Seb Hines took over as the Pride's interim coach for 15 games in 2022. (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

The Orlando Pride have promoted interim manager Seb Hines to a permanent head coaching role, signing him to a multi-year contract to lead the club into the 2023 season.

Formerly an assistant coach with the Pride, Hines took over as interim head coach for 15 games in 2022 after Amanda Cromwell was suspended and placed under investigation for allegations of workplace misconduct. At the time of his interim appointment, Hines became the first Black head coach in the NWSL, and now he makes more history as the league’s first-ever Black full-time head coach.

“After evaluating what we want the future for the Pride to be, listening to player feedback and discussing with Seb, it became very clear that he has earned the opportunity to continue leading our Club,” said Pride chairman Mark Wilf.

Orlando announced other infrastructural changes on Friday, including expanding the General Manager position to become Vice President and General Manager of Soccer Operations and committing more resources to player development, analytics, scouting and medical services. As part of the restructuring, the club parted ways with GM Ian Fleming. The changes come one month after the NWSL terminated the contracts of Cromwell and Pride assistant coach Sam Greene after an investigation substantiated claims of retaliatory behavior.

Prior to the announcement, Just Women’s Sports spoke with Hines about the appointment, charting a new team culture and his vision for a revamped Orlando Pride.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Let’s start with your opening thoughts on the incoming coaching announcement.

I’m just super grateful for the opportunity to lead this team in the next couple of years. I’m really, really grateful for Mark and the board and ownership to trust me in this process. I know it comes with a great responsibility, and I’m just really, really excited to get going and just really want to make the city proud. Now we can create something where the public can be excited about coming and watching the Orlando Pride.

Can you describe what your journey has been like from joining the squad as an assistant coach to taking this next step?

Yeah, so I retired [from Orlando City] at the end of 2017. And as it worked out, the Orlando Pride were training at the same facility as we were playing, so I was very close to [former Pride coach] Tom Sermanni. A lot of credit goes to Tom because he took a chance on me, coming out and watching training and being a part of training. My first year I volunteered, and then Marc Skinner came in and I asked him if I could still volunteer just to be a part of it. The third year, Mark took me on as a second assistant. From that moment, I was in it. Marc moved on, Becky Burleigh came in, and then obviously Amanda Cromwell came in last year. So, this would be my fifth year with the club.

Having seen a number of coaches go in and out, what do you think the value is to having someone who knows the club so well leading the team?

I think it’s not just me knowing the club; it’s knowing the organization, knowing the people. I’ve been here eight years now, so I’m in and around people constantly with my son playing youth soccer and my kids going to school. I get to get a feel for the city and the people. One thing I want to do is create an environment and a team that people are proud of and they know what they’re gonna get — an identity and a philosophy that everyone knows, when they see an Orlando Pride player, team, they know exactly what they’re gonna get.

So, I think like you said, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve seen multiple coaches come in and leave. And I think it’s just going in there and doing it my way and seeing if it progresses and gets better. We got a little taste of it towards the end of the season. It’ll be nice to start day one and hit the ground running straightaway.

In the second half of the 2022 season, the Pride turned into a gritty team that became difficult to play against. What further principles are you hoping to implement with the squad now that you’ll have a full preseason with them?

Like you said, we were harder to beat. I think we had to build a foundation to get results in games. Now, there’s no hiding place — we conceded too many goals and we didn’t score enough goals. So everything in the two boxes wasn’t good enough. I felt like when we did take over, we tried to control the middle. We tried to control with possession. I think we got more passes than we usually get and we weren’t as transitional. And some of our goals were beautiful, like they were really good goals.

I think what you’re gonna find next year is we’re building on what we created — have more grit, more determination, play with no fear, just go out there and give everything right from the start, and ultimately put the ball in the back of the net. Because we do create good goal-scoring opportunities, but ultimately we are going to get judged on goals and results.

Orlando finished the season 10th in the NWSL standings but rebounded from a 2-2-5 start. (Courtesy of the Orlando Pride)

Are there any particular players you view as part of that core, whether young players or players you brought in last season?

We did a big revamp toward the end of 2021. It allowed us to have younger players come in and get minutes and get that experience under their belts, playing against some top teams, against top individuals. So for them now to have that experience to then go into next year knowing that, “This is what the league is about, this is what I need to step up to,” you can’t replace that.

Some of our younger players are getting full 90-minute games and coming off the bench and making an impact, so we had to rely on them a lot in this last year. I think it will only help us moving forward. Obviously we’ll look to add more players to our roster and become a real competitive team in 2023.

There’s been a lot of conversation in recent years about how off-the-field culture shows up on the field. Where would you say the locker-room culture was at the beginning of last year and what changed between the beginning and end of last year? And what sort of cultural principles would you like the team to have that carry over to the on-field performance?

I think one thing that we want to do right from the start within the first week is define our core values, define our culture. I think we did a little bit of it when we took over to try and define who we were, but I think that can be done in preseason. And that’s going to be a very important piece of it. As we move forward and as we look at 2023, it’s making sure that everyone’s on the right page. Everyone’s going in the right direction. And we saw bits of that last year, but I feel like that can be a real collective effort from everyone within the coaching staff to the players, and everyone’s just bought into what we’re going to try and do next year.

That was the most encouraging thing for us, because we recognized that we weren’t a team of individuals. We were a team that had to stick together to grind out results, and we did that. We worked hard together. There were periods last year in training that I pushed the players. Like, we were doing double days, we were doing afternoon sessions in the sun. And it was ruthless. It was relentless. But it brought them together, and when you go through those sort of tough times, and then you get the results on a Saturday, it only spurs them on to do more.

As you mentioned, the big rebuild started at the end of 2021 and there was even more coaching turnover in 2022. The Pride have been a project of patience, having not made the playoffs since 2017. What made you excited to take on this role full-time, and what would you say to the people who are waiting for the fruits of that labor?

I think you’re absolutely right. It has been a club that’s had a lot of change throughout the years. And I think in my position now, I feel like we can have stability. I feel like with my vision going forward, we can create something that everyone can be proud of, everyone can be excited about, the city can be excited about, ownership can be excited about what is going to be coming from this team. So everyone’s bought in, everyone’s invested in it.

One last question: Next year, is it playoffs or bust?

[Laughs] That is our goal — playoffs, for sure. We’re not a million miles away. We can really make a good run up for it. Obviously it’s not going to be easy. No one’s giving you three points on a Saturday or Sunday. So we know we’ve got to do the work, and that is our expectation. Nothing less than that is acceptable, really.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.