Indy Eleven hosted a meet and greet Wednesday evening at The Tomlinson Taproom in the Indianapolis City Market. The occasion was to celebrate and to introduce Head Coach Tim Hankinson to fans and to a few select members of the media. The formal announcement came earlier in the afternoon in the lobby of the Emmis Communications building, but internet rumors of the new hire had been percolating for some time.
Tim Hankinson's hiring was not a shock to anyone pretending to be General Manager on social media where his name was passed around quite a bit. Many other names were mentioned in recent days, but not many gave any weight to any Eric Wynalda talk. Hankison's sudden availability combined with his decades of experience gave very little room to speculate. The question was less "If" but "When".
The man of the hour was busy rubbing elbows with many others when I got a chance to introduce myself. He promised me 5 minutes which was more than the 4 minutes that I had proposed. The Head Coach already exceeded my expectations for such a popular guy on such an important night and it was hard for him to get away.
Hankinson sought me out, true to his promise, and we sat down at a 4-top table apart from most of the commotion and the conversations of the crowd. Hankinson immediately began spilling his excitement for Indianapolis, as a sports town, and Indiana for its renowned soccer heritage. He knows Jerry Yeagley through collegiate level coaching clashes 30 years ago. And he mentioned following the career of Tony Dungy after Dungy left Tampa Bay for Indianapolis. Hankinson is new to Indy Eleven and to Indianapolis, but he is keenly aware of the culture here and the enthusiastic fans we have.
I found it easy to begin a conversation with the new coach. His personality is nothing like my brief image search portrayed him to be. He seems to have a scowl in most of his common internet photos. Other people have told him that. I was not among them.
40 seconds into my "one on one" and we were talking about the strengths and weaknesses of American players and his more recent experience with Jamaican players. Hankinson said that Jamaicans have the heart of Brazilian players and posses great speed, but some grow up playing street ball and that can pose a problem where team discipline is concerned. Hankinson explained to me that American players are "Go-Go-Go" and very quick to get to a ball, but they sometimes lack the ability to slow it all back down and play at another speed.
As we sat and talked and I drank my beer, a sophisticated Indy Eleven staff member came by to check on the new Tim in town and to see if he needed anything. The staffer returned to the table with a beverage for Hankinson, but stayed much longer to join the conversation in what soon became known as the "seminar". The table for 4 had become a table for 5 within seconds as a few soccer savvy members of the Brickyard Battalion Slaughterhouse-19 became curious and slid in seamlessly to a few open seats. My 5 minute interview had become a 30 minute interview and no one seemed to notice. Hankinson didn't seem to care.
That staffer that I had mentioned left the table to retrieve some food order and placed a to-go bag directly in front of Hankinson in a polite rescue attempt. "You'll want to get that home before it gets cold." said one of my favorite Indy Eleven employees with a delicate touch. Tim Hankinson smiled, sat back a bit and replied something like, "Salad is best when its cold." And then he settled back into the conversation.
The strikingly white haired man continued to educate and the table's numbers fluctuated up and down with as many as 7 people seated now in and around. It was very organic. There was almost a revolving door of new participants and all were welcomed. All had concern for the team and all had a very respectful interest in what the coach had to say. Hankinson didn't skip a beat as he grabbed a pen and paper to illustrate his thoughts on tactics and player utilization. He described scenarios that casual observers have missed that are specific to Indy Eleven. Hankinson has prior knowledge about players like Dane Richards and Greg Janicki that make it seem like he had been watching all season long. He was no longer answering questions. It was more like he was teaching.
Tim Hankinson was announced as the head coach today, but the truth is he has already put in work with Assistant Tim Regan going over potential players and evaluating returning players. He has reviewed film on candidates at a rate of around 25 per day and he hasn't even moved into town yet. Indy Eleven is searching for an on-field "maestro" to conduct the flow and the tempo of the team. While he spoke, Hankinson's hand gracefully mimicked the use of baton to keep time and demonstrate a methodical pace.
It's something that has clearly been missing. It's easy to diagnose, but perhaps it harder than it sounds to make chemistry where there was none.
Hankinson told me that Indy Eleven will be returning only 1 international player. That is good news for roster flexibility but it does come as quite a shock considering that the Eleven were using all 7 allotments for such players in 2015. I was not given any indication as to which player that would be, but I was told another astonishing fact that took me a few moments to get my head around. Only 2 regular starters will be coming back, but they will have an opportunity to earn their roles in the upcoming season.
I was not alarmed by this news, but it seems that the new head coach feels the Indy Eleven were playing to their potential last season. They just weren't good enough. The claims of upgrades during last off-season may have been true, but they fell short of the mark. Hankinson is taking no chances on players he doesn't feel can impact this team immediately.
"The Brickyard Battalion gets its name from a military history." He said. "The Indy Eleven take their name from local military history and I am looking for warriors."
There was a sense of optimism and excitement as Hankinson spoke about freeing up money and players, but the pressure will be on him to get the job done. This kind of renovation requires an architect with a clear vision and these decisions will fall squarely on 60 year old shoulders with 36 years of experience. General Manager Peter Wilt will probably get the final say, buy it sounds like a collaborative effort between Tim, Tim and Peter.
The "meet and greet" was officially over at 7pm but the lecture continued even after I excused myself and closed out my tab sometime around 7:45.
It is impossible to deny Hankinson's confidence or comfort level as he speaks. It is not arrogance, but knowledge acquired from decades of study. Experience is something that Indy Eleven have needed for some time so perhaps this can be a good fit.
Expect a new player announcement very soon. Expect a maestro. This first player signing could be an indication of things yet to come.