Who will replace Gary Smith? The Nashville SC managerial hot board.

Nashville SC made a change at manager for the first time in club history. After over six seasons, across two divisions, Gary Smith was let go.

Who might replace Smith as Nashville’s newest manager roaming the touchlines? Below is a compiled list of several potential candidates for the gig.

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The foreign-based managers

Ole Gunnar Solskjær – The former Manchester United manager has yet to find a new gig since departing Old Trafford. While his tenure ended in disappointment, it is hard to fault him for failing to return United to its former days of glory. Structural and ownership issues will plague anyone who takes on that role. This offseason, rumors swirled that the Norwegian was being considered for the open Charlotte FC job that ultimately landed with Dean Smith. He has also recently been linked with the Canadian National Team job. Solskjær would bring instant name recognition to Nashville and an affable personality that should win immediate buy-in from a veteran locker room. 

David Moyes – West Ham will relieve Moyes from his managerial duties at the end of the season. The 60-year-old skipper would bring a wealth of experience and name recognition. If Nashville is looking for a win-now manager who should immediately command the respect of the veteran dressing room, they could do a lot worse than Moyes.

Thierry Henry – Henry is currently splitting duties between television punditry and the France U21 job. It has been no secret that he wants to get back into a full manager role. However, being apart from his family played a role in his leaving Montreal. He would run into similar issues in Nashville. Plus, it just does not feel like a market that would fit what he is looking for. 

Mark Robins – The near David v. Goliath triumph over Manchester United in the F.A.Cup semifinal awoke the wider soccer world to Robins’ exploits. But his success goes much deeper. The longest-serving manager in England outside of Pep Guardiola, Robins has led Coventry City from the fourth tier to the precipice of the Premier League. I will fully acknowledge my Coventry bias. However, Robins is a proven culture builder and plays a vertical, attacking brand of soccer similar to Jim Curtin and Pat Noonan. It would instantly fit Nashville’s roster. Now, I don’t think Robins departs Coventry, a club that will eventually build a statue in his honor, but everyone has their price. 

Michael Carrick – The Manchester United legend has spent the last two seasons managing Middlesborough in the Championship. Last year, Boro made the promotion playoffs before falling to Coventry. This year, Boro took a step back. Under Carrick, they have been one of the better-attacking sides in the division, but the defense has been the Achilles heel that has held them back from promotion.

Miguel Herrera – El Piojo recently departed Tijuana and expressed a desire to coach in MLS. Herrera would bring a wealth of experience wherever he landed. However, the entirety of that experience has come within Mexico. Ultimately, he probably isn’t the most ideal fit for Nashville’s domestic-focused mindset. Although, Herrera would be an excellent candidate to make the short trip north as San Diego FC’s inaugural manager.

Ian Evatt – He is not a household name, but there is reason to think Evatt has developed a winning formula. The Englishman brought Bolton Wanderers back up to League One in his first season (2020-2021) and has seen his side improve each year thereafter. Evatt and Bolton captured the EFL Trophy in 2023 and are headed back to Wembley for the League One Promotion Playoff Final. Beyond the results, his philosophies are the bait that has me interested. Evatt subscribes to an attacking brand of soccer with unconventional practices such as eschewing a substitute goalkeeper in favor of an additional attacker.

**UPDATED NAME**

David Wagner – The German-American manager most recently managed Josh Sargent and Norwich City in the EFL Championship. The Canaries made the promotion playoffs but fell to Leeds United. Wagner was sacked the following day. As a manager, he is a Jurgen Klopp disciple even serving as the latter’s best man in his wedding. As a player, Wagner made eight appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team but has no managerial experience in the States. Given his relatively successful coaching history, I would expect him to stay in Europe. However, Wagner is absolutely worth an exploratory phone call.

The USL Championship up-and-comers

Landon Donovan – In recent years, the USMNT legend has reportedly been a finalist for a few different MLS jobs. As a part owner of the club, he successfully managed San Diego Loyal in the USL Championship but took a step away to perform more of an executive role in 2023. The team shuttered last year after failing to find a new stadium location with the impending arrival of San Diego FC, the newest MLS expansion club, complicating matters. Does Donovan want to stay and become the first manager of San Diego FC, or does he harbor ill will toward the club and league that essentially obliterated his business venture? Regardless, Donovan will continue to garner interest from MLS clubs with an opening.  

Ben Pirmann – This is a name to watch. At 38 years old, Pirmann has already developed a wealth of experience at the lower levels of the pyramid. He has been wildly successful during his various stops. Pirmann won the USL Coach of the Year in 2022 with Memphis 901, moved to Charleston, and took the Battery to the USL Championship Final in 2023. He employs a possession-based system that may require a bit of an adjustment period for Nashville. Although, if another Wilfried Nancy is lurking in the American coaching ranks, Pirmann might be that guy. 

Danny Cruz – Cruz, 34, is another young USL Championship coach who will get his shot at the MLS level sooner rather than later. He has led Louisville City for the past few seasons, making the Eastern Conference final all three years. Despite the sustained success, it is fair to wonder if that is a product of Cruz or Louisville City itself, arguable the elite organization in the USL.

Mark Briggs – In 2017, Briggs captured the regular season USL Championship title with the Real Monarchs. He parlayed that into the Sacramento Republic gig, a club with, at the time, serious MLS ambitions. After Briggs’ first season, MLS awarded Sacramento an expansion slot. That bid eventually crumbled, but Briggs remained. Results have steadily improved under Briggs. He famously led the club to an improbable U.S. Open Cup Final run in 2022. 

