BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire have not exactly established continuity with their head coach over the past five seasons. Five different coaches have been at the helm since the start of the 2007 season.
With the Fire's 2011 season in the books, the focus once again turns toward the sidelines, where Fire technical director and interim head coach Frank Klopas posted an 8-5-10 record after replacing Carlos de los Cobos.
Chicago missed the playoffs for a second straight season, but the team rebounded in the final third of the campaign to climb close to the postseason picture.
So will Fire management remove the interim tag and keep Klopas as the head coach? Will he focus squarely on the technical side while the organization once again goes through the routine of an extensive coaching search?
Fire personnel certainly feel that the right person for the job already is in place with Klopas.
"There's nobody else who should be in that position," Fire defender Cory Gibbs said. "I don't say that just as a player when I speak the truth. I think he interacts with the team well. And he has a lot of heart and a lot of passion. He gets us ready for games. What more do you want from a coach? We're the ones playing, and we just have to follow his guidance and go out there."
"I think Frank has done a fantastic job," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "I think that he knows this group. He had his hand in bringing most of the guys -- if not all the guys -- here. And I think he has done everything that has been asked of him and more. That's up to him and management whether he wants to continue, whether he wants to move back into a front office role. I've loved every second playing for him. I think he's a guy that understands this league and gets the players. I'm just so happy for him how we finished the year."
Pause said after Saturday's season-ending victory over the Columbus Crew that there have been no early indications of what Klopas' future role will be.
"Honestly, our entire focus has been on trying to make the playoffs," Pause said. "Those aren't things that we have discussed. It hasn't been on my mind. We were just trying to put our heads down and make a push to get into the playoffs. I'm sure management will now evaluate and try to figure out what's the next step."
The common line used heading into this future coaching speculation is "what's best for the Fire." Klopas' tone has changed regarding the position. Several years ago before he was the team's technical director, he wanted to be an MLS coach. When he took the interim role after De los Cobos' firing, Klopas admitted he did not want the role, but was willing to do whatever it took to help the team.
Now Klopas expresses more of a "we'll see" feeling toward the question, saying on Saturday how much he enjoyed guiding this group of players toward a successful stretch run that also included an appearance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Klopas also said that he will "be back somewhere. I don't know where exactly."
The indications certainly point toward Klopas maintaining some vital role with the club.
"As a player you always want somebody with experience and knowledge of the game," Gibbs said. "He's done a lot with the Fire, and what better person can step in and be a coach for us? We're happy with him. I can speak for the team, obviously. If it's my say, we want him here. So we'll see what happens next year."
What the Fire should do: The Fire's record under Klopas was respectable this year. His team's performance during his tenure spread across a full season would have been more than enough for a postseason berth. If the Fire managed to sneak into this year's playoffs, they could have been a dangerous sleeper.
That brings us to what Klopas and the Fire have done on the technical side over the past couple of seasons, and it is more than fair to question how things were put in place. There were some good acquisitions along the way, particularly in-season this year. But there are many noteworthy blemishes that will stick with Klopas, specifically the two-year luring process to bring in complete bust Nery Castillo, the failed De los Cobos experiment, and affecting the Fire the most this season was the inability to sign a stable central midfielder during the previous offseason when everyone knew that was a weak spot on the roster.
Klopas has made these two statements a regular part of his lingo: It takes time for things to gel, and he says he will do whatever is in the organization's best interest to help the team. So if Klopas and the Fire hold true to those words, why bring in another coach who might have a different vision and style than what Klopas has in place? Do the Fire want to subject themselves to another growing period by bringing in a sixth coach in as many years?
Klopas needs the interim tag removed and stay on board as head coach. Director of player personnel Mike Jeffries can handle the technical side. The Fire can save the extra hours that go into a tedious coaching search and focus squarely on piecing together the 2012 team, which shouldn't need the complete overhaul that went into the previous offseason.
It seems like a no-brain decision to make. Besides, it does not appear that there is a bevy of top-notch candidates with a strong MLS coaching pedigree who are available to come in.