Sporting KC

‘He was an absolute joy.’ Ron Newman, first coach in Sporting KC history, dies

Kansas City Wizards head coach Ron Newman watches warmups before the start of the team’s June 5, 1996 game against the Tampa Bay Mutiny at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City Wizards head coach Ron Newman watches warmups before the start of the team’s June 5, 1996 game against the Tampa Bay Mutiny at Arrowhead Stadium.

Ron Newman was a gifted storyteller. His players remember him for that. As they warmed up for practice, Newman, the first coach in Kansas City Wizards franchise history, would often launch into one.

In 1979, for example, Newman removed legendary winger George Best from a match, and Best threw his jersey at him in a fit of anger. When reporters asked Newman about the incident after the match, he quipped, “What’s there to be mad about? I just got the jersey of the best player in the world.”

“I just used to love hearing him tell stories like that,” former Wizards player Jake Dancy said. “He had this way of taking even the worst moments of his career and telling a beautiful story.”

Newman, who played a part in the story of soccer in Kansas City, died Monday in Tampa. He was 84.

Newman was the first coach hired in Major League Soccer when he joined the Kansas City Wiz for its inaugural 1996 season. He was 50-50 in three-plus years in Kansas City before his retirement in 1999. The club has since re-branded to Sporting Kansas City.

With a background in indoor soccer, Newman brought an attacking flare to the outdoor game. Born in England, he also successfully recruited overseas talent to play for the Wizards, including Preki, Mo Johnston and Digital Takawira, among several others.

With a coaching career that spanned three decades and seven cities, Newman was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992. He achieved perhaps his greatest success in San Diego, where he won 10 championships, helping the San Diego Sockers become the most dominant indoor soccer team in two separate leagues.

“I’ve known Ron since I was 10 years old, so obviously having the privilege to play for him was pretty amazing,” said Sean Bowers, a former Wizards defender who is now the general manager for the San Diego Sockers. “In professional sports, you’d think there would be a lot of stress on him, but he didn’t really show that. We showed up for work, but we had a lot of fun. He always kept it lively.

“He as a players’ coach. He listened to the players. That was one of the things I learned from him and later (applied) to my coaching.”

Newman built a trust with his players by establishing an ongoing dialogue. He was known to be a coach who built his teams’ success more on chemistry and less on the Xs and Os.

He tried to make practices enjoyable, instituting creative drills and exercises. When he arrived to the field each day, he greeted his players by referring to them as his “lovelies.”

“He was just an absolute joy to be around,” said Rob Thomson, Sporting KC’s chief communications officer who has been with the club for two decades. “He had so much energy. Loved soccer. Loved just being on the field every day.”

His good nature was perhaps never more on display than in Kansas City’s inaugural season. When the team was set to play Colombian national team star Carlos Valderrama, Newman had his players wear wigs mimicking Valderrama’s distinctive hairstyle.

In his final year, Newman relished hearing from several of his former players, some of whom were able to visit him in Tampa.

“He was just full of life, man,” said Dancy, who last saw Newman in January. “His passion for the game was like no other. I certainly never met anyone who had the passion that he did, and certainly not for as long as he had it. I’ll miss him.”