PORTLAND, Ore. – Over Mark Parsons’ final weeks as head coach of the Portland Thorns, he pushed the numbers into the background.
The team summed them up today. Two hundred fourteen points won over his six seasons in charge, more than any other team in the NWSL. Single season records for most home wins (10, in 2017) and shutouts (13, in 2021). Six trophies, only once finishing as low as third place, and the NWSL’s current record for wins as a head coach. That mark will be broken eventually, but for now, Parsons’ name sits top of the list with 82.
Those numbers are impressive, but they aren’t the things that define a coach’s moment-to-moment. Coaches work lives are a grind, far more than 40 hours per week, and involve much more than directing players from a three-sided box. You can’t survive it if your life is about two numbers on a scoreboard.
Instead, that life defined by the day-to-day relationships. They’re about how you connect with your players, and support the staff around them. They’re about your lives with team administrators, training staff, front-office personnel and they rest of the people who help make an organization work. A coach’s Wikipedia page may say one thing, but their life is about so much more.
“Six years here with special people, special players and staff are never going to be defined by the trophy you do or don’t lift,” Parsons told ThornsFC.com in the days before his final game. “It comes back to relationships, trust, connection …
“These players and staff have pushed me not only to be the best of myself but most importantly be the best person. I’ll take that lesson with my throughout coaching and throughout the rest of my life.”
Parsons had more reason to focus on the special people as his eighth full NWSL season wound down. He’d spent the last six of those in Portland with a wife and daughter who, earlier in 2021, returned to England. They had to leave and settle in before the new school year began back home. Over his final months in Portland, work was not only his career and his passion and, competitively, his outlet. It was also his last remnants of home.
“I hope everyone has felt they’ve seen someone give it everything they’ve got,” he said, when asked to reflect on leaving that home. “They’ve seen a coach care as much as they could – maybe too much, sometimes. A coach who always valued the person over the player, the person over the staff member, the person over the fan …
“The team is biggest than any individual. And the relationship, connection we have with each other is more important than anything we could ever win.”
That approach was reflected in the staff Parsons left behind, which had been remarkably stable. Rich Gunney, Sophie Clough and Nadine Angerer had been with him for almost the entirety of his stay in Portland. His squad of players endured more frequent changes, but there were still pieces like Christine Sinclair, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg and Lindsey Horan who were there throughout. The ownership, front office, team administrators and support staff? There was consistency in the world around Parsons. They’d helped make Portland home.
“I’ve always been around people with huge hearts,” he says, “[people] who want to take care of people, want to take care of each other. [They] have taken care of me, and they allowed me to support and take care of them in important times.”
There are no bad memories left behind. Sure, there were losses, but to classify the few times the Thorns felt defeat as bad memories seems harsh and greedy, even if it may be true. Instead, the losses, responses and solutions were part of the bigger picture that Parsons, in his last days in Portland, sought to bring into focus. It truly wasn’t about what the team won on the field. It was about what they won with each other, off the field.
Parsons leaves behind a legacy of trophies that may go unmatched. He will be missed immensely for the coach he was. But as his time in Portland ends and the Thorns grapple with his departure, it’s the person they’ll miss more. The voice at training. The laughs before. They’ll be missed far more than any result.
There will be more wins in Thorns’ future. Those won’t be missed. What will be missed is the man himself. Now, the Thorns start life without Mark Parsons.