To many, Craig Waibel’s rise from Assistant Coach at the University of Washington one year ago to his newly minted role as Technical Director for Real Salt Lake was a quick and unpredictable move through the ranks.
However, to his former teammates with the Houston Dynamo it was as inevitable as the sun setting in the west.
In the Dynamo’s best years, Waibel would routinely convene with fellow veterans Pat Onstad, Wade Barrett and Brian Mullan at a coffee shop and hold court with his teammates. Whether it was in an airport, at the hotel or around Houston, the foursome who referred to themselves as the Coffee Club would get together and talk about the latest news around the league, the next match’s opponent and anything else that came up.
For Mullan, it was Waibel that was the most prominent figure in a group of players that led long MLS careers.
“Craig was the Coffee Club,” Mullan said. “It was just a bunch of the older guys. Whenever we got to the airport we went and got coffee and sat around and shot the breeze. Pat and Craig would talk soccer and players and Wade Barrett and I would sit there and drink our coffee and listen to what they were saying.”
The Coffee Club has long since disbanded as the four paths dispersed in different directions. However, the long-term effect is one that is now peppered around MLS. Onstad has been an assistant coach and scout in MLS for the last four seasons. Barrett just finished his fifth season on the bench as an assistant coach with the Dynamo. And Mullan played five seasons with the Colorado Rapids before retiring at the end of the 2014 season.
Now with Waibel taking the role of Technical Director with Real Salt Lake, the tentacles of the Coffee Club have reached new and different heights.
“We both wanted to be coaching when we were done. I knew he would go that route and it’s been a great route for him,” Onstad said. “It’s no surprise the way his career path has gone.”
During his MLS career, Waibel won four MLS Cup titles, one Supporters’ Shield and one Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Along the way, he befriended teammates, opponents and coaches throughout the league. He not only played an integral role in his team’s on-field success, but also served as an ambassador to his team’s in the community and on the road.
“We called him the Mayor because he seemed to know everybody in town. I don’t think we had a trip in MLS that he didn’t know somebody in some city,” Onstad said, noting the five MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year awards Waibel was awarded.
“He is just an all-around great guy. He’s always trying to help out in the community. He’s a great person and a great friend. For me, there’s no better person,” added Mullan, who believes that Waibel’s contagious work ethic and inclusive personality were key dynamics in all four of his MLS Cup titles. “He wasn’t the best athlete in the world, but he did the work and he was smarter than almost anyone you came across. Combine that with his personality and knowing what people needed and what he could do to help the team … he was a defining factor in winning those championships.”
After 11 seasons in MLS as a player with the Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, Waibel coached at the University of Michigan and University of Washington for three seasons. In January, he was named to the Real Salt Lake coaching staff and now makes the leap to Technical Director.
It has been a winding path that he has navigated with the tenacity he displayed throughout his playing career. Waibel’s former teammates not only knew that he would follow that path, but they predict he will excel as well.
“He’s such a good guy and he works so hard. In my opinion, this is the job for him,” Mullan said. “I’m really proud of him.”