The San Jose Earthquakes fired manager Dominic Kinnear on Sunday, replacing him with technical director Chris Leitch.
The move comes less than 24 hours after the Quakes defeated Real Salt Lake 2-1 to move into fifth place in the Western Conference. The team also fired assistant coach John Spencer, replacing him with the team's director of methodology Alex Covelo.
"First and foremost, we would like to thank Dominic for his hard work, professionalism and contributions to this club over the years," said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. "He worked hard this year and was a first-class person all the way. This decision was made after a lot of thought and evaluation. We decided that we wanted to go in a different direction as we continue to build the identity of this club."
Leitch, 38, now becomes the ninth head coach in San Jose Earthquake history, after holding a number of posts with the organization since retiring as a player following the 2011 season. He started as the club's academy director in 2012 and was promoted to technical director for the Quakes in 2015. He also served as interim general manager in 2016, following the departure of John Doyle.
"Chris is the ideal person to take this role for the Earthquakes at this time," said Fioranelli. "He has a history with the club and has very good knowledge of our entire development pipeline from the youth teams, through PDL and USL up to the first team. He combines that with a shared vision for the club's identity that we have been developing for the past months. Chris and Alex give us two very good soccer minds with a desire to make this club one of the best in MLS."
After failing to make the playoffs in his first two years with the Quakes, and with Fioranelli arriving in January, Kinnear entered the campaign on shaky ground. But Saturday's win pushed San Jose into the playoff places in the Western Conference, making the timing of the decision curious.
Leitch doesn't have any previous managerial experience, either as an assistant or a head coach. Covelo's coaching experience has come largely at the academy level, and his only head coaching experience came with San Marino in Italy's third tier. He joined the organization in April. They will lean heavily on holdover assistants Steve Ralston and Tim Hanley, who, according to the club, will remain in their posts.
The lack of prior head coaching experience has led to speculation that Leitch is an interim hire. But a club spokesman indicated that Leitch is being given the job on a full-time basis. Leitch, for his part, insisted that his aim was to make the playoffs this season.
"It has been an honor to work with Dominic for the past two-and-a-half years," said Leitch. "I am grateful to have an opportunity to coach at this club. I am looking forward to getting onto the field and working with this great group of players and staff. Our immediate goal is to make the playoffs this year and we can definitely accomplish that if we all work hard together."
Kinnear is a two-time MLS Cup winner, a feat he accomplished with a Houston Dynamo team that relocated from San Jose following the 2005 MLS season. He started his second stint as head coach of the Earthquakes in 2015 and led San Jose to a 27-31-27 record in that time.
Including his first term as head coach with San Jose in 2004 and 2005, his all-time record with the Quakes is 54-45-48. Kinnear led San Jose to the Supporters' Shield in 2005. He improved the club's point total by 17 in his first year over the previous season, but his undoing came in year two, when the team regressed and the organization parted ways with childhood friend John Doyle as GM.
"I would like to thank the ownership group for giving me the opportunity to coach the club," said Kinnear. "I want to thank my staff for all their hard work and I wish the players the best of luck going forward."