The Orlando Pride announced the promotion of Seb Hines from interim head coach to head coach and have parted ways with Ian Fleming, the club’s general manager. Hines’ appointment to head coach goes into effect immediately and the club announced that he has signed a “multi-year contract” but did not specify the length of that deal. His assistants and staff will be named at a later date.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity and look forward to leading the Pride ahead of the 2023 NWSL season,” Hines said in a club press release. “Orlando is a diverse and dynamic city, and I’m excited to build a team identity that reflects the values of our club and our community — a team that Pride fans can be proud of. It’s an inspiring time to be a part of this organization. We’re creating a competitive environment where players feel heard and supported to succeed. Our ownership group is deeply committed to building a world-class, winning culture, and I’m thrilled to work alongside them to make it a reality.”
“Seb is a talented coach that has demonstrated great leadership and an ability to get the most out of his players, while also establishing an inclusive and competitive team culture,” Orlando Pride Chairman Mark Wilf said in the club’s press release. “He stepped into a difficult position this year, handling it with professionalism and brought about many positive changes both on and off the field for our club. After evaluating what we want the future for the Pride to be, listening to player feedback, and discussing with Seb, it became very clear that he has earned the opportunity to continue leading our club. We are very excited to see what he can keep building with a full off-season and preseason ahead of the 2023 campaign. Seb has been an incredibly dedicated and passionate member of our organization and we are thrilled to have him as the next head coach for the Orlando Pride.”
Hines becomes the fourth full-time head coach in team history, succeeding Tom Sermanni, Marc Skinner, and Amanda Cromwell. He took over the team when Cromwell was placed on administrative leave on June 7 and the Pride played their first game under him on June 12 at Chicago, falling 1-0 to the Red Stars. Orlando was 2-3-2 when Hines took over for Cromwell and went 3-7-5 on his watch over the remainder of the season. He led the team to a surprising seven-game unbeaten streak from July 3 to Aug. 20 (3-0-4) as the Pride climbed into contention for a postseason berth, but then Orlando finished the season on a six-game winless skid (0-5-1), failing to score a goal in four of its last five matches.
The Wetherby, England native holds his USSF A License and has been a member of the Orlando City/Pride organization for eight years, since joining the MLS side as a center back in 2015. He played three seasons with the Lions before retiring and shadowing original Pride coach Sermanni, serving as a volunteer assistant for a couple of seasons before becoming an assistant coach on Skinner’s staff for the 2020 NWSL season, which was unfortunately reduced to a couple of exhibition tournaments due to the pandemic.
At the time of his interim appointment, Hines became the first Black head coach in the NWSL and now makes history as the league’s first-ever Black full-time head coach.
Buried deep in the Pride’s announcement of Hines as head coach, the club also announced that the Pride organization will be restructured and will receive increased investment in staff and resources, expanding player development, analytics, scouting, and medical services. Part of the restructuring of the Pride’s soccer operations department is the departure of Fleming, who became the team’s general manager on Jan. 12, 2021 — just 22 months ago.
“We are appreciative of the dedication Ian has shown to our organization over the last two seasons and, on behalf of the Pride, wish him the best of luck in his next chapter,” Wilf said in the club’s release. “The NWSL is growing at an incredible and exciting rate, and as we move forward it is important that our club remains at the forefront of that trajectory to best position ourselves for success in the future. As an ownership group, we are dedicated to investing in Pride soccer operations more than ever before, including the evolution and hiring of new, key positions on the technical staff.”
Fleming came over from the Houston Dash organization and was tasked with starting a rebuild that he will not have an opportunity to complete. Under Fleming’s watch, the Pride brought in some key players like Gunny Jonsdottir, Megan Montefusco, and Ally Watt. Two players who could have worked out but left — as a result of the alleged mistreatment by Cromwell as described in the joint investigation by the NWSL and NWSL Players Association — were defender Amy Turner and midfielder Angharad James. Fleming also brought in teenage Malta international Haley Bugeja, who is expected to become an important player for the Pride as she develops.
As part of the restructuring of the Pride, the club’s next GM will be expanded to include vice president and general manager of soccer operations responsibilities, overseeing the coaching and support staff and all elements of the club’s technical side. The position will report directly to ownership. The Pride has enlisted the help of advisory firm Bloom Sports to assist in the search for the right executive for the newly expanded position.
What It Means for Orlando
There are few people who are more universally liked than Hines, and it was clear that the Pride responded to him initially when he became interim coach. Many fans were calling for his installment as the permanent head coach during the team’s seven-game unbeaten run but much of that talk subsided during the subsequent six-game winless streak. The Pride have melted down at the end of every full season except the playoff year of 2017, so that part isn’t unique to Hines’ watch.
While the Pride did generally play better after Hines took over, it’s unknowable how much of that was alleviating the stress of being under the control of Cromwell, who was terminated on Oct. 10 when the joint investigation found merit to the charges brought against her. Even during much of the Pride’s unbeaten run, there were some narrow escapes due to opponents missing glorious scoring opportunities.
Hines cannot succeed unless given a competitive roster, so it’s imperative the VP/GM position gets filled quickly. The current roster isn’t likely to get the job done based on [/waves generally at the final six weeks of the season]. And it’s important to note that his head coaching experience spans precisely 15 games. It’s also true that he didn’t have a full staff in place for those 15 games. Hines has shown an ability to get his team to play hard for him, which is important. There have been, in my opinion, some missteps in selection of starters/subs, but that is something that should improve with more experience and a clear plan of how best to use the pieces he has from day one of preseason training. It’s unfair to entirely base his performance in that regard solely from a 2022 season that saw a lot of players injured down the stretch and some new faces (Watt, Haley Hanson, Bugeja) trying to integrate into the side.
While Hines certainly earned this opportunity, he will need to be given a real chance to succeed with a roster that can compete in one of the world’s toughest leagues. Doing player-by-player comparisons of the starting lineup for each Pride match this season turns up very few names on Orlando’s side who would start over their counterpart on the opposing team. There are some extremely promising young players on the side — notably Bugeja, Viviana Villacorta, and Mikayla Cluff — who may develop into the kinds of players other teams struggle to measure up to, and there are some valuable experienced veterans, but there is little acceptable depth and the team still has several positions that simply must be improved. If the new VP/GM can do that, Hines stands a fighting chance of succeeding as the Pride’s gaffer.