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Sibbald Remains on the Heat's Hot Seat : Soccer: Coach's future with team is still in doubt despite assurances from executives that he will be back.


Bobby Sibbald's status as coach of the Los Angeles Heat received a boost when General Manager Dick White said "Bobby's got this job as long as he wants it."

But Sibbald, who said he has not been contacted by anyone from the Heat, including White, since the season ended in mid-September, still faces opposition from some owners and players.

Said club President John Ajemian: "Some of the owners did not like the way (Sibbald) handled them. He was very difficult to talk to and after a loss he was impossible to talk to."

At least four names have been discussed by owners as a possible replacement for Sibbald and one area coach, who asked not to be named, said he was contacted by a Heat owner about handling the team next season.

"It's time for a change and I think most of the owners feel that way," said part-owner Dave Graefe. "I'm not putting the knock on Bobby. He's a great guy. But a change would do this team good."

However, White said, "There's no truth in the world that (he will be let go) unless he doesn't want to come back."

White and Sibbald have known each other since Sibbald came to California from England about 20 years ago to play for the Los Angeles Aztecs of the defunct North American Soccer League. White worked in the Aztec front office and was present when Sibbald's jersey was retired by the Aztecs.

Sibbald went on to several youth coaching jobs, including stops at Redondo Union High and with a top South Bay club, Torrance United. Sibbald left soccer to enter private business about eight years ago, but he resurfaced as an assistant coach with the Heat in 1989. He assumed the head coaching job last spring.

His mood last season sometimes bordered on being cantankerous. When the Heat qualified for the playoffs, he announced that he would no longer speak to the press, although he broke his silence two weeks later. He also accused a reporter of negative reporting, but phoned the reporter after the season to apologize.

Ajemian said some owners and players were also unhappy with Sibbald's lack of direction at practices. Said one player who asked not to be identified: "I think he should have been harder on us."

Throughout the season Sibbald said that Heat players were "the most talented in the league" and he insisted that he could not drive them as hard as players who were being paid full-time salaries to play. Most Heat players held day jobs and received a stipend for playing with the team.

At a recent owners meeting, Ajemian said he was told by several owners that they were angry that Sibbald did not have the Heat practice penalty kick shooting. Leading in games, 1-0, the Heat lost the second end of the APSL championship series with San Francisco on penalty kicks, 4-2, and went on to lose the title in the ensuing mini-game.

Said Ajemian: "I still say he's a very good coach, but he has to get mentally in to it and dedicate himself more. If he will do that, I will have no problem with him returning."

Other Heat owners did not return phone calls.

At one time last year, Sibbald, who holds a full-time job as a salesman for a hair products company, said he was frustrated with the job and wanted to quit. Sibbald said Tuesday that he changed his mind during the final weeks of the season.

"I think I will be back," he said. "I think Dick (White) expects me to be back, but I haven't talked to any of the owners."

White, who was hired in September, said no contracts have been offered to anyone, including players, although most of the team is expected to return. White said that is standard procedure this time of year.

Sibbald said that if he is rehired he will hold three practices a week, not two, as was the case last season. However, Sibbald said the most pressing issue the team faces is securing a permanent practice facility. Last season the club practiced at four locations.

"We were like Gypsies," he said. "You can't expect players to drive in, some from an hour away, and then not have a place to practice."

As for the squabble over penalty kicks, he said, "I didn't hear anyone complaining when we were winning (games by penalty kicks) during the season."

The Heat won three of four regular-season games decided by penalty kicks.

Sibbald blamed himself for the team's lackluster showing in the first half of the season.

"I was playing players in positions where I shouldn't have been playing them," he said.

He also said the team owners need to communicate better with the coach.

"I told them that the coach should be invited to the owners meetings that they have once a month," he said. "They should listen to him. Have any of them played this game professionally (like me)? We could learn from what happened in the (North American Soccer League). At least they could listen, then decide what to do. Then, after the coach has said what he wants, if they want to do something on their own, they can ask him to leave."

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