With two matches remaining in the 2018 regular season and a conference championship within reach, then-interim coach Rick Schantz had a decision to make: rest regulars for a mid-week match against Las Vegas (to set up for a playoff run) or go all out on that weekday match, without caring about peaking too soon, to win the conference.
And that was just one of the decisions he had to make.
Even before he could think about who to pencil in for his Starting XI, Schantz had already been thinking about what time he wanted his training sessions to start. What did he want to do during training sessions? When should the team should have lunch? What should the team eat for lunch? What time should the team leave for the airport? How much time should the players be given to settle into their rooms before meeting for dinner? Where should the team eat for dinner? Will he speak to the group while at the restaurant or back at the hotel before players head to their rooms for the night?
Before he could even reach the most important decision of the season, Rick Schantz had already been in control of less consequential decisions of the club’s day-to-day life. And it was something he wasn’t completely prepared for when he took over the club for the departing Patrice Carteron.
“I didn’t realize how many decisions Patrice made at the beginning of last year,” Schantz said. “He established a great system with our administration and our medical staff. And all I did was tweak it a little at the end of last year and made sure we were meeting on a regular basis.”
But learning how to handle the volume of decisions he had to make on a day-to-day basis helped him become a better coach, according to Schantz, and he learned to delegate duties, trusting his assistants (Blair Gavin, Peter Ramage, and Cory Robertson) to handle smaller matters so that he could concentrate on managing the squad.
All of it was a concentrated effort to not just guide the club through to the end of the season. Schantz wanted to stay with Rising FC long term.
“I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made in 2017,” Schantz said referring to the first time he was named interim coach following the departure of then-head coach Frank Yallop. “I was shocked and surprised and a little bit scared. Last year I was motivated and I said, ‘I’m not letting go of this’ ”
Now used to handling the myriad of decisions he had to make during any given week, Schantz was ready to make the most consequential decision of the season: focus on getting the team ready for the playoffs.
“I knew that I was taking my future into my hands,” Schantz said. “But the staff and players and everybody was 100 percent on board and we got the job done.”
Sure, the 5-2 loss to Las Vegas effectively ended the club’s chance at winning the conference and the end-of-the-season loss to Portland Timbers 2 even cost the team a second guaranteed home playoff match.
But a better rested club was ready for its first-ever home playoff match and didn’t disappoint in a thrilling 3-0 win over Timbers 2. Then, Sacramento Republic was upset in the first round, which led to another home playoff match for Phoenix Rising and, eventually, a run that went all the way to the USL Cup Final.
“You only have to make a few key decisions every year and you’ve got to be right on them,” Schantz said.
Now it’s the beginning of the 2019 season. Rick Schantz, who no longer holds the interim tag, faces an entire season filled with decision, after decision, after decision. How his choices pan out will determine whether or not he will even have to make a difficult decision come October, for better or for worse. But the not-new, new coach is undeterred with the prospect of facing off with several key forks in the road toward a potential regular season title, conference championship, or USL Cup.
“You just have to talk to the players,” Schantz said. “They give you the answers. … You have to ask the right questions and you have to ask yourself what are the difficult questions. What am I not seeing? … I’ve got a philosophy and an idea of the way we want to play. But the players have to buy into it. They have to have ownership and that’ll make those decisions a little bit easier.”