Brad Davis still remembers the phone call he made to Dominic Kinnear in 2005 when he found out the San Jose Earthquakes were being moved to Texas and reborn as the franchise that became the Houston Dynamo.
The midfielder had a simple question for his head coach: are you going, too? The answer was yes, giving Davis and other key players the reassurance they needed to hear before making the journey into the unknown.
Kinnear’s continued presence provided the group with stability and confidence that translated into two MLS Cup titles in their first two years in Houston and a sustained record of outstanding achievement in the seasons that followed.
“He was able to bring an extremely talented team from San Jose to Houston. There was a lot of conversation that went on when we found out we were moving here, that a lot of guys weren’t coming unless Dom was coming,” Davis told reporters after Kinnear’s final home match in charge of the Dynamo, a 2-1 defeat to the New England Revolution on Thursday. “If he didn’t come I think the team would have dispersed and it would have been totally different.”
The anecdote echoed a view of Kinnear’s management style that’s been heard several times since Wednesday’s news that he is going home to California at the end of the season and taking charge of the Earthquakes. It’s that the 47-year-old is a coach that players truly want to work for, recognizing that he can lead them to personal improvement and collective success.
“He took a chance on me way back in 2005 and I can be the first one to say that I wouldn’t be sitting here where I am today without the support of him, I wouldn’t have gone to a World Cup without the support and the opportunity that he’s given me,” said Davis, the Dynamo captain, six-time MLS All Star and winner of four team MVP awards.
During his mid-twenties there seemed a danger that Davis would not reach his full potential. “At 32 years old I still remember the moment that I had to turn myself around. He’ll come in and he’ll give you the hard truth. That’s what he was, he cared about you but he was also honest. He said ‘this is what you need to do to be successful, you can either go one way or you can go the other’,” the midfielder said.
“I think all the players that he’s had and developed have gone the right way, it’s a testament to the way he goes about his business, the way he handles things. I’ll always be grateful for what he’s given this club.”
That gratitude poured out from the stands and the field on Thursday, as fans honored Kinnear’s contribution with chants of “Thank you Dom” and held up cards when the game clock ticked past nine minutes — one minute for each of his years at the club.
After the final whistle, Davis, former striker Brian Ching and club president Chris Canetti gave speeches paying tribute to Kinnear during an on-field ceremony. Kinnear spoke at the end, thanking family, players, coaching and front office staff, ownership, fans, media and the wider Houston community.
“I can’t say enough good things about coming to the city, it just seemed to work and everything kind of came together. I’m not a big preacher but something pulled us together here with this group, these fans and the city,” he later told reporters in the locker room.
Informed of Davis’s praise, Kinnear said: “It’s nice and there may be a hint of truth to it but I always say the players make their destiny and they make the decisions that make them better. But also when you hear something from a player of his caliber, that he thinks that well of you and is conscious that we have possibly helped him out, it’s the best compliment you could get.”
The Dynamo are firmly entrenched in the local and national sports landscape thanks to the determination and talent of Kinnear and the teams he forged. Nine years later, Davis is about to take another step into the unknown as the reality of Kinnear’s exit starts to sink in and with it the knowledge that next season the veteran will be working for a new head coach for the first time in a decade.
Giles Barnes has only been with the Dynamo since 2012 but has made a rapid and deep impact. His goal against New England was his 11th of the season, lifting him one above Will Bruin in the race for the club golden boot with only a road trip to the Chicago Fire on October 24 to come.
Barnes worked under some big-name bosses during his time in England, including current England manager Roy Hodgson and former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo at West Bromwich Albion. He said that Kinnear is up there with the best.
“He’s been brilliant for me on a personal note, he’s a coach that talks to me daily, encourages me to play the way that I want to play, he’s been very honest me with me and what he wanted from me throughout the whole of last year and this year. I haven’t got enough good words to say about him,” the forward told HoustonDynamo.com.
“He gets the best out of a lot of players. I think he’s got the best out of me. He taught me I needed to be a two-way player when I first came and he’s helped me do that. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.