The Fire hope Ezra Hendrickson does better than predecessors such as Frank Yallop, seen here with former owner Andrew Hauptman.
The Fire haven’t had a truly successful coach since 2009, when Denis Hamlett’s contract wasn’t renewed.
When they take the field in February, the Fire will be playing for new coach Ezra Hendrickson. They hope this time they finally will have gotten it right and hired a leader who can bring them back to contention.
Of course, the Fire thought that about their last handful of hires.
Since then-owner Andrew Hauptman didn’t renew Denis Hamlett’s contract after the Fire lost in the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, the team has been caught in the wilderness. Different visions and personalities have come and gone, but the results have stayed mostly the same.
Here’s how the Fire’s four full-time coaches between Hamlett and Raphael Wicky fared. They expect Hendrickson to do better:
Carlos de los Cobos
Brought in to replace Hamlett, de los Cobos had no Major League Soccer experience after spending most of his career in Mexico. And it showed.
With a roster in transition, the Fire went 9-12-9 in 2010 and missed the playoffs. They started 1-4-6 in 2011 before de los Cobos was shown the door.
Then the Fire’s technical director, Klopas replaced de los Cobos and kept the job through the end of the 2013 season. There were some bright spots, such as the playoff berth in 2012 and Mike Magee’s MVP season in 2013, but Hauptman didn’t see enough progress.
Days after the 2013 season ended, Klopas and president of soccer operations Javier Leon were out.
”There have been many highlights over these years, but I think now is an appropriate time to make a transition to new leadership,” Hauptman said in a news release after Klopas and Leon left. ”Of course, making this team compete for championships on a consistent basis is our first priority.”
The Fire snagged former MLS Cup champion Yallop as coach and director of soccer. Given his strong resume, the hire was somewhat surprising and well-received.
”I have faith in his history in building incredible team spirit with all the clubs he’s been with,” Hauptman said when he introduced Yallop. ”He has an impressive depth of experience, and that’s exactly what the club needs.”
After the 2014 team set an MLS record with 18 ties, Yallop signed designated players David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and Shaun Maloney. Only Accam made an impact, and Yallop was axed in September 2015 with the Fire on their way to the worst record in MLS.
When Yallop was sacked, the Fire brought in well-traveled executive Nelson Rodriguez to rebuild the franchise. He eventually hired Paunovic, who had led Serbia to the under-20 World Cup title in 2015 but had no experience coaching in club soccer.
”I see the Chicago Fire as a hurt lion ready to unleash all its power,” Paunovic said when he was hired.
Despite spending a lot of Hauptman’s money and the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Paunovic and Rodriguez combined to make the playoffs only once (2017).
When Joe Mansueto bought out Hauptman in September 2019, it felt like only a matter of time before Paunovic would be fired. He was let go two months later.