Columbus continues its shift into new era with executive restructuring

Columbus chairman and investor/operator Anthony Precourt continued to chart the Crew's new course with the decision to part ways with president Mark McCullers.

Greg Bartram/Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

One of the last remarks Columbus chairman and investor/operator Anthony Precourt made after revealing his decision to part ways with Crew president Mark McCullers on Monday underscored his role within his changing club.

Precourt spent a while fielding inquiries about the move to shepherd McCullers out the door before he responded to a question about how the choice impacted his time commitment to the Crew.

McCullers served as the man on the ground, the business mind in charge of the operations on a day-to-day basis. His departure on April 30 and his immediate removal from his previous duties created a vacancy. Precourt opted to assume the interim role himself – with the support from McCullers until his exit and other front office staffers from that point forward – and increase his daily duties with the Crew for the foreseeable future.

“I’m all-in on this and I’m double all-in now,” Precourt said during a conference call on Monday.

In some ways, this shift is a natural progression along the path of the oft-stated new era for the club. Precourt made substantive alterations shortly after his arrival and pushed even more through as he settled into his role. The fundamental composition of the club has transformed completely: new coach, new president, new structure to look toward the future.

Yet the rather surprising part is how much Precourt participates in these decisions and shoulders the responsibility for them. He offers the latest example of the new wave of investors seeking more direct control over their clubs. This strand of investor/operator – probably best captured by Robb Heineman and Sporting Club in Kansas City, Merritt Paulson in Portland and now Precourt in Columbus and also reflected somewhat differently in Adrian Hanauer’s role in Seattle – engages on a wider scale behind the scenes and provides a focal point for public scrutiny.

Columbus investor/operator Anthony Precourt displayed his engagement in the club with his willingness to make broad and wholesale changes in the early stages of his tenure.

This isn’t a passive investment to them. Directing a MLS side represents something more, a pursuit worth backing on financial, personal and professional levels. It is an intensely personal decision with ample exposure attached. For better or worse, the successes and the failures attach themselves more readily. There is no distance to insulate, no latitude to escape from the positives or the negatives.

Precourt removed the last buffer when he and McCullers decided to part ways well before McCullers’ contract expired at the end of November. The decision arrived during a previously unscheduled meeting over the weekend, according to Precourt. The business commitments – inverted to reflect the demands of selling season tickets and sponsorships – finally dwindled to a precious few and paved the way for a serious discussion about the future. The landscape – including intense local and national scrutiny about a television deal under McCullers’ stewardship – eventually prompted a change to complete the overhaul of the club by making a switch at the top.

“It’s about our future,” Precourt said. “We have a new era, a lot of new opportunity, and Mark’s been at this for over 10 years, which is a lifetime in the sports industry. I don’t think there’s an [executive] in MLS that’s been at his club at that level for that long. Talking to Mark, I think he’s ready for a new chapter in his career as well. In some regards, it was good timing.” 

The new president will focus on the business operations when he arrives in the wake of a predictably detailed and thorough search. There is no pressure to make an immediate hire given the landscape, though Precourt won’t waste any time, either. He said he reached out to MLS commissioner Don Garber and president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, while his willingness to mine contacts elsewhere will undoubtedly produce similar calls over the next few months.

“I think I’m open-minded, in terms of what criteria [we’ll use],” Precourt said. “We’ll count on talking to a lot of people. It’s like finding a spouse: you’ll know when you know. I’m going to talk to a lot of people and we’ll find the right person to lead the Crew in the future.” 

At this nebulous stage of the process, the final selection matters far less than the man standing behind it. This is Precourt’s club now. He grasped the attendant duties when he purchased the club last July and swept through it in the following months with ideas in mind and responsibility on his shoulders. Now it is to time to see where he plans to guide it as this new era unfolds and the Crew prepares for its future.