Coaching Profile: Danny Kelly

by Michael Lewis

Given his background and being a student of the game, Danny Kelly probably was destined to become a coach of an indoor soccer team anyway.

He just didn't think it would happen the way it did.

Danny Kelly outlook on the MASL's Eastern Division

As the Baltimore Blast's 2005-06 MISL regular season was winding down, Kelly was given the opportunity of a lifetime to coach an indoor soccer team while he was still playing.

Blast head coach Timmy Wittman was suspended for the rest of the season by the league after a confrontation with a referee in Stockton, Calif. Saturday night before the team returned home the following day.

On Monday morning, Baltimore owner Ed Hale called Kelly and told the veteran defender:

"I would like you to coach the team."

Kelly replied: "Player-coach?"

And Hale responded: "Player coach."

"I was going to be 37 and coaching opportunities don't come around too often," Kelly said. "It took me around 10 seconds to say, 'OK, yeah."

And the rest, as they say, is arena soccer history. The Blast finished the season in second place with a 17-13 record -- the team was 2-3 with Kelly in charge -- before going on a roll in the playoffs to win the MISL championship.

Kelly retired as a player and took full reins of the Blast for next season, forging one of the most memorable coaching reputations of the indoor game to write his name into the record books with the likes of Ron Newman, Kenny Cooper and Don Popovic.

The Bronx native has directed the Blast to six titles -- three in the MISL and the last three in the Major Arena Soccer League as Baltimore prepares to fun for a four-peat.

That Kelly has been successful has not gone unnoticed by his foes and colleagues.

San Diego Sockers general manager Sean Bowers, a former Blast teammate who has played against Kelly, realized he would become a good coach.

"He's a very smart person and has a high soccer IQ," he said. "He and i had talks even when I was coaching in Baltimore. We have very similar wants and needs from players. There's no doubt in my mind that Danny would have been successful as a coach. Now that he has won championships and more importantly has produced good, soccer/indoor soccer players. He does it for the right reasons. His son goes to San Diego State and he's a good soccer player, also. It's not surprising to me. He has all the ingredients of being a very, very good coach."

Looking back, it looked quite easy for Kelly, but it wasn't a stroll in the park, especially when he was player-coach in 2006. After all, he was one of the boys at the time.

"It wasn't easy," he said. "I played the game for a long time. I played the game for my whole life, soccer in general. Indoor soccer IU played for a long time and just trusting myself. I knew the game. The question was: Could I get players to buy into what I wanted them to do? No. 1, I had to believe in myself. Early on there was some uncertainty especially that first year just coaching. You're coaching guys who were your teammates and your friends and guys you would go out with and all of a sudden now you're the boss. It was kind of a tricky situation for me."

Kelly, now 49, decided to be his own man.

"But there came a point maybe after that first season and came to the conclusion: 'If I'm going to fail, I'm going to fail being me, doing what I want to do,’ “ he said. “From there, that's where I started to believe in myself and just, 'Hey, this is what I'm going to do. This is how I'm going to go about it.' I had a general idea of about this game and how it should be played and how we could be successful an I'm going to go for it. That's what I did."

Like any coach or player, Kelly had plenty of role models and mentors in the game, while growing up and pursuing a professional career.

While commuting from upstate New York in Rockland County to play for Blau-Weis Gottschee in the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League in New York City and its environs, Kelly had some great teachers in the legendary coaches Ben Boehm, Martin Petschauer and Jorge Siega, the last of whom played for the original New York Cosmos.

At Penn State University, Kelly had the opportunity to learn from coach and former U.S. international Walter Bahr, a member of the team that upset England in the 1950 World Cup, for a season.

And at the professional level, Kelly had plenty of teachers, including former Harrisburg Heat coach Jim Pollihan, Newman with the Sockers and long-time U.S. national futsal coach Keith Tozer, who probably has forgotten more about the sport than most people know.

"You learn a lot in your entire soccer lifetime," Kelly said. "I took a lot of what I thought was good how they went about things. You also learn along the way from some coaches, who were not that good, how not to do things. I try to take a little bit from all of them things that they did well, whether it was preparation, communication and try and make it my own."

Living in Baltimore for the past two decades, Kelly has become an icon of the indoor game. He scored 106 goals in 220 appearances for the Blast during seven seasons as a player and has guided the team for 12 years. In a profession where coaches are jettisoned during their first season, that is a remarkable achievement.

"I'm extremely proud of how what we've been able to accomplish as a team for this city," Kelly said. "This city has always taken to indoor soccer and has loved the Blast. For me to be able to play and represent this team on the field and help the Blast win championships as a player and now help them win championships as a team. I know how much of a soccer city this city is. People, they love their sports teams here and they all want to see you win. They want you to care, to sacrifice and work and know that you're doing everything you can to get results and achieve, win trophies, win championships."

Don't expect Kelly to rest on his accomplishments and laurels. He is motivated to bring another championship to Baltimore.

"As soon as you start to relax and take your foot off the pedal and maybe allow a little complacency to set in, that's when you start going into the other direction," he said. "We're hungry, we want more. We want to have that taste in our mouth again, knowing that we're the best there at what we do. We want to continue. We know it's going to be extremely difficult. Everybody wants a piece of us and they're going to get it. We'll see where we are at the end of the year."