Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Head Coach Tim Hankinson has spent the past few months preparing for the club's inaugural season in USL League One.
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Head Coach and Technical Director Tim Hankinson knows what it takes to lead an expansion franchise to the top in its inaugural season.
After all, he’s done it before.
In 2011, Hankinson was hired to lead the San Antonio Scorpions into the club’s first season and spent the following months constructing a roster that could contend straight away. Hankinson’s Scorpions amassed a 13-8-7 record and finished atop the league’s regular-season table in 2012 before exiting the playoffs in the Semifinals.
“If the pieces are right, the team is motivated and you have a little luck running your way, then there’s no reason not to expect the team to win in the first year,” Hankinson said earlier this week. “I know that the perception of expansion is often, you’re going to take your lumps the first few years but going back to the third year of MLS with the Chicago Fire and Bob Bradley, they won the MLS Cup in their first year.”
Hankinson hopes to enjoy that same success this season after being handed the reigns to Red Wolves SC last September. Since then, the vastly experienced Head Coach has been hard at work evaluating talent and constructing the team’s inaugural roster.
“When you start a new franchise, it’s just a blank canvas and you have to create in your own mind a vision of what you think you can be, what kind of players you think you can attract and analyzing how the budget will be spread out,” said Hankinson. “Of course, we want to win, so we have to sell that vision.”
The 63-year-old, who came to Chattanooga after previous stints with Montego Bay United and Indy Eleven, has succeeded in selling his vision. The Red Wolves SC roster currently sits at 17 players, with 11 of them bringing USL Championship experience to the club.
That’s no coincidence.
“I believe that in order to win at the level you’re at, you need players that have experience at the level above,” said Hankinson. “There are guys that maybe in the Championship level, their experience did not work out to meet their ambitions as a player. I think what we’ve offered them is the opportunity to come in here and show that your former club didn’t have it right and that you were right as a player to expect more and to know that your level of performance could meet higher standards.”
Hankinson believes that Red Wolves SC has identified a group of talented players that also have something to prove in 2019. Among that group coming down from the Championship are former USL Cup winner Tony Walls, who was limited to 13 starts for Saint Louis FC last season, and forward Eamon Zayed, who scored eight goals for the Charlotte Independence but made just 12 starts in 2018.
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Head Coach Tim Hankinson believes that forward Conor Doyle - seen here with Championship side Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC - could be a major contributor to his side this season. | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado S
Another player that Hankinson is hoping to get the best out of this coming year is forward Conor Doyle. The McKinney, Texas native started his career with English club Derby County before making his way back across the Atlantic to join MLS side D.C. United. Doyle made 56 appearances for the club over three seasons, most of which came in a reserve role. He joined the Colorado Rapids in 2016, spending time on loan with Championship side Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, before moving on to Puerto Rico FC and Jacksonville Armada FC.
Hankinson believes that Doyle, who is still just 27 years old, has the ability to play at highest level of American soccer and is hoping that a successful season with the Red Wolves will revitalize his career while helping Chattanooga climb the table.
“He’s looking at this as a real chance to resurface and got back on people’s radar,” Hankinson said of Doyle. “If guys have the opportunity to move up, if MLS comes knocking then that’s a great thing and means we’re doing a great job.”
However, Hankinson knows there’s plenty of work still to do before reaching that point.
While he has assembled arguably the deepest and most-talented squad in League One – which also boasts accomplished Irish midfielder Steven Beattie and 2013 USL Championship Defender of the Year Colin Falvey – there’s still the small matter of getting his team to play as a cohesive unit.
With the calendar turning the page to February and the club’s opener at North Texas SC on March 30 coming closer into view, that challenge poses the biggest obstacle for Hankinson to overcome as players begin to report to Tennessee for preseason camp.
“Getting a brand-new group of players, most of whom have not played together before, to learn to fight for each other and earn each other’s respect and be ready to go into battle,” said Hankinson. “That’s what the preseason is about and the preseason games, is building that bond so that the respect the guys earn from the hard work and dedication that they see out of each other turns into a bond of teammates that won’t let each other down and will fight to defend each other.”
Hankinson knows it’ll take some time to reach that point but is hoping that the combination of his creative vision and his players’ determination culminate in the Red Wolves lifting a trophy at the end of the season and creating a bond with the city that they’ll never forget.
“We’re hoping that the fans will rally behind us and embrace the team quickly so that we can fill the stadium for our home matches. That crowd atmosphere, as a coach and a player, is what we live for.”