FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the first time in a decade, the initials emblazoned on the training top of the Revolution head coach were not "SN." And the instructions from head coach to player did not have a Scottish twinge to them.
Those were among the many notable differences on Monday as the Revolution commenced their first preseason with rookie head coach Jay Heaps -- or “JH” on his navy blue training shirt -- in charge of the team that Steve Nicol guided from 2002 to 2011.
Although Heaps, who played under Nicol from 2002 to 2009, may have absorbed some of the same philosophies of his former coach, he made it known to his players that he would introduce a new approach right from the start.
“I want to give them a fresh start,” Heaps said. “I want them all to feel that they’re coming in here with a new set of eyes on them and a new set of responsibilities, and it may not be the same as they have played in the past.”
Some of those responsibilities may include positional shifts and additional leadership duties -- things that Heaps alluded to during the offseason.
Another sign that there’s a new sheriff in town? In the past at the start of preseason, the team focused on fitness rather than technique; now, that practice will be reversed.
“We’re going to be more technical in how we go forward,” Heaps said. “We want to build how we’re going to play into the preseason.”
To emphasize that idea, Heaps and his coaching staff introduced his players to something they may not have grown accustomed to seeing during the first week of preseason: a ball.
“I think we touched the ball on the first day for the first time in my 10 years here,” quipped captain Shalrie Joseph. “We just worked on jogging and fitness for the first week. It’s different, but you can tell Jay’s excited and everyone’s excited about the changes.”
Some of those changes also include the team’s collective mentality right from the start. With Heaps at the helm, the focus will be on the regular season from Day 1 rather than slowly adjusting to the pace of regular practice. It’s an attitude that Heaps hopes will improve a squad that squandered some of its best chances all too often last year.
“We want to get the players thinking,” Heaps said. “About being a possession-oriented team, about how we’re going to attack, and how we’re going to get forward along with how we’ll defend. Those are important things to start dealing with now as opposed to [when] the season starts.”
Another thing Heaps hopes to integrate is a sense of identity, something that the Revolution clearly lacked last year amid the strings of defensive struggles and offensive ineptitude.
“We need to form an identity,” Heaps said. “I think we, as a coaching staff, have an idea of where want to take this team and we have to get them to buy into that. We want to get them to believe in what we’re trying to do.”
Of course, getting them to buy into Heaps’ coaching philosophy rests heavily upon one of the concepts Heaps preached in his introductory press conference: accountability.
Gathering his players for the first time on Monday morning, the first-year head coach impressed upon them the need to prepare and the responsibilities required in order to improve on the team's five-win season in 2011.
“It was really about accountability,” Heaps said. “We want to hold ourselves accountable as a staff and we want to hold the players accountable. They have the commitment. Now, it’s about giving them the tools to succeed.”