Jonathan Kraft, whose family business includes two professional sports franchises, says his soccer coach would be an asset to the parent company’s manufacturing, real estate or private equity units, too.
The president of Boston-based Kraft Group, which also owns the New England Patriots, said he could easily switch New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps into any role in his 5,000-employee organization that does business in 80 countries.
“Jay is one of the select few who we would feel comfortable putting into any business situation that we have and feeling that he could add value,” said Kraft, whose father, Robert, is the company’s chief executive officer.
Unlike many coaches -- even three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick of the Patriots -- the 37-year-old Heaps has a background in sports and finance. A former Morgan Stanley private wealth manager, his college athletics experience included four years as a walk-on player with Duke University’s basketball team and its Hall of Fame coach, Mike Krzyzewski, which he said was more like an apprenticeship for his future job. Heaps also won college soccer’s highest honor.
The Krafts hired a familiar face last year when they plucked the former Revolution player from Morgan Stanley’s private wealth unit to become their manager, a term used in soccer’s English Premier League and one that team President Brian Bilello says better fits the position’s day-to-day responsibilities in these times of salary cap management and statistics-driven player evaluations.
“Running a team at the professional level is not just about coaching anymore,” said Bilello, a former soccer player at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who previously worked as a management consultant at Bain & Co. in the retail, consumer products and entertainment industries. “There’s so much more complexity. It helps framing that conversation with someone like Jay.”
The Revolution won nine games in Heap’s first season in charge, up from five the year before. They won 14, losing 11 with nine draws this season, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“He inherited a turnaround and very quickly put us in a very strong position.” Kraft said in a telephone interview. “His intellectual horsepower, interpersonal skills and common sense make him unique.”
Growing up the son of a community bank owner in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Heaps said in an interview that he always figured he’d end up working in wing tips, not cleats.
“I was always around the banking industry,” said Heaps, whose Revolution tonight face Sporting Kansas City in the second leg of their two-game playoff series in Kansas after winning the first game 2-1. “Big preparation for finance, whether investment banking or private equity.”
Heaps arrived at Duke in 1995, a year before the launch of what at the time was a 10-team MLS, a league that has since attracted international stars that include David Beckham and Thierry Henry and commanded a $100 million fee for an expansion franchise in New York. MLS now has 19 teams and, according to the players association, an average salary of about $165,000.
Because there was no established U.S. professional league, Heaps as a teenager never envisioned a career in soccer. He won the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s equivalent of college football’s Heisman Trophy, as a Duke senior in 1998.
While soccer enabled the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Heaps to showcase his fleet feet, his basketball success was more about acumen than athletic ability, said former Blue Devils teammate Shane Battier, who now plays with LeBron James on the National Basketball Association-champion Miami Heat.
“When you’re at a considerable disadvantage size-wise, you better have a brain,” Battier said in an interview. “Heaps could be a CEO, sure. He’s the sort of guy who’ll be successful in whatever he wants to do, whatever his passion is.”
That sentiment is echoed by Krzyzewski, winner of four National Collegiate Athletic Association championships, tying him with Adolph Rupp for second-most behind John Wooden’s 10. Even though Heaps was a walk-on who scored just eight points in his career, he garnered so much respect from teammates who would go on to the NBA that he could’ve been team captain, said Krzyzewski, known as Coach K.
“He’s like a catcher in baseball, the chatter box of a team,” Krzyzewski said. “He felt the pulse of the team all the time.”
Heaps said he took notice of the coach’s detailed preparation, something he’s adopted with the Revolution.
“Players knew they were ready so they could just focus on playing,” he said.
Heaps, who graduated in 3 1/2 years, originally majored in economics with a minor in history but flipped the two because of a scheduling conflict with basketball practice.
As a senior, he interviewed at Morgan Stanley (MS), but passed on the opportunity to play professional soccer at a starting salary of about $45,000.
“Definitely a pay cut,” Heaps said with a chuckle. “I never played soccer for the money.”
While MLS players aren’t paid at the same level as their counterparts in the National Football League or NBA, salaries are going up -- in part because of Heaps. He was a player representative to the union, helping to negotiate a five-year labor contract in 2010 that increased payroll budgets by more than 34 percent and minimum salaries by 42 percent.
“His business acumen was a real asset,” Jon Newman, union general counsel and a partner in the Washington law firm Sherman Dunn Cohen Leifer & Yellig PC, said in a telephone interview.
While playing professional soccer, Heaps sharpened that acumen through an internship at Morgan Stanley, where he said he matched wits with MBAs from Columbia University, Dartmouth College and Georgetown University.
Heaps performed so well that the company offered him a full-time job on the same day his 11-year playing career ended in 2009. He wound up working in Morgan Stanley’s Boston office alongside Jim Geraghty, 50, an executive director in the firm’s private wealth group, who said his friend and former colleague’s potential was -- and is -- limitless.
“Jay would have gone very far in finance,” Geraghty said in a telephone interview, noting that he will be asking for free tickets should the Revolution advance. “He’s one of those people who has it all.”
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