The news that Anthony Precourt dismissed Crew President Mark McCullers was a shock, but not surprising. Precourt has been setting his own course for how the Crew should operate and McCullers struggled horribly in the aftermath of the Time Warner Cable Sports Channel television deal.
McCullers legacy is mixed. He's been part of the Crew for 15 years starting with overseeing the development of the first soccer specific stadium in MLS. He became the interim General Manager of the team in 2004, taking the job permanently in 2005.
It's difficult to fully assess McCullers role within the Crew during the Hunt Sports Group years. A byzantine reporting structure often meant that decision making was spread throughout the organization, but he was instrumental in restructuring the business side of the team. He ended the use of ticket giveaways that lead to inflated attendance numbers and devalued tickets. He also brought in some talented individuals that have improved corporate and ticket sales from paltry numbers. The Crew have set records in attendance and corporate income growth in the past several years due to the sales team he's pulled together.
On the field, two decisions stand out. He brought in Sigi Schmid as head coach for the 2006 season and he was key to getting Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Columbus. Schmid was a well regarded coaching candidate around the league after being dismissed by L.A. in 2004. McCullers endeavored to get Schmid in town. The trajectory of the Crew would slowly change.
It wasn't McCullers scouting network that led the Crew to Schelotto, but he put in the legwork to get the deal done. McCullers helped to convince Schelotto that he'd be the perfect fit on the team in a town that would be perfect for him. Schelotto's signing turned out to be a coup as he'd lead the team to MLS Cup a year later.
The goodwill built out of winning would ebb away. McCullers would be front and center when the team cut Schelotto and other popular veterans in a housecleaning after the 2010 season. The last years of Head Coach Robert Warzycha's tenure would further chip away at the positives from 2008.
The Time Warner deal may not have been the last straw for Precourt, but it was with fans. The deal excludes a significant portion of the fan base from being able to see the game live. McCullers came out trying to explain the deal, but struggled to dig out of the damage done. His recent comments to the Dispatch's Adam Jardy cemented the issue. He stated "there is not a blackout" and referred to the deal with TWCSC. While perhaps correct, it only drove a further wedge between the team and the fans.
With the Crew struggling to finish reaching several major goals such as "Goal 10K" and stadium naming rights, McCullers was apparently in trouble. The continued gaffes distracted further from the key goals and Precourt took action. While his contract originally extended until November, McCullers will remain with the Crew until the end of April. He won't be doing much as Precourt took over his duties immediately.
While McCullers tenure ended on a sour note, he did shepherded the Crew through some of the biggest successes the team has ever seen. He leaves the team with three Supporters Shields and an MLS Cup under his belt. He never ducked from fans. Even with many Crew supporters angry over the TV deal, he still waded through the Supporters Group tailgates on Saturday to talk and listen. In the job until the last.