost Gee

May 07, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Maryland Mania coach Darryl Gee's abrupt firing Monday after the team's first A-League game was rooted more than anything else in management's inability to deal with basic, player-related matters, ex-assistant coach Bill Stara said yesterday.

Stara, who resigned one day after Mania founder and president A. J. Ali dismissed Gee, bristled at the implications of Ali's attributing the firing to "administrative differences" and the assertion that new coach Paul Kitson could bring focus to the team.

Gee declined Monday to say anything more about his dismissal other than attribute it to "philosophical differences."

But Stara, a widely known Howard County high school and club-team coach, as well as U.S. Soccer Federation coaching instructor, said he simply could not remain quiet, given the quality of players Gee and he chose and the Mania's potential.

"If we had tanked five or six games in a row, then maybe it's time for a change," said Stara, a teacher and boys soccer coach at River Hill High School. "But the way it is, where we are being considered divisive to the organization, is really unfair.

"I'm not looking at taking potshots. I just want our credibility and integrity not to be damaged. That's my concern. We were starting to put together a good product. And all we did was speak our mind to correct things on the management level."

Stara said: "Darryl was removed to solve any of the problems that were being vocalized. But I fully support him on everything he did, and if you talk with the players, all but one or two would, too, which is fine; not everyone's going to be happy. But there are high school and club teams that are run better than this."

Stara said he was told investors are forming a management committee to restrict the powers of Ali and part-time general manager Sheldon Phillips, who is finishing law school in Alabama.

One of those investors, Towson attorney Richard Schreibstein, said that, indeed, "ownership has discussed restructuring the corporate governance," a process that began before the coaching controversy. "It's time to do that, anyway. Yes, committees are looking at how to do things better."

The coaching-management boil-over, Stara said, occurred on the team's trip for its opening game in Raleigh, N.C., last week. That trip was a disaster in several ways other than a 2-0 loss on a 44-degree, rainy, windy night.

At 10 a.m. April 27, game day, Stara said Gee learned in a phone call that the team's two starting forwards, one English and the other German, could not play because routine paperwork with their respective national federations had not been processed.

The pair signed contracts in March and early April, said Stara. "The players were asking us, `Aren't you in charge of bringing in players?' We looked stupid."

Two Mania investors called Gee in Raleigh, Stara said, inquiring about what was going on.

"[Darryl] told them the truth," he said. "What was he supposed to do, lie? Well, they had an owners meeting that night, and Ali got slammed."

Also, in such miserable conditions, the Mania took the field with no team warm-ups or rain gear, despite having a sponsor who was to provide them. Players used their own foul-weather gear.

"We looked like a ragtag bunch," Stara said. "But we didn't bad-mouth management. What we told the players was, `Listen, this is a first-year club. We're trying to make things right. You got to deal with it, but we'll be there."

Stara also said the team did not regularly have a trainer to do taping and care for various injuries. When one player was knocked out in the game, he said, the team had to rely on Raleigh's doctor for care.

"We [also] had our general manager signing players we'd never seen before," Stara said. "The last kid, who we told to go to Raleigh with us, called a half-hour before the bus left and said he'd been told he didn't have to go."

Stara said shortcomings included players being issued only one T-shirt and one pair of shorts for practice, no uniform for the backup goalkeeper, no game socks, at times no goal nets for practices, and at least once, no cups for water during practice.

Ali acknowledged the paperwork snafu and lack of rain gear, but said the team has coverage by trainers.

About dress items, he said: "There have been delays, but things like that happen in any start-up business. And things like socks are a waste of my time."

Stara said that other problems include high employee turnover in the team's small front office and no consistent practice field.

Pub Date: 5/07/99

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