What was merely reported yesterday has now become official: Ben Olsen will have his interim tag removed and will become D.C. United's next head coach. The team announced the decision in a press release earlier Monday morning.
"We spent a great deal of time on this decision and interviewed a number of qualified candidates. The more we talked about what we were looking for in the next coach of D.C. United, the more we talked about Ben Olsen as a candidate for the job, in spite of our prior public stance," said United President and CEO Kevin Payne in the release. "Ultimately, we became convinced that Ben's commitment, intelligence and understanding of what it means to be a part of D.C. United outweighed his limited coaching experience. We're confident that he will do an outstanding job."
The move is truly shocking on a number of levels. For one, Olsen's team went just 3-8-2 down the stretch last season, though they did seem to be playing harder for Olsen than they were for former coach Curt Onalfu. But the most shocking part is that Payne said a little more than month ago that Olsen would not be considered for the vacancy. Here's what Payne said then, as noted by Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner (emphasis mine):
"Ben is not a candidate. Ben has dealt with the situation exactly as I thought Ben would deal with the situation, which is why we asked Ben to step in front of that particular bus. It was a pretty thankless situation, the way we laid it out to him, and he embraced it as he always does, and he did what was best for D.C. United. Ben will have his opportunity at some point, but I really want him to have his chance to be very, very successful when he starts. That's not to say he couldn't be successful now, but the likelihood is less than if he gets more experience and has a chance to learn more about the profession of coaching. It is a profession. I know it looks very easy to everybody out there. It's a lot more art than science. It's not a coincidence that the most successful coaches in this league, Bruce [Arena], in particular, and Sigi [Schmid], they had tremendous years of coaching experience before they ever came into the league. Both achieved highest levels of success. Younger coaches, when things go south or they have to deal with players, it's hard for them to deal with because they haven't done it before. All of a sudden, they've having to learn it on a bigger stage... It's not in any way a reflection on Ben."
So what caused the change of heart? SB Nation's D.C. United blog Black and Red United is worried that Olsen was given the job by default.
This really makes you wonder how many of the candidates had either declined the position, or rejected a United offer that was below market value.
Ultimately, Olsen could end up being a great coach, and he certainly has the energy and passion for the job. But it raises big questions when the team hires him just one month after ruling him out as a coaching candidate.