By Orville Higgins
In a very real way, today is the day of reckoning for Jamaica's football. The implications for what will transpire against the United States tonight are more serious than the casual observer might want to believe. Central to all this is Theodore Whitmore. 'Tappa' may want to play cool on the surface, but don't be fooled: Tonight's results could go a far way in his keeping his job, and he knows it.
Tappa was never the most popular candidate to begin with. Let's face the stark truth. Naming Tappa to coach the senior team was a surprise. He had zero track record as a successful coach at the senior level. He has always lacked the public-relations finesse that is a prerequisite of the job. The only thing that really qualified him was that he was a super player who appeared to do things with effortless ease on a football field. Was that enough?
Many did not think so. I have spoken to more than one local coach who felt that the choice was wrong. In fact, one coach told me that even if Tappa was awarded the job as national coach, it should have been insisted on that he continued coaching a local club side. The coach had a point. It's not often you see someone with practically no championship winning experience at the club level being given a national coaching job.
Coaching, like playing, is about practice. The truth, though, is that he has not disappointed. In fact, he has surpassed expectations. To date, he has coached in five World Cup qualifiers and has yet to lose, winning four and drawing one. He coached the team to back-to-back Caribbean titles, which no other coach has done - not even Rene Simoes in his heyday. Our performance at the last Gold Cup drew rave reviews from many pundits, even though the team did not win.
Despite that, the doubters remain. I digress. In many ways, Tappa reminds me of Junior Bennett. Junior has been the national coach for four of the five years that Jamaica have won the regional four-day title. He has won two regional one-day titles with Jamaica as well. He has won titles at the Under-19 level. He is quite possibly the region's winningest coach at the schoolboy level.
Notwithstanding that record, he has never coached the West Indies at any level. Others with far less experience and with average track records have been pushed ahead of him. The reason, like Tappa, is that Junior speaks and looks and generally conducts himself too much like the average man. Both he and Tappa lack the corporate polish.
NOT THE BEST
So Tappa knows he is not the man they talk about in the hallowed halls of power when the subject of Jamaica's top coach comes up. Ask who is the best football coach in Jamaica and you will hear of the Lenny Hydes, the Andrew Prices, the Vin Blaines, the Geoffrey Maxwells. The name Theodore Whitmore may not even make the top six in terms of public ratings.
Tappa knows that virtually every time he goes out he has to prove himself. The doubters are seeing this USA game as his first real test. Sure, Tappa won three games on the trot in the last campaign. The naysayers will say those were all at home, though, and he was merely inheriting a team that Simoes had moulded. They will not take the Guatemala victory seriously, because that, too, was at home against a team that wasn't offering much.
They point to his 0-0 draw against Antigua as proof that things are not all that great. His Caribbean titles have been scoffed at, because many see this as a natural rite of passage. After all, they see Caribbean football as being nothing but a 'bramble' competition.
Tappa can set all this right tonight. Beat the USA, which no other local coach has done, and he will buy himself some wiggle room. The doubters will have to back off, even for a while. Lose to the USA and his detractors will be baying for his head. Tonight's results can make or break the man, but somehow I feel Tappa may well have the last laugh.
KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to email@example.com.