Earthquakes make big changes as Dominic Kinnear is ousted as San Jose manager

Dominic Kinnear and the San Jose Earthquakes have parted ways. The move comes after a season of questions about Kinnear’s job security, but bizarrely, the manager is out after picking up a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday night that kept them squarely in a playoff spot.

The move comes just a few weeks after Tom Fox took over as Earthquakes president. He clearly want to move the team in a new direction, but it is still somewhat strange because the team has made strides under Kinnear. The Quakes didn’t just let Kinnear go either, also parting ways with top assistant John Spencer. But they kept the remainder of the coaching staff and named Chris Leitch as the new manager.

Leitch is the team’s technical director, but has no coaching experience. And now he’s going to be working with half of Kinnear’s coaching staff, but not the most experienced ones. It’s a weird setup all the way around.

Kinnear took over as the Quakes boss ahead of the 2015 season, but the team didn’t make the playoffs in either of his first two seasons. That alone would have put his job in jeopardy, but then general manager John Doyle was fired at the tail end of last year. With the general manager who hired him gone, it was almost a surprise that Kinnear was brought back for 2017.

This season was much improved for San Jose. They’ve played some ugly soccer and don’t have many signature wins, but they are fifth place in the West, which is good enough for a playoff spot. While nobody would confuse the Quakes with the league’s best teams, they were improving and in a respectable position. Considering the roster assembled — a decent one, but nothing more than that — Kinnear had the team meeting expectations at the very least.

Kinnear played for San Jose back when they were the Clash in 1997. He eventually joined the team’s coaching staff and, in 2004, was promoted to manager. A strong two seasons saw him establish himself as one of the better managers in MLS, but he went with the team to Texas when they moved to Houston. There, he led the Dynamo to two MLS Cups and two other MLS Cup finals, writing himself into the history books as one of the best to ever manage in MLS.

When Kinnear left the Dynamo after the 2014 season, he made a swift return to San Jose. He was charged with turning the Quakes back around and, while the first couple seasons didn’t go according to plan, there were some signs in 2017. But wins and a playoff spot apparently weren’t enough.