The former MLS managers

Bob Bradley – Bradley has had a wildly successful coaching career spanning five MLS clubs, the U.S. National team, and even a short stint in the Premier League. The 2019 LAFC team remains one of the most dominant clubs in MLS history. Currently, he is managing Stabæk in Norway’s second division. At 66 years old, bringing Bradley back to the United States would be a win-now move. 

Bruce Arena – Arena is another MLS veteran with a storied career in American soccer. The New England Revolution fired Arena after an investigation revealed that Arena used insensitive and inappropriate remarks in the workplace. Recently, MLS confirmed that Arena was eligible for rehire. Arena is another win-now candidate. However, he has often demanded decision-making power over the roster. As of now, that role conflicts with Mike Jacobs.

Ronny Deila – Deila was recently let go by Club Brugge. He won a MLS Cup with NYCFC and would bring that MLS know-how to Nashville. However, there are two big concerns. How much did he benefit from the City Football Group scouting network and how quickly would he look to bounce to another European job? 

Robin Fraser – Well respected across the league, Fraser was dealt a short stick with the Colorado Rapids. The club never financially backed Fraser. Even then, Fraser managed some measure of success with the Rapids. He led the club to the #1 seed in the Western Conference in 2021. Ultimately, the lack of talent and depth plagued Colorado and led to his dismissal. Fraser deserves another chance with a club that will provide him with the proper resources.

Ezra Hendrickson – Another MLS coach who deserves another shot with a club that will provide ample support. With Chicago, spending was never the problem. Instead, the Fire spent largely without a vision of how the pieces would fit together. Perhaps some of that failing falls at the feet of Hendrickson, but it has not improved since his departure. 

Giovanni Savarese – In six seasons with the Portland, Savarese led the Timbers to a pair of MLS Cup Finals appearances and the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament championship. Savarese currently moonlights as a pundit on MLS Season Pass, but it won’t be long before he is given another shot in MLS or elsewhere.

Veljko Paunovic – After being terminated by Chivas this past winter, Paunovic is a free agent. He knows the league having managed the Chicago Fire for four seasons. He was the last manager to get the Fire to the playoffs, an accomplishment in its own right. 

Wayne RooneyUpdate: Wayne Rooney comes off the board after being officially announced as the new manager of Plymouth Argyle.

Perhaps no one else carries a bigger name value on this list. While Rooney was a legend on the pitch, his coaching history has gotten off to a rocky start. After being let go from Birmingham City, would he return to MLS after having managed D.C. United? His family situation complicated matters last time, and I am not sure it would improve.  

**UPDATED NAME**

Anthony Hudson – Hudson was not included on the original list as he had been in charge of Al-Markiyah. However, he has now left the club. Hudson, an experienced coach, led the Colorado Rapids for three years, but has spent most of his time with national teams. Hudson, 43, is still quite young given his level of experience and could provide a steady hand for this veteran team that needs to win-now while also injecting youth into the roster.

Recently retired players

Michael Bradley – Bradley has only just begun his coaching career serving as an assistant to his father at Stabæk. However, Michael Bradley is an intriguing option despite his lack of coaching experience. For his entire playing career, he was known for his cerebral style and his “coach-on-the-field quality”. I would place a hefty-sized wager that he will be an MLS manager in the next 5 years. While not as prevalent on this side of the pond, there are plenty of instances of former players nearly immediately stepping into head coaching jobs when they hang up the boots.

Jack Wilshere – The former Arsenal midfielder and English international began his coaching career immediately after retirement taking over the U18s at Arsenal. This past winter, The Athletic reported that Wilshere held talks with the Colorado Rapids about their coaching vacancy.

Giorgio Chiellini – The Italian defensive maestro hung up his boots at the end of 2023 and immediately stepped into a coaching role with LAFC. I harbor little doubt that he will make an excellent manager. However, I am not convinced he is ready to ditch the Los Angeles lifestyle yet. I am also sure Chiellini will be on the radar of several Italian clubs looking to fill vacancies.

MLS and USMNT Assistants

Ante Razov – Moving into the MLS assistant category, Ante Razov should start appearing on MLS head coaching interview lists. One of the early stars of MLS in the league’s infancy, he would bring a deep knowledge of the league, even if he has yet to have been given a head coaching gig. An assistant under Bob Bradley and now, Steve Cherundolo, Razov is bound to get looks from elsewhere in the league. 

B.J. Callaghan – The long-time assistant gained a reputation in 2023 while serving as the interim manager for the U.S. Men’s National Team. He has spent time under Jim Curtin and Gregg Berhalter. Those two feature wildly different game models, so it is not immediately clear what Callaghan’s own soccer philosophy might look like. Having never been a head coach, it would be a risk. However, he certainly would have piqued interest around the league given his interim success.

Dominic Kinnear – If you started paying attention to MLS when Nashville arrived in 2020, then you will be forgiven for not knowing Kinnear. To us old heads, Kinnear is an MLS coaching legend. His three-year run from 2005 – 2007 is hard to top. He won the Supporters Shield with San Jose. When the club relocated to Houston, he won back-to-back MLS titles. Results were harder to come by in subsequent years with his last head coaching gig coming with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2014 – 2017. Currently, he serves as Pat Noonan’s #2 in Cincinnati.  

Kwame Ampadu – Not a familiar name to many, Ampadu serves as an assistant to Wilfried Nancy. As long as Nancy and the Crew keep producing gorgeous soccer with stellar results, Nancy’s assistants will keep getting looks within the league. Ampadu himself had a successful playing career in England’s lower tiers and is the father of Leeds United’s Ethan Ampadu.

 

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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