Stephen Hogan is in his first season as head coach of Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC after taking the reins in January 2023 from former USL Championship Coach of the Year finalist Brendan Burke. Hogan is a native of Dublin, Ireland, who began his tenure with the club in 2021. He had worked with Burke for many years prior to their time in Colorado Springs and joined the Switchbacks staff with Burke. When Burke returned to Major League Soccer as an assistant coach for Houston Dynamo FC, it was a natural transition for the club to select Hogan for the lead role.
“When considering who would take the reins and be named our fourth official head coach in club history, there was only one choice in mind for us: Stephen Hogan,” said Switchbacks President Nick Ragain in a press release at the time. “Stephen has been intimately involved with about every technical detail over the past two years including the building of our 2023 roster. He has served the organization incredibly well, has a strong support staff in place, and personal experience with most of our new players. The whole organization has great respect for Stephen’s abilities, and we anticipate great success.”
With the bar set high after the Switchbacks reached the 2022 Western Conference Finals for the first time in club history, Hogan and the club have high goals. At midseason, the Switchbacks are 9-9-1 (6-2-1 at home) and sit in fourth place in the USL Western Conference standings after a July 4 victory against Monterey Bay FC. We figured it was a good time to sit down with Hogan to discuss the coaching transition, the 2023 season so far, and his life in Colorado Springs.
Springs: Tell us about the transition to head coach in January. What has that change been like?
Stephen Hogan: The change might not have been as bad as people think because I’d been with Brendan for so long. So the transition was always there. I’d always been his right-hand man, you know, and I did a lot of different things for Brendan off the field as well. So that sort of admin — admin is the wrong word — but that sort of connection with the front office was there immediately.
Has this felt like a transitional year?
In that mold, because I’m doing a lot of the same stuff that I had to do last year — off the field stuff — but also now we’re making a lot of decisions on the team, the training, scouting, recruiting. So, yes, in that regard, but with an existing idea of what we’re going to look like in the future and building a foundation off what we’ve already learned. That’s been massive for us as individuals and as a new group even though we’ve worked together for years. But it’s a moment when we need to step back and assess and then adjust into what we need for the future from the ground up, with the academy, the first team, community and so on. And we’re doing it right now.
The biggest change of all is Hadji [Barry] left, Michee [Ngalina], Elvis [Amoh] left, Cam Lindley left. That core left for good reasons. That’s part of our job too, but to replace them in 12 months or less than 12 months is near impossible though we’re giving it a good go. That is the next step that will never really stop. It just continues on into the next group and into a core group and then we’re adding to it.
Tell us about your coaching style and perspective, and a few key things that you’ve incorporated.
Me and Brendan built our PDL (USL League Two) program together in Reading, Pennsylvania, and made it a powerhouse. The idea of a fast, aggressive pace came from there — especially at home. The only real difference is that we have a little bit more IQ, let’s say, or a little bit more football in the roster this year, so we try to incorporate that a little bit more because we have to. The roster of this changeover is a little bit older, a little bit more experienced. So the idea of giving them a little more freedom in terms of how we play is there with the ideas that we work on during the week.
What other coaches and managers have been an influence on you?
Some big names in U.S. Soccer, Brendan being one of them. Jim Curtin, coach of the year in Major League Soccer last year. In terms of off the field, Earnie Stewart [former U.S. Soccer Federation Sporting Director]; Chris Albright [general manager at MLS club FC Cincinnati] and Pat Noonan [head coach] at FC Cincinnati. The current interim head coach at the U.S. [men’s] national team, B.J. Callaghan, is a friend of mine. He’s a fantastic human being and a fantastic coach. He’s actually Zoom called me once or twice, just given us ideas of what the U.S. national team are set up right now. It’s fascinating stuff. But those are four or five names that are massive names in the world of U.S. soccer. So you take a little bit of all that.
Some of the names I’ve learned from — I’m very lucky, very humble about being around those people and their always being willing for a phone call whenever I need it, especially when I took over. Because they know what I want to do in the game.
It’s a small world sometimes.
To a certain extent for sure. It’s good seeing B.J. on the TV. I told him to change his wardrobe a little bit.
We’re about halfway through the season. The Switchbacks are middle of the pack, and in a playoff spot. How do you assess where you are right now?
The nine losses we think about. We don’t talk about them much, but we think about it as staff. You have to, because four of them should be draws at least. And the understanding of what we’re learning and what we’re hearing is that if you just finish your chances in the first half, games are over. But that becomes frustrating for a group and a staff because that tells everyone you’re doing nearly everything the right way as best you can with the group you have. We’re in games and we’re dominating certain games, but we’re not getting a result. So we just flipped it into the second half of the season: How many wins can we get at home because we’re very good at home and how much can we nick on the road? We made it that simple.
What does a successful second half of the season look like to you?
Top four. It’s a big ambition, and we’re very honest and open about it with the players. But if you get a home playoff game, if you get to the fourth spot, that’s a successful year for sure. With the group that we have and the transition that we’re in, if we get into playoffs and we’re going to cause anyone damage or danger — where no one wants to play us — we’re in it. If we have to go on the road, that’s fine. But the top four would be our ambition.
Any particular highs from the season so far?
I love the Charleston away game [a 2-1 road win on April 19] because they were red hot at that moment, and they’re still red hot. We were their first loss. That was a big test for us as a group. We scored within three minutes, and then after the lightning delay we sort of just dominated the game and deserved the win even though we let them back into it. And then the Orange County one [a 4-0 win at home on June 10] was us. Orange County is what we can do against anyone. That was a highlight because 95% or 90% of the whole execution of the plan went well. From the prep film and the prep discussions during the week leading up to it, it was like — that happened, that happened, that happened.
What do you like to do outside of soccer, and what do you like about living here?
I went to SunWater Spa last night with my parents — they’re in from Ireland — that’s fantastic. They loved it. I’ve done it a few times now. My wife is outdoorsy, so we do as much as we can when I can. Other than that, it’s hanging around with your friends and all that sort of stuff. I’ve got a fire pit out the back, so I like doing that. We try and do little trips like twice through the season before the offseason hits.
I did the Incline a few times. Nearly died the first time. Me and Brendan did it. We had to turn around halfway; it was hilarious. But all that little stuff that when you live somewhere, you wouldn’t tend to do — in Colorado Springs, you actually do it.
I brought my parents to Seven Falls. I’ve done that a few times now, but the restaurant wasn’t open before. 1858 — that is unbelievable! My dad has a new camera, so he was all over the place. Those types of things you make the effort to do because the scenery here is unbelievable. I’ve done Pikes Peak a few times too. I do enjoy living here.
See the Switchbacks
The Switchbacks 2023 season continues through Oct. 14. Check out the schedule, and check out a game.