Tim Hankinson era over at Indy Eleven

The Indy Eleven are without a head coach.
Tim Hankinson

Photo credit: Aaron Gunyon/Soc Takes

INDIANAPOLIS — There were signs that this decision was coming and other indications that a decision had already been made. Either way, the Indy Eleven will attempt to carry on without the services of Tim Hankinson. His contract was set to expire at the end of this month and no effort had been made to re-sign the white-haired coach with more than 35 years of experience. The Indy Eleven have now had two head coaches and one interim coach in four seasons of NASL play.

Hankinson led the team for the last two campaigns and was a part of some of the greatest moments in team history. Signed in December 2015, Hankinson was partly responsible, along with Peter Wilt, for assembling and leading the most complete squad in the club’s short existence. He took a club from the basement to the league championship game in 11 months, but the sports world has always been about “what have you done for me lately.” Forget about the home unbeaten record last year. Forget about the spring championship last year. Forget about the come-from-behind win against the Cosmos last year. None of that matters now. Indy is in the basement again and finished dead last in the fall season of 2017.

Hankinson combines accountability with a no-nonsense approach. He is not afraid of honesty and will always share his victories or his disappointments. Perhaps he is a victim of his own success during the 2016 season. Maybe he is too honest or his standards are too high. Perhaps it was only a matter of time. Hankinson doesn’t have a tremendous reputation for longevity in any one location. Two rounds is about all he gets wherever he goes.

Hankinson is hyper-aware of this fact and had begun making half-serious jokes about his potentially short tenure during last year’s end-of-season awards. “Just wait,” Hankinson joked. “I will hit a bad string of games and they will turn on me.” He said it with a smile but he knew there was truth to it. Was this self-fulfilling talk or or just coincidence from from the 2016 North American Soccer League coach of the year? It seems a long way to fall in such a short amount of time.

Last year’s team ultimately fell a few inches short in a championship game that was bigger than Belson. The score shows a draw and the eventual champions were kept off the board for 120 minutes of play. This year’s team was not up to snuff and Hankinson was never shy about explaining that. Hankinson knows the game. He knows the business. He looks back fondly on his time in Indianapolis. Soc Takes had a chance to give him the exit interview he deserves and he had good things to say about the last two years coaching in Indy.

Tim Hankinson

Photo credit: Trey Higdon/Indy Eleven

“As a coach. As a player. We play for the fans,” Hankinson said. “The bigger the crowd, the higher the level of performance and the excitement and thrill of being in the arena of of competition. When I took the position, it was really with the excitement that the fanfare that I had heard about was the best in the league. Through two years, the highs and the lows, the fans never let us down. They were great, supportive and the best in the league.”

It is impossible to describe the Tim Hankinson era without mentioning the 2016 Spring championship and the 4-1 outburst needed to propel the Eleven to an automatic playoff berth.

“With everything on the line and particularly in front of our home fans, to have to outscore your opponent by three when we were not a team built to go out and just outscore people. We completely adjusted our game plan to play a very high pressure game to force turnovers close to their goal. The fact that the players embraced the change and were able to capitalize. It was a miraculous day and a special day.”

Hankinson continued while describing the moments after the final whistle that signified Indy’s claim to the spring championship and the teams first piece of hardware.

“It was almost disbelief…to see the embracing of players and fans. It was almost tearful hugs. I remember Peter Wilt coming up and giving me a bear hug with tears in his eyes. It had finally happened for this club. Those are emotions that you take with you through your career. Great memories that you can look back on an enjoy the moment.”

There wasn’t as much success in year two. Indy’s rash of injuries seemed unending. There were many factors that played into the team’s poor record of wins and loses, but it was impossible to refute the impact that injuries had.

Tim Hankinson

Photo credit: Aaron Gunyon/Soc Takes

“This year we were a bit unlucky,” said Hankinson. “At one time we had as many as seven starters injured. It always seemed like we had three or four guys out for a long period of time. Colin Falvey started the preseason with surgery. Ben Speas had surgery. Nemanja Vukovic had a bleeding kidney from falling on his back. Eamon Zayed had a broken rib that put him out for long periods of time. Craig Henderson never was able to maintain health. Don Smart had two bouts with injury. We had 5 concussions this year.”

Hankinson never mentioned Justin Braun or the star forward’s season ending ankle surgery in this interview. However, Braun was a legitimate NASL Golden Ball contender and the team’s MVP for 2017. It is hard to know what could have been, but his productivity was missed down the stretch. Braun’s absence forced lineup changes and formations that the team just wasn’t built for. Bruan accumulated seven goals and five assists in only 16 appearances.

Hankinson chose to highlight his thoughts on the city instead. One gets the sense that he wants to leave on a positive note.

“Indianapolis is a great city,” Hankinson said. “And a great sports town. I loved the support from the Mayor on down. The support from all of our fans and fan clubs. Seeing our Indy Eleven flag fly high on top of one of the city’s tallest buildings. Everything about it has been a great experience and I’ll miss Indianapolis.”

But it is onto the next one for the 62-year-old who has coached in a half-dozen leagues on three continents.

“For me, I have already had too much time in the offseason,” said Hankinson. “I am ready to get back to the challenge of a new club and I hope that opportunity will open soon.”

Internal conversations have taken place at the Indy Eleven front offices in order to begin the tough task of finding a suitable replacement. Team president Jeff Belskus will lead the search.

“While the NASL is in limbo, clearly that has an impact on us,” Belskus said. “We are focused on the things we can control. What we can control is the Indy Eleven. We fully expect to play next season. We are going to look for coaching candidates. Indy Eleven has a very positive brand and is viewed as a positive place to be. This is a great community to live in. My expectation is that we will have no shortage of candidates.”

Belskus was asked to clarify what league potential candidates might be coaching in. The question seemed to amuse him as though it was a no-brainer. As if there were no logical options available.

“Well, for now we are a part of the NASL and it will stay that way until either the NASL goes away…”

Have you been in conversations, at all, with other leagues?

Belskus replied, “No I have not.”

Follow Aaron on Twitter: @AGunyon.

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