After D.C. United on Tuesday announced Kevin Payne, the only top executive the club has ever known, was stepping down as president and CEO, I had the opportunity to take part in a conference call with Payne and also chat on the phone with coach Ben Olsen.
To supplement my story on Payne’s departure running in today’s paper, here are some additional quotes from the duo that didn’t make it into the article:
On leaving the club:
“I began this adventure back actually in the spring of 1994, when we first started work on it. It’s been quite a wonderful ride in the intervening years. It’s always difficult but always exciting to have change, and I think this is the right time for me personally, and I think it’s a good time for D.C. United, for a change like this. This is something that was 100 percent my doing. I have new opportunities I want to explore, new adventures I want to undertake.
“The excitement is tempered by a pretty deep sense of sadness too. I spoke to the staff today, and it was quite emotional for me. When I spoke to the team after the game, and nobody obviously knew at that point — I already knew that there was a good chance I was going to leave — I was quite emotional there. But I didn’t want to burden the players with why. So for me, this is a strange day — not necessarily a day I ever thought I would see.”
On how his departure unfolded:
“For some time, I have been thinking about whether it was time for me to seek a new challenge, and whether D.C. United’s interests could be better served by new thinking. I have tried to be very open in the way I think about things and tried not to get too hung up on a certain way of doing things. But I think we all are guilty of that at some level. The initial idea of this opportunity came up about six weeks or so ago. I sat down and discussed it with [co-owner] Jason [Levien]. He encouraged me to do whatever I thought was the right thing for me, which I appreciated.”
On how he expects United to change:
“Well everything will be different. It’s up to everybody here to make sure that it’s all better. There’s very good leadership. There’s really a lot of talented staff here. Obviously, Dave Kasper and Ben Olsen and the coaching staff, that’s what people on the outside know more about. But there’s a really, really good group of people both at the executive level and the levels of the staff below that who are terrific. They’re imaginative, young, really vibrant people who care deeply about the club.
“It’s going to be different, obviously. I’ve been the voice and the face and the conscious, if you will, of D.C. United since 1994. So there’s no way it can’t be different. That can be a very good thing.”
On how his decision was influenced by the new ownership group’s stability:
“That was pretty important to me. I have a very paternal about the people who work here. I feel protective of them, I feel very responsible for them. I’ve certainly had plenty of people approach me over years looking at other opportunities, whether it was in soccer or other sports. But I just felt like the time was right.
“I think that now [previous sole investor] Will [Chang] has partners in Jason and Erick [Thohir], it was something I felt very comfortable about. Clearly the team on the field is on the right track. Clearly, the team’s relevance and credibility in the marketplace has been restored.”
On Payne’s departure:
“I’m excited for him and his opportunity. He’s had a huge impact on this club, and now that he’s gone, I think everybody else will have to step up a little bit and fill in his big shoes.”
On Payne’s hands-on nature regarding personnel:
“Soccer is Kevin’s passion. He loves to talk about the game, he loves to talk about our team. I’ve always enjoyed that, the dialogue, the back and forth that we’ve had. I’ve never been forced to pick a player or change my lineup or do anything other than I wanted to do since I’ve gotten here. I can’t speak to before me, but I have been given confidence to make decisions down here with Dave Kasper.”
On Payne’s impact with United:
“He loves this club, he’s been loyal to it, and he’s had a lot of success with this club. I don’t think there are many people around like Kevin.”