In the wake of the U.S. men’s soccer team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, head coach Bruce Arena resigned from the position on Friday. But U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said he is not stepping down.
“No, I don’t plan to resign,” Gulati said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s not the right day for me to talk about my personal future plans in terms of the Federation’s presidency.”
Gulati began his remarks by saying, “I certainly take responsibility for us not getting the job done in getting to [the 2018 World Cup in] Russia.” But he did not take the ultimate responsibility.
“Because of … where the sport is now, and the role I’ve played in it, and the role I think I can play going forward if I choose to run,” he answered. “Plus, we have the  World Cup bid.”
He has been under considerable public pressure to resign, either immediately or by announcing that he will not seek re-election when his term as president ends in February. He has held the job for three terms, dating back to 2006.
Gulati said he has not made a decision yet on whether he will run again, then added later that he will make that decision “in the coming weeks.” He also admitted that he has “reached out to people about endorsing me or nominating me in the last few weeks.”
In recent months, multiple candidates have announced that they are running against Gulati or considering it.
There are approximately 1,000 voters in the election, from youth league administrators to professional team executives and former national team players.
By Federation statute, Gulati is a member of the committee that oversees nominations for his job. He said he has “already recused” himself from “all actions” of the committee that have “anything to do with the election,” and has done so regularly in the past.
Arena’s replacement has not been named yet. There will be a short-term hire first. Gulati said that move will be finalized in “seven to 10 days.”
That interim coach will oversee two planned national team friendly games, one definitely in Europe and another likely so.
The bigger hire may take some time to finalize.
“We don’t need a long-term, four-year commitment to a coach by February or March,” Gulati said. “What we need is someone to guide the team in November. That’s a much easier, straightforward decision because it’s a short-term situation.”
Who will make that decision, and the one after it?
“In the end, it’s my final decision, but we have a search committee, we go through a process,” Gulati said.
He added that “three or four” people will have a say in the matter, though he did not name them.
Gulati said the Federation is likely to restore the role of technical director, a combination of general manager and chief philosopher. Former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann added the title to his coaching duties when he got a four-year, multi-million-dollar contract extension in late 2013. There were clear clashes between his goals for the future and the needs of present.
“We do see having two distinct roles if we can find the right people,” Gulati said. He said the technical director job is “a very unique and specific role, and frankly, in many ways harder to fill than the national team coach role. Also, in terms of measuring the success or failure or progress of that role, [that] is a lot harder because it’s a long-term situation.”
As for Arena, he leaves with a significant stain on a resume that had been the best of any coach in American soccer history: a historic run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals and five MLS championships. Now he owns his country’s failure to reach a men’s World Cup for the first time since 1986.
In a statement issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday, Arena said: “When I took the job last November, I knew there was a great challenge ahead, probably more than most people could appreciate. Everyone involved in the program gave everything they had for the last 11 months and, in the end, we came up short. No excuses. We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility.”
Gulati alluded to his own role in the failure — though he didn’t fully own up to it — when he said that “the number of places [where] one can make substantive changes or decisions in my role is relatively limited, but they are big decisions, obviously.”
He also noted that they are “personnel decisions.”
Arena said “questions rightly should be asked about how we can improve.” He also reflected on the positives he has seen in his career.
“I believe in the American player and the American coach, and with our combined efforts the future remains bright,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I can say this from the bottom of my heart: from the high of reaching the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup to the low of a few days ago, I have appreciated every minute of being a part of this program.”
Gulati concluded with a message for fans — and perhaps also for the voters who must decide whether he deserves to keep American soccer’s most powerful job.
“We will do everything we can to get the team, and the program, and all of our teams back on track so that we can be successful,” he said. “We’re not always going to be successful, that’s for sure. But this is a big shock to the system. We understand that, and we understand how much frustration, anger, disappointment and hurt there is.”