By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Chandler, Ariz.) — The five-season partnership between United Soccer League Championship club Phoenix Rising Football Club and head coach Rick Schantz officially came to an end on Wednesday morning.
Phoenix Rising confirmed in a press release that the club and its longtime coach have "mutually agreed to part ways" as the team fights through a disappointing season. With 10 games remaining, PRFC are four points adrift of a playoff spot in the USL Championship's Western Conference.
“I want to thank the owners, staff and especially all the players I was fortunate to work with these past five years,” Schantz said via statement. “I have put my heart and soul into Phoenix Rising. It’s now time to turn over this amazing club to a fresh voice. I will forever remember the great moments we’ve had together."
Schantz, who held two interim head coaching roles with the team since 2017, has chalked up a record of 80 wins, 34 draws, and 21 defeats. The Tucson native was named Coach of the Year in 2019, and Phoenix Rising finished with the league's best or second-best record in each of the past three seasons. Schantz's 2019 team also produced a league-record 20-game winning streak.
PRFC qualified for the USL Championship final in 2018 and 2020, though Schantz was placed on a three-week administrative leave during the 2020 campaign after the coach appeared to downplay Phoenix player Junior Flemmings's alleged use of a homophobic slur during a match against the San Diego Loyal.
During Schantz's tenure as an assistant and head coach, the club kickstarted a new academy setup for young players with an emphasis on local recruiting. Phoenix-born midfielder Evan Waldrep is one example. Waldrep, now playing for the Syracuse Pulse in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), joined Phoenix Rising in 2018 from Major League Soccer (MLS) side Real Salt Lake's academy in Casa Grande.
In a statement, general manager Bobby Dulle credited Schantz with raising the playing standard "to a whole new level" in the Phoenix metro area, and in the USL Championship as a whole.
"The 20-game win streak, two conference titles, being the highest-scoring team in North America in each of the past three seasons – the success Rick helped this club achieve is astounding," Dulle said. "I want to thank him on behalf of our owners, front office and fans for everything he accomplished at Phoenix Rising. We all wish him the best of luck in the future.”
A difficult season
Though his contract with the club still had two years to go, Schantz's position as Phoenix Rising head coach had come into question following a string of disappointing performances this season.
Prior to the 2022 season, PRFC moved to its new Wild Horse Pass complex in Chandler, but the success they encountered at their old stadium next to Tempe Marketplace did not come along.
As of Aug. 17, Phoenix Rising are 10th in the Western Conference with eight wins in 24 games — including just one from the past 12 games dating back to May 28. Their minus-7 goal difference is the second-worst in the conference, and Schantz had overseen only one home win since mid-May.
Interim coach already named
Phoenix Rising's statement confirmed assistant coach Danny Stone will replace Schantz temporarily as the club kicks off its search for a new permanent coach.
Stone joined PRFC in 2021 after several years as an assistant with Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids and two seasons with the USL Championship's Oklahoma City Energy. He has a bye week to prepare the team for its next game against Locomotive FC in El Paso on Aug. 27.
Phoenix's regular season ends Oct. 15 with a home game against Atlanta United 2.