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Riverhounds hire former Rochester Rhinos boss Bob Lilley as new head coach

| Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 2:03 p.m.
Former Rochester Rhinos coach Bob Lilley was named head coach of the Riverhounds at a press conference Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, at Highmark Stadium.
Riverhounds
Former Rochester Rhinos coach Bob Lilley was named head coach of the Riverhounds at a press conference Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, at Highmark Stadium.
Riverhounds forward Corey Hertzog (left), a Penn State product, leads the team with nine goals this season.
Riverhounds
Riverhounds forward Corey Hertzog (left), a Penn State product, leads the team with nine goals this season.

Forced into making an unexpected change at the top, the Riverhounds might have found a way to come out ahead.

Veteran USL title-winning coach Bob Lilley was announced Tuesday as the new coach of the Riverhounds, replacing Dave Brandt, who had led the team for the past season and a half after leaving his post with Navy in the NCAA ranks.

Lilley's hiring comes as a surprise on multiple fronts, as no official announcement had been issued about Brandt's departure or Lilley's release by the Rochester Rhinos — the team he led the past four years, including winning 2015 USL Cup title. But with the Riverhounds in need of a coach, Lilley's time out of work was short.

“We were discussing a lot of stuff over the weekend and were able to work things out, myself and Riverhounds (owner) Tuffy (Shallenberger),” Lilley told the Tribune-Review prior to the team's news conference. “I just got in the car yesterday to come up here for the press conference.”

Lilley's resume is littered with success in the U.S. second divisions, including winning A-League Coach of the Year with the defunct Hershey Wildcats and the Montreal Impact, which now plays in MLS. In the A-League's successors as the second division, Lilley led the Rhinos to the 2010 USSF Division 2 Pro League championship during his first stint with the team and the 2015 crown in the USL.

Known for his team's tough, defense-first tactics, Lilley spent most of his playing career in the indoor ranks, including spending the 1994 season calling the Civic Arena home with the Pittsburgh Stingers. How the Riverhounds' current players fit into Lilley's plans is yet to be known, but with a Nov. 30 deadline for clubs to pick up contract options for 2018, those decisions will be coming soon.

“It's an exciting project because of all the strides the Riverhounds have made the last few years with the community, youth and corporate development,” Lilley said. “The league has grown so much, and with the Riverhounds, Tuffy has pushed really hard to invest and grow the team. I just want to help bring a consistent winner.

“Certainly Dave (Brandt), who I've known for many years, is a quality coach, and I'm interested in keeping some of the players he has brought here. It's a good group. For me, it's an opportunity to continue moving the club in a positive direction on the field.”

The topic of Brandt's departure was one Riverhounds management did not want to address directly prior to the news conference, though Shallenberger repeately called Brandt a “great guy” and said the move had to do more with changes in the USL and had nothing to do with dissatisfaction in the job Brandt had done.

After the news conference, more light was shed on Brandt's situation, which boiled down to a licensing issue.

As part of the USL's ascension to Division 2 status under the United States Soccer Federation, all USL teams are required to have a manager/head coach who holds a USSF “A” coaching license. Brandt, despite being a six-time Division III national champion, spent most of his career in the NCAA, where no such licensing requirement exists. Without having the license already, he could not have completed the USSF's requirements in time — attaining an “A” license usually takes at least two to three years — and without a federation waiver, could not have been a USL head coach next year.

As for Lilley, he intends to address roster issues first before moving into matters of filling out his coaching staff and other preseason responsibilities. Among Lilley's assistants last year in Rochester was Mark Pulisic, the father of 19-year-old U.S. National Team and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, but Lilley said no decisions have been made regarding his staff.

“Mark I've known for a long time, and we played together in college (at George Mason). It was always a one-year thing with him joining me in Rochester,” Lilley said. “Certainly he's someone I'd be interested in. ... But he's not going to rush into anything, and he's going to make his own decision.

Matt Grubba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