Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Parted Ways - Mark Lowry

In the summer of 2021, I wrote an article about how Indy Eleven "mutually parted ways" with Martin Rennie after an odd on-air rant after a game. Twelve hours later, and the club and Rennie went different directions. Today, the club announced that they "parted ways" with Mark Lowry, who joined the club just over two years ago. Not sure if there was anything to the different phrasing by not including the "mutually" part, but it stands out to me as interesting if nothing else.

I think the last time I was this surprised about a front office move was the off-season before the aforementioned Martin Rennie joined the club. That off-season was full of surprises as the 2017 team led by Tim Hankinson transitioned to the 2018 team led by Martin Rennie, in a new league (NASL to USL), and in a new stadium (Carroll to Lucas Oil), much of that announced extremely last minute as the club tried to extract itself from the dying NASL. The 2018 team had no resemblance to the 2017 team, returning just Ring, Braun, & Speas, after Rennie decided that he couldn't see any place on his team or in the club for any of the 2017 players who had just a season before made it to the NASL's Soccer Bowl before being beaten by the Cosmos in penalty kicks. Rennie couldn't see a place for a ball-hawking forward like Eamon Zayed or a goalkeeping legend like Jon Busch. Hell, it was seemingly only because of a near fan-uprising that he kept club legend Ring around. That off-season was weird as hell.

Today's surprise departure of Lowry takes a close second in my opinion. 

There was absolutely nothing from my perspective that would have made me guess this was going to happen. Lowry seemed to genuinely convey to me during conversations that Indy was the place he wanted to be to keep moving Indy forward, and to be a part of the first games at Eleven Park. It seemed like such a given to me, after getting the team back to the playoffs this year, that I barely wrote anything about the coaching situation in my end-of-year off-season article

Could I have misread the situation? Definitely.

Do I think there is something else going on? Definitely. 

The following is a scenario that I can envision happening to lead us to watching yet another coach, this one highly successful in this league, walk away from the club after signing nine core pieces of the 2023 roster.

Martin Rennie "mutually parted" Indy, in part, because of the poor turf at Carroll stadium. Despite a new turf being installed in 2020, the team that Mark Lowry put together still found that field to be less than ideal in the way that it played. Lowry found late in the season that with some pregame effort, this new version of the turf could be massaged enough to play in a more predictable way, thereby allowing the team's preferred style of play to shine. That level of field maintenance takes time, and time is money. Part of the theory behind artificial turf fields is that they are supposed to be low maintenance. I'm guessing, and I stress guessing, that Lowry requested more budget next year for the field maintenance.

That, by itself, wouldn't have been enough to "part ways," mutually or otherwise.

However, and I don't remember if this was said to me on- or off-record, so I could get in trouble here for saying something that I shouldn't, but many of the clubs' groups had their budgets frozen for at least the last month of the season. Lowry likely had one of the highest paid rosters in the USL Championship this past year, but that money was focused on the core group of players. As the team found out, that created a depth of skill problem when suspensions or injuries sidelined some of those core players. I'm guessing, and I stress guessing, that Lowry requested more budget next year to bring in some other players to have a higher level of depth than what the team had this year. That additional depth was going to come with a cost.

Ersal and/or Stremlaw said no. Lowry said that he didn't think he can get the team any higher without that money for stadium and player help. "Then we have reached an impasse." 

Ways parted.

There's an oversimplification in that scenario, and I honestly don't know if any of that scenario is true. Can I see all of it, and more, happening? Definitely. 

As I stated today on X (formerly known as), whatever happened on the field, Mark Lowry was the first coach from this club to remember my name at press conferences after games and answer all my questions, on- or off-record. The last game of the season, he asked Ian Gilmour if I was there. He was conscientious of me being a grassroots, fan perspective of covering the team. On multiple occasions, he would honestly answer questions for me that he didn't have to answer. Questions that I wouldn't have bothered asking his predecessors because I knew they would just answer them in general coach-speak terms. He knew that he could trust me with the information and answered my questions openly, knowing that if he said "this part is off-record," that it would be, which gave me the confidence to try and find out more about the way his coaching mind works. 

I honestly think that Mark Lowry was the right man for the job to get Indy to higher level. The club and even fans think that Indy need to get back to the successes the team used to have. That is not this club. Actually, I should be more specific and say that is not the men's first team. The Academy and the women's side have been successful. The men's first team is, and has been, an average to below average performing team for nearly the entirely of its history. 

  • The team has now had 4 permanent coaches and 2 interim coaches in 10 seasons of action. 
  • The team has made the playoffs just 4 times in those 10 seasons.
  • The team has just 4 seasons with a positive goal differential and two of those have just barely made it to that threshold (2016 - +21; 2019 - +20; 2020 - +2; 2023 - +3).
  • In the team's time in the USL-C, they have finished 7th (2018), 3rd (2019), 3rd (out of 4 teams in their group due to the 2020 pandemic arrangement), 12th (2021), 9th (2022), and 6th (2023) in their conference.
  • The team has made it to one league final (2016 NASL season, which had just 11 teams in the league and 4 of them made the playoffs).
  • The team has made it to one conference final (2019 USL season, which imploded in the final minutes to Louisville).
  • The team has 1 piece of hardware; a "spring season" championship because the NASL was kooky-dooks and split the season into two parts, that Indy won on the third tiebreaker. 
Look, I love the team, the players, and those limited successes, but this is not a team that can be described as being a consistent on-field beacon of light. 

Assistant Coach Gabe Zapponi was brought to Indy as one of "Lowry's guys." Don't be surprised if he departs too. Jerome, Rebellon, Velasquez, to name a few, are guys that Lowry has taken with him from place to place. Don't be surprised if none of them return to Indy. Nobody knows what player contracts look like, but a caveat that I would want in my own contract with a team would be that it was contingent upon the manager in charge. King was in El Paso with Lowry and then Lowry brought King back here to Indy. Did he know Lowry was on the way out? Would he have re-signed if he knew Lowry wasn't going to be here? I think Lindley wants to be here close to family. Same for Quinn, whose wife's family is from Ohio. Did the rest of the guys that re-signed want to be here or to play for Lowry? The guys that haven't signed yet? I have no idea where they will fall now that Lowry is onto a different team. As a result, announcements for returning players might not happen again until the new coach is hired, whenever that might happen. 

As I already said, I honestly think that Mark Lowry had the ability to get Indy beyond just the occasional good season and turn Indy into a perennial contender. Whatever happened between when the announcement of the first group of players returning and today's announcement of Lowry's departure, Indy took a step backwards today.

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