The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ big backline cornerstone Neill Collins has been sidelined. Not because of injury or suspension — because of a major promotion.
The Scottish center back, in his third season with Tampa Bay, has been named the club’s new head coach.
Collins, 34, is in his 18th season of professional soccer. In his most recent game, his 67th with the Rowdies, he wore the captain’s armband.
Now, he’ll be leading the team in a new way.
A player becoming a coach isn’t unheard of in soccer, but the move might surprise some Rowdies fans. However, it might have been one of owner Bill Edwards’ only choices.
According to the Unused Substitutes, there may have been some questions about the coaching licenses of Rowdies assistant coaches Stuart Dobson and Cheyne Roberts. Although they would have been the natural picks as interim coaches, they might not have met the USL’s hiring requirements for head men.
Collins, meanwhile, has a UEFA A Coaching License, which satisfies the requirements. He also owns and operates the NC3 Coaching Academy in Lakewood Ranch, coaching up some of the youth talent in the Tampa Bay area and undoubtedly building up some useful connections. Collins has also worked as a volunteer coach with the United States Paralympic National Team.
Don’t expect there to be much awkwardness in the locker room. Collins was a highly respected veteran and a leader on this team as a defender, whose long career and excellent play alone are enough to be optimistic about his chances as a head coach.
Collins is also a visible and iconic man to lead this club from a marketing standpoint. Neill is active on social media and an impressive writer, publishing content about life as a footballer both on his own website and for USL.
Stuart Campbell, while a great man and a fan favorite for his own experience wearing the green and gold as a player, was never really much of a public figure. With Collins, the Rowdies may have a guy who can be the face of the franchise both on and off the pitch.
Speaking of on the pitch, I’m excited to see Collins coach during games. He was always a loud and vocal leader on the back line, barking out orders and calling out strategy. His fiery personality also means he’s not afraid to jaw out a ref, which should lead to an entertaining sideline persona.
The one downside of Collins’ promotion to head coach is the literal massive hole he leaves behind on the back line. With Collins not expected to continue as a player-coach, the Rowdies lose their best defender in a unit that has struggled with both play and injuries this season.
The Rowdies are already down two defenders. Right back David Najem is out for the season with a leg injury, and his replacement Kyle Curinga might also miss some time with his own knock. With natural left back Max Lachowecki filling in for Curinga on the right side, it will be up to Tamika Mkandawire and Ivan Magalhães to fill in for Collins. Tam, who is one of the longest tenured Rowdies and once wore the captain’s band, figures to get the first crack.
Along with the on-field play, the big concern with the Collins hire will be about the Rowdies following the same path as before. Stuart Campbell was a former Rowdies player who was hired with no head coaching experience after the previous coach was fired mid-season. The same scenario repeats, this time with Collins taking over.
Given the inability of the team to meet expectations in recent years, many fans may have preferred using this opportunity to go outside of the organization for some fresh blood and new direction.
However, I think all Rowdies fans are willing to give Neill Collins a fair shot to see what he can do. This is, after all, a division 2 league. One of the main points of the USL existing is for development. Not just of players, but of coaches as well. And if Collins wants to go into coaching, this is a great opportunity for him to start.
With any luck, Neill Collins will be the same dominating force on the bench that he has been on the pitch.