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Biggest Questions Remaining From Bruce Arena Investigation
What we know, what perhaps we should know, and why it's very important that we know as little as we do.
It has been a tumultuous few days for the New England Revolution off the field, as moments after giving up a last-minute equalizer to Minnesota United, the team announced the resignation of head coach Bruce Arena and placing Revs II head coach Clint Peay in charge of the first team.
The timeline over the last few days has been chaotic and largely mishandled, as the amount of significant information is still not widely available outside of recent reports from The Athletic’s Tom Bogert and Pablo Maurer.
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This post is going to try and speculate as little as possible into what Bruce Arena’s "insensitive and inappropriate" remarks actually were because at this point - that doesn’t matter. Arena has resigned and in doing so admitted making “some mistakes” so it is entirely plausible that his actions warranted the loss of his position as MLS who confirmed some of the unknown allegations in their investigation.
One of the reasons why it is irresponsible to speculate on such things is that there is still potential liability to be sorted from all parties involved, including Arena and Richie Williams, whether internally with employment contracts or in civil court. I am not a lawyer, did not consult one for this article, but am very familiar with the concept of liability in my line of work. It seems prudent to point out a general basic fact that Williams is in some way a victim here and whatever actions or inactions along the way from others are not something he had total control over.
The league and Revs being caught off guard by good reporting is not the fault of the reporters either, this investigation and any settlements should have probably concluded long before last weekend. Anyone who has ever dealt with an HR/union grievance knows they take forever but that is a disservice to all parties involved and in this case has not helped the cause of one person the investigation is supposed to be helping.
The primary reason for a lack of information is to protect Williams and any other complainant so that they can get due process for themselves and any remedies they rightfully deserve. I am going to bring up liability a lot in this post because it vastly more important than who actually coaches the Revs in Colorado this weekend. Again, not a legal expert, but liability comes up at my job a lot so I think I have a basic grasp of that concept at least.
Williams, or anyone else for that matter, is not liable for being on the receiving end of harassing or hurtful actions. They are the aggrieved persons in case, and need to be treated as such throughout this process. Those on social media attacking Williams yesterday are among the exact reasons why we shouldn’t know about his involvement.
That being said there are things outside of the investigation that hopefully we can get some answers to later today from team President Brian Bilello and Technical Director Curt Onalfo at a scheduled press conference.
Why was Richie Williams on a one-year deal?
If we take reports from Bogert and Maurer at face value, issues between Arena and the rest of the coaching staff have been ongoing since last year, including a potential practice dustup between Shalrie Joseph and Williams.
So letting Williams return to coach 2023 on a lame-duck contract seems very counter-intuitive to The Patriot Way and it seems that buying out Williams in the offseason could have been a prudent move to maintain the cohesiveness of your coaching staff.
Given the loyalty of Joseph and Dave van den Burgh and their dismissals along with Arena, potential inaction from the Revs on an internal matter (before grievances) has cost them not only their coaching staff but potentially the locker room as well. If because of any pending grievances, Williams did not or could not accept a buyout, then I don’t think it’s unfair to know that either. Not explaining the process from the team or league only fuels rampant unwanted and increasingly mean-spirited speculation.
Did the Revs receive any internal complaints against Bruce?
I think this should be a fair question, without getting into specifics. Did the Revs have to discipline Bruce in any way over the last year or two for general workplace harassment/hostility issues? If that answer is yes, that would help us answer the next question but also shed light that there was a pattern of behavior from Arena that he specifically chose not to change.
I do not attend practices, the Revs rarely hold them in southern Connecticut, so I have not had any significant interactions with Bruce in person and can not speak to his character or personality with any authority. But a pattern of behavior and/or complaints should be well documented along with any punishment/remediation by the team. If that doesn’t exist…
Why/how did this escalate to a league investigation?
Major League Soccer shouldn’t be getting involved in an internal team matter unless A) the aggrieved parties feel their employer hasn’t done enough to help them or B) Arena crossed a major line that should absolutely get him sacked.
In that first scenario, normal HR-type things follow a chain of command, from team supervisor (Revs), to department head (MLS), and then maybe to arbitration (courts). A lengthy league investigation might also have to cover what the Revs did (or didn’t do) which is why these things can take so long. The league needs to do a through and fair investigation to not only resolve the situation but also to determine if the league has any liability given the single-entity setup.
As an aside on liability and internal discipline, the Kaylyn Kyle suspension was not surprising after her retracted statement last month on the investigation. That statement opened up the league to liability due to an employee commenting on an active investigation. Regardless of if Kyle’s statement was factual or not, it put the league in potential liability for a counterclaim from Arena should the league clear his actions/statements. I think this was an innocent slip from Kyle, but there is probably a clear policy and discipline for this type of situation.
Another way to end all of this speculation is the minute Arena resigned, settlement offers should have been made to the injured parties, including and likely especially, Williams. This would end immediate speculation to Bruce resigning as well as tie up all loose ends so that you can actually have a press conference about the matter and let Williams and/or Bruce, if they choose too, answer questions about the specific statement made. Otherwise, Don Garber can put out his statement, the Revs can have their press conference and everyone is already mostly on the same page instead of still not knowing the basics because there are still pending actions.
Again, this is why you get out in front of things and not let them fester…I truly hate everything I am remembering from my public relations classes in college.
Why is Williams anywhere near the Revs during this investigation?
Okay, time to flip the script here and I don’t think that this is entirely on the Revs. I’ve mentioned due process and liability several times, so why during a league-level investigation in which he is involved in is Williams allowed anywhere near potential witnesses during this time? And knowing that he made the complaint against Arena, how did Williams accept the interim head coach role?
Again, there is confidentiality and other factors (whistleblower laws in particular) in play here that I am not an expert in, but it is an incredible dereliction of duty by the league, the Revs, or both to allow Williams to coach, be near potential witnesses, or get in front of a microphone at any point during this fiasco. If Bruce was suspended then Williams likely should have been on some administrative leave as well and that should have been announced at the onset.
This is as much to protect Williams from the shenanigans and backlash occurring as it is to the viability of the investigation. What Williams has to go through now that this is public is possibly more unjust than whatever his initial complaint was because other people placed him unfairly into that situation and/or Williams wasn’t wise enough to recuse himself.
As far as I’m concerned, the basic accusation (something more specific than inappropriate remarks) against Bruce by Williams should have been announced at the beginning of the investigation and both should have been on leave. I’m not sure if that legally is possible but considering what we just witnessed it has to be the more logical option than the disaster that just unfolded due to the rampant speculation that no one cut off at the head. The minute it came out that Williams had a complaint against Arena, he should have been no where near a press conference or the team and that is squarely on the Revs and/or the league for dropping the ball there.
Why haven’t we heard from Bilello/Onalfo/Kraft/Garber?
The press conference yesterday that was the normal scheduled coach/player stuff should never have been allowed. Not just because it’s blatantly unfair to Richie but the firing of maybe the best head coach in league/USMNT history and the first person we hear from is the interim head coach?
That is perhaps the biggest failure of leadership we’ve seen from this team, and it’s not the first time either. After the Brad Friedel firing, the Revs trotted then GM Mike Burns out to the podium only to sack him later in the week.
However this situation got to this point, how much the Revs were or weren’t involved, not coming out on Monday with any kind statement or announcement might be the biggest failure of them all.
Not addressing or taking seriously previous accusations against Bruce if there were any at the team level is bad. Trotting out the assistant who made complaints against him to be the fall guy at the first press conference should cost someone much higher than a coach their job. Especially in light of two other coaches needing to be let go because this whole situation seemingly wasn’t handled well from the get-go last year.
Hopefully we’ll get more answers from Bilello and Onalfo than the Revs players did yesterday and at some point a significant update from the league as well. Even if the investigation is moot as far as Arena’s job status, other actions involving the league and Revs might still be open and thus can’t nor should be commented on.
When there is closure to this situation and all injured parties have been made whole, maybe then we can actually reflect on the disaster that was this past weekend. But for right now I’m going to direct my angst and disappointment where it belongs:
Which is much higher up the ladder than Richie Williams.