New Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington not letting NWSL shutdown stop his work

Craig Harrington started his new gig as the head coach of the Utah Royals FC just three months ago. He was barely getting into the swing of things, naming a new captain and getting to know all of his players.

But after COVID-19 forced the National Women’s Soccer League season to suspend after just a few days of preseason, Harrington has been left without a team to actually coach — at least not in the traditional sense. Even as the Royals started voluntary individual sessions last week, Harrington isn’t currently allowed on the field for them, per league rules.

So in an effort to feel involved, the new Royals coach has shown up to America First Field in between workout sessions, a window of time called the “cleanup period.” He’s also arrived before the players and helped set up cones, move goals and ensure safety protocols are being met.

But despite Harrington’s limited involvement in coaching the team, he’s not letting the NWSL hiatus go to waste. In some ways, he’s actually busier than he normally would be at this point of the season.

“I feel like it’s never-ending right now,” Harrington said Tuesday during a Zoom call with media.

Harrington was entering his first season as an NWSL head coach. He worked as an assistant in Chicago prior to his arrival in Utah. Before that, he had a formative experience with the Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association.

But the England native had yet to run his own pro team. Nevertheless, Harrington isn’t letting the lack of games or practices get in his way. He said he’s found value in this time — getting to know his players and other staff on an individual level, participating in Zoom calls and workouts, and getting across his overall vision for the team.

“It’s also given me time to really establish my principles and express those with the players individually — so maybe they get a greater understanding in the roles and responsibilities they expect within the team,” Harrington said.

Harrington and the rest of his staff have spent time watching video, ironing out set pieces, studying other teams and solidifying Utah’s principles of play. And that’s just with the members of his staff who are currently in the state.

One coach is still stuck overseas. But even he’s putting in work, allowing a 24-hour coaching cycle.

“When I go to bed, that coach is working,” Harrington said. “When I wake up, there’s a bunch of work and then I continue from there.”

There is one drawback to the current time: Harrington is without his wife and two daughters, who are in Chicago. While he said it “sucks” not having them around, the plan was always for his family to stay there until June 1 so his daughters can finish the school year. Harrington said the plan is still for his family to arrive in Utah early next month.

Even though he’s not coaching in the manner he’d like, Harrington is still learning some lessons. He said he’s learning how to manage his time, especially as he’s found it difficult to “turn off the switch.” He’s also learning ways to empower and trust the other members of his staff, and balance when to check up on people and when to give them space

In early March, Harrington appointed Amy Rodriguez as the team’s captain, replacing Becky Sauerbrunn, who was traded to Portland during the offseason.

The NWSL has been said to potentially return at the end of June. Harrington believes whichever way the season resumes, it will be shortened and travel will be as limited as possible.

Beyond that, Harrington is putting his focus on getting his team as ready as possible.

“Until anything is set in stone and [NWSL Commissioner] Lisa [Baird] gets on the phone and tells us, I’m just preparing the group as best we can so that when we are ready to go, we go,” Harrington said.