MLS Cup: FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman a man of many talents
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 19, 2010 8:01AM EST
TORONTO - With more than 30 years of coaching under his belt, Schellas Hyndman knows talent when he sees it.
But the FC Dallas coach has a rule when it comes to signing a player or hiring help. Seek other opinions. Do your due diligence.
He always makes three calls.
"So far we've really made some good decisions on people," Hyndman said.
Acquisitions like veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and stylish Colombian playmaker David Ferreira have helped FC Dallas make it to the MLS Cup, where it will take on the Colorado Rapids on Sunday at BMO Field.
It's an unlikely title matchup. The Rapids were 12-8-10 in the regular season while Dallas was 12-4-14.
Hyndman is not your normal coach, either.
The 61-year-old draws on a lifetime of experience on and off the soccer field. A 10th degree black belt, he has studied and taught martial arts all his life.
Talk to him and he is as likely to quote a business management book as soccer strategy.
Like most good leaders, he looks to surround himself with the right people. Running a pro team is like bossing a mini-corporation.
He cites "The 90-Minute Manager" by Chris Brady, dean of BPP Business School in London.
The book is aimed at showing CEOs lessons to be learned from soccer managers, arguing that the sport replicates and intensifies business problems. A CEO may only be evaluated at quarterly meetings, after all. A soccer manager is judged every weekend.
It also talks of the importance of the right hiring practices.
"We've been really diligent in our work on finding players," Hyndman said. "I think if we find three of four that are outstanding, then that's 75 per cent and we're happy with that."
It took a while to find the right combination of players and instil his "culture of winning."
Hyndman inherited a 4-5-4 team in 2008, opting not to make immediate changes because he wanted to see the talent at his disposal.
The squad finished 8-10-12 for the season and went 11-13-6 in 2009.
He has almost totally remade the team since taking over and says he loves the character of his current roster, which overcame a rocky start this season to reel off a 19-game unbeaten streak to tie a league record.
"I think they really enjoy each other," he said. "They're good friends on and off the field. I walk through the locker-room an hour after training and there's five or six of them still sitting there having a laugh and a good time. They go out for team lunches and do quite a bit of things together.
"People ask me 'Well how important is that?' And I don't know how I can rate the importance of it. I just know how important it is if you don't have it."
Hyndman became the fifth coach in FC Dallas history when he took over in June 2008, after 31 years as a college coach.
He coached at his alma mater, Eastern Illinois University, before moving to Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas where he spent 24 years as head coach.
Hyndman left the college ranks with a 466-122-49 record, having led his teams to 30 NCAA playoff appearances, 11 quarter-finals and five final fours.
Hyndman was recruited to FC Dallas by one of his former players in Clark Hunt, president of the Hunt Sports Group which owns FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew.
"It was a very difficult decision to leave," Hyndman said of quitting the "wonderful comfort zone" of SMU.
He went to Euro 2008 and mulled over the offer.
"Finally I made a decision. You're only going to live once. Why not take the challenge and see how you can compare yourself at the professional level and see if you can compete?"
He concedes the road was "a little bumpy at times" and sometimes wondered about his decision. But this week's trip to the championship game has shown him it was worthwhile.
Making the jump from coaching collegiate players to older pros has been a learning curve, he acknowledges.
The soccer side of coaching -- tactics and principles of the game -- was the same. But man management off the field, league rules, speed of play, the players' athleticism, longer season and travel are vastly different in the pro game.
"So there were some huge adjustments to be made," he said. "But it is a continuing work in progress."
Veteran pros have a totally different outlook on their job than youngsters breaking in.
"It becomes very me, me, me mentality, which I think is normal when that's your livelihood and you have to take care of family members," Hyndman said.
"There's a lot of different things that you have to work with," he added. "And all the players are good players so there's a little bit more ego."
Hyndman draws on his own diverse life experiences.
His parents, who were of Portuguese and Russian descent, fled Communist China to Macau where Hyndman spent his first nine years.
"Life was a little bit difficult there. At that time, I was a light-haired blue-eyed boy and many days it was tough."
So his father sent him to a local martial artist to train.
When the family moved to the U.S., Hyndman experienced other problems. A refugee living in a tough neighbourhood in Springfield, Ohio, he started karate at 14 or 15.
At 16, he had no more money to take lessons. But he had a motorcycle, which he gave to his instructor, and started cleaning the gym. He kept going with his martial arts studies and has never looked back.
"It brings you a discipline in your life and when you have discipline in your life, it's a lot easier to be a leader."
"The other thing that it brings is a great awareness to people's intentions and character," he added. "I think that's one area I feel really, really good about."
Hyndman is affiliated with the Juko-Kai International martial arts organization, and started studying with its founder Rod Sacharnoski in 1978. Hyndman's main art is aiki jiu-jitsu and he has shared his skills with the military and police forces.
His expertise includes Combat Ki, whose top practitioners can absorb blows that would floor the average Joe. Witness the YouTube video that shows Hyndman being kicked in the groin without batting an eye.
He cross-trains in other disciplines including karate and a form of sword arts.
He has sacrificed some of his martial arts workouts, however, because of the demands of his coaching job. He gave his studio to his top student.
Yet Hyndman finds time to work with young soccer players. He has his own youth team and does regular clinics for high school coaches.
So how does he do it all?
"I don't now if I'm very good at time management but I will say this. It flies by, in anything you do, when you have passion in it. You never look at it being a job.
"I love what I do. We started our first day of training on Feb. 2 and it's flown by."
The same for his 40 years of martial arts.
"The sad part, and it really is the sad part, is you get so engrossed into your martial arts -- I was training five nights a week, I was fighting (competitively), I did a lot of different things -- that you give something else up and unfortunately the thing that you end up giving up is time with your family," said Hyndman, who is married with three kids.
"And that's something, as I'm older now, you can never ever replace."