Craig Waibel found himself in the general manager’s chair just one year after landing a coaching gig at Real Salt Lake four seasons ago. All of a sudden, he was tasked with not only overseeing the development of his players on the field, but making sure he made all the right choices to keep RSL competitive for as long as possible.
In the years that followed, there were a bevy of hits — Justen Glad, Albert Rusnák, Damir Kreilach, to name a few — and some misses as well. Those misses, in concert with the team missing the playoffs in 2017 and squeaking into the postseason, led to some speculation about whether he would return. His contract was set to expire Monday.
But that discussion is now over. RSL announced Friday that it signed Waibel to a new multiyear contract, though his last deal was for three years.
“I’m very happy with staying,” Waibel said in a Friday conference call with reporters. “I’m extremely pleased and I understand [owner Dell Loy Hansen] extending this opportunity is a compliment for the work I’ve done and the vision that we share.”
It did go down to the wire. As recently as Nov. 30, Waibel told The Salt Lake Tribune that had not seen a contract offer from ownership, though he hastened to add that discussions between with owner Dell Loy Hansen had been ongoing for some time.
Waibel’s approach to shaping the roster or the rest of the front office won’t change now that he has more job security, he said.
Waibel has been quite busy in the last few days and weeks leading up to his new deal. Albert Rusnák was re-signed to a contract through 2021 and will be a designated player. Defender Danilo Acosta was sent to Orlando City FC on loan in exchange for $75,000 in general allocation money.
Waibel also revealed that discussions have begun to bring back veteran midfielder Luke Mulholland, whose contract option was not picked up by the team.
Waibel was hired as general manager in 2015 after spending a year on the coaching staff. In the last three years, he has placed a premium on developing players from the academy team and signing them to homegrown contracts.
In addition, Waibel has been able to sign impact players such as Rusnák, Damir Kreilach and Nedum Onuoha, all of whom played pivotal roles in RSL’s 2018 playoff push.
He said recently that the club is in the next stage of a rebuild that has spanned nearly three years. He reiterated that plan on Friday, adding that the players he will look to acquire in the offseason are ones with “a bit more experience” and that will bring “immediate impact and leadership” into the locker room.”
“The view going forward is really to pick up a couple of key pieces,” Waibel said. “We need to bring in leadership at this point. We have a great young core on this roster.”
Waibel’s restructuring won’t just occur on the pitch. In reference to a question about former technical director Dane Murphy leaving the organization, Waibel said there will be “more structural changes” in the next couple of months within the front office.
“We’re looking at very specific roles on how we can continue to evolve, how we get sharper,” Waibel said.
Said Hansen, in a news release: “In speaking with Craig about the future of the club, we are collectively very optimistic and excited about the direction of RSL. We share the same commitment to creating the best Academy and player development system in MLS and Craig has been successful in advancing that vision while signing key international players that create a playoff side. We are excited about the future of Real Salt Lake.”