Phoenix Rising head coach Rick Schantz on 'incredible' Three Lions and advice to Paul Cook
- Credit: Phoenix Rising
Rick Schantz knows what working for Ipswich Town’s new owners is all about.
The Phoenix Rising head coach has worked for Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer for the last four years, during a time when the club has grown from playing in front of just a few hundred supporters to their impending move into a new 10,000-seater stadium.
Schantz has overseen a period of success on the pitch, too, with multiple USL Western Conference titles coming before they ultimately reached last season’s Championship Game, only for their match with Tampa Bay Rowdies to be cancelled after their opponents suffered a Covid outbreak.
Rising’s 2021 season is due to begin this weekend with a home game with San Diego Loyal, prior to which Schantz sat down with us to discuss working under the new Ipswich owners, how the clubs could link up and his advice for Town boss Paul Cook.
How long have you known Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer?
RS: I’ve been with Phoenix Rising for four years, originally working as an assistant coach to Frank Yallop who I’m sure everyone in Ipswich knows well.
Frank and I had known each other for five years and at the time Arizona United (previous name of Phoenix Rising) didn’t have the greatest reputation, wasn’t run very well and wasn’t spending a lot of money on players.
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But they hired Frank and he was looking to build the club up. The new owners came in and that started with Brett, who then brought Berke and Mark after that.
Immediately the first person I met was Mark Detmer and that came at a time when I was charged with taking Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jordan Stewart out to show them Arizona. Mark was such a fun guy and he made you feel so comfortable.
It was an exciting environment to be in and we saw from Brett, Berke and Mark an attitude in seeing the club not just as a toy but being competitive and wanting to win. They wanted to invest and they did.
Didier Drogba came in and that was the start. Those guys implemented a whole new brand and idea for football here in Arizona and I was onboard.
Eventually I became interim manager and I have to say I found the pressure and stress so difficult, but the owners were steadfast in giving me the opportunity and told me they would wait to the end of the season to see how things go.
We got to the final and they gave me the chance to take it on full-time (in 2018). They’ve given me this job to win trophies and silverware for Phoenix Rising but they’re also very good men, respectful men, who let the football people do the football things while the business guys handle the business.
It’s a great, incredible, ownership and I’m proud to be working for them.
They sound exactly the kind of owners you want if you’re a manager?
RS: I go into the boardroom, or Zoom calls at the moment, and feel respected and part of the group, rather than feeling nervous to report to your bosses.
That makes it easier to be honest and up front and not feel like you’re hiding anything from the guys.
After we win or lose they come and talk to us as a staff, we maybe have a cigar and a beverage and talk about the match a little bit. It’s a good environment and that trickles down from myself to the kit man to the players. Everyone at the club.
We have a good family environment here and it’s a great place to be.
What can you tell us about the three guys? We know them as the Three Lions here now
RS: Brett’s always on the go and obviously has a lot going on with projects everywhere. But he always gives you time, which isn’t easy for a man of his stature.
He’s extremely kind, very respectful and extremely hard-working.
They are all big fans of the game and are educated on it, which is great.
Berke is extremely passionate in everything he does. He’s owned a restaurant company and has been so passionate about growing it. Everything he’s touched has turned to gold. But that doesn’t come without hard work, though.
He tells you stories about Galatasaray and Graeme Souness planting the flag in the middle of the (Fenerbahce) pitch and you see his shoulders go back. He’s as wild as any supporter when you see him at the matches.
And he obviously brought Didier Drobga over here and sold him on our project, which was an incredible achievement.
I’ve been around a lot of different people from very different backgrounds in my time and Mark shows qualities of a person where, no matter who they’re talking to, they make that person feel comfortable. He can be in a business meeting in the most difficult of situations and you’d look at him and not recognise that side of him existed, because he can be hard-nosed and go after it.
Then he can turn to you and have a good joke which shows him to be such a fun person. He’s extremely intelligent, a wonderful family man and extremely passionate. One of the kindest, warm-hearted people I’ve ever met. I’m proud to call him a friend.
How have these guys changed Phoenix Rising for the better?
RS: People think that if you come in with a bunch of cash then success automatically follows, which just isn’t the case.
You can put a lot of money and use it poorly and it just turns into a bad investment.
These guys not only brought capital but also their time, commitment and desire, as well as a willingness to work hard. When they make decisions, things happen quickly.
They built our first stadium in 52 days and I’d say the new one we’re currently building is going be 90 days, but twice the size. They’ve added a new training pitch, too.
They aren’t afraid of risk and are smart men who have done well in their fields, so to bring all of that together as a group is really exciting for a football club.
Have they spoken to you much about their plans for Ipswich?
RS: Not too much about the details because I’ve been so focussed on getting ready for our season and, probably out of respect for what I’m doing, I wasn’t given a lot of information.
But I’m excited. As soon as we’re finished with our season in November I’m getting a trip over to Ipswich to watch a game and learn from what they do to become a better coach. Our staff is excited because it feels like the family’s growing.
What would you tell Paul Cook about the new owners?
RS: They’re willing to listen. If you present a good case and are responsible of the bigger picture, they will do whatever they can to help you.
They want to win just as badly as you do as a manager and that’s a really good thing. The common ground exists.
I’ve seen a lot of clubs where the front office and the football side don’t get along so I think it’s a smart move for them to bring in someone (Mark Ashton, incoming CEO) on the executive side.
If the front office and the fans are there then the football side can concentrate on football.
Fancy some pre-season games between the two teams?
RS: I know we’ve already requested next year in our schedule to have a two-week window where we can bring our team over in July before the season starts.
I’m not sure you want to come here in July because it can be a bit warm.