It felt for so long like Rick Schantz and Phoenix Rising were synonymous. The coach from Tucson was on the touchline for each of Rising’s greatest accomplishments.
He was there as Didier Drogba helped launch the club to its first USL final. Schantz stood on the touchline as his side won game after game in 2019, shattering national records while winning a regular-season title. He took charge as the club saw a second final appearance cancelled, falling victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those accomplishments felt like distant memories during a stretch in which the team produced just one win in two months this season. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports world, that performance spelled the end of the Schantz era on Wednesday. With the team sitting outside of the playoffs with just 10 games remaining, Rising parted ways with its coach.
Schantz quieted the doubters during his Rising career. He struggled at the start of the 2019 season, his first in full control of the club., but his side turned things around, smashing the North American record for consecutive wins. His supporters frequently looked back on those moments to bolster support for staying the course.
Cracks started to appear, however. Last season, Rising put on a disappointing playoff performance that saw the squad crash out at the first hurdle. Even so, Schantz enjoyed the confidence of the Rising board. He entered this season with a fresh, three-year contract extension.
The 2022 season ultimately exposed problems within the Rising camp that Schantz was incapable of remedying with any speed. A poor start led some in the crowd to clamor for change. While players such as Jonathan Levin and Manuel Madrid departed the club under his direction, Schantz batted off speculation about his own future.
“I’m on contract for two more years,” he said, following a second road defeat to Vegas within the year.
Those comments weren’t isolated, capping off a pattern of defensiveness. There were cagey responses on speculation of player transfers. There were dismissals of incidents of the fans in the south end chanting for him to depart as “emotions.” Even last season, he blew off of a poor stretch of form as the players being on “vacation” since winning the division title.
Disputes within the locker room this season rarely stayed confined. Talk of discontent spread, a sign of the depth of feeling among those who had previously displayed loyalty to management. The team alternated between struggling on attack and struggling on defense. The one constant was the club’s status as one of the worst sides in the league with the ball at its feet.
To cap it off, Rising’s flat, bordering on formation-less, outing at Orange County saw the squad lose to the last-place team; one that had tasted victory just once in more than two months.
Schantz said that the team needed to “put up or shut up.” Its failure to do the former had consequences.
Where does the club go from here? As assistant coach Danny Stone takes the reins as interim, it’s clear that he isn’t the answer for the long term. Instead, talks with other candidatess are taking place, with an eye toward a new coach for next season. Rising’s status as one of the titans of USL, albeit a fallen one this year, will no doubt help in recruitment.
Change comes with more questions, however. For years, Rising played Schantz’s attacking brand of football that was easy on the eye. It was the scourge of defenses across the USL Championship. Will that ideal remain? Until a new coach is in place, it’s hard to tell.
As the sun sets on the Rick Schantz era with Rising, we must not forget the good times. Trophies were lifted. Beers were drunk. Other clubs across the country were reminded, repeatedly, that Phoenix Rising wasn’t to be messed with.
This season of mediocrity has led to change, but does it wipe out all of the accomplishments of the past? That’s something only the club’s fans can decide.