AVE MARIA, Fla. -- In the MLS coaching world, sometimes things happen by chance. Such was the case of how Clint Mathis, who officially joined Frank Yallop’s staff as an assistant coach Friday, found his way to his current post.
Known for his vision in attack, an unforgettable Mohawk and goal in South Korea as well as his proclivity for a certain league-sponsored soft drink in his playing days, Mathis had become interested in returning to the game in a coaching role after taking some time away following his retirement in 2010.
After a year-and-a-half spent with his family, he admits he missed being around the game and returned with the LA Galaxy Camps and Clinics program as well as working as a studio host for the club’s local network broadcasts.
“I enjoy working with the youth but I felt like I could offer more,” Mathis told Chicago-Fire.com. “I’d be out at first team training sessions with the Galaxy and obviously they had their coaching staff set.”
Mathis earned his “A” license from the U.S. Soccer Federation and got an invite from former MetroStars teammate and current U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos to help out during the team’s camp in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. earlier this month.
It’s there that chance helped Mathis to the Fire.
Technical Director Brian Bliss was taking in the proceedings prior to heading to the MLS Combine and went out to dinner one night with a host of former U.S. internationals. Mathis asked him straight up how Yallop’s search to complete his staff was going.
“I told him we had interviewed a few guys but didn’t have anyone locked down,” Bliss said.
Showing the same sort of attacking courage he showed as a player, Mathis replied by saying, “Well you haven’t talked to me yet.”
Things moved quickly from there.
“I was able to sit down with Brian and Frank in Florida a few weeks before the SuperDraft,” he said. “We were able to talk about it, had the same kind of ideas and it was just a great opportunity for me to work with a guy like Frank who has had the experience not only as a player but also success as a coach.”
Mathis will undoubtedly be looked at to provide balance to Yallop, Bliss and fellow assistant coach C.J. Brown, all of whom were successful defenders in their playing days.
“If you look back along my career, I was one of those guys that tried to be very creative, tried to make things happen, attack with speed and I think that’s what Frank was looking for in another assistant coach already having himself and C.J.
“I’m really going to try to work with the attack to try and keep the ball and put the ball in the back of the net. That’s what we need to do in an organized fashion. Hopefully I can bring a lot of my expertise and what I’ve done in my career to the young guys and even the veterans in this team.”
Though his contract wasn’t complete, Mathis flew to Ave Maria with the team on Sunday and has been a part of all training sessions this week. Into his first assistant coaching gig, the former U.S. international has clearly been assertive on the field but is also willing to pick up things from the long experience of Yallop and even Brown who has three years on him in his new profession.
“I’m here to learn from both of these guys,” he said. “C.J.’s already had a very successful career as an assistant with RSL and obviously Frank’s resume speaks for itself. I’m here to help and do whatever’s best for the team. Whether it’s working with individual guys or working with a group of players on attacking or just running sessions.
"I think the relationship the three of us have is about communication and knowing what kind of game plan we want. It’s a matter of collectively getting things done together.”
As for his playing memories against the Fire, Mathis doesn’t have many positives. A prolific attacking player in the early 2000s, the Conyers, Ga., product scored just one goal against the Men in Red in 20 career appearances, his lowest against any of the pre-2005 expansion MLS sides.
“The Chicago teams I played against were very difficult. I think of Piotr Nowak, Ante Razov, Chris Armas and Zach Thornton – those teams were tough to play. It’s a great honor to be part of the Fire and hopefully with Frank coming here and C.J. who played on those teams as well, we can bring that tenacity back.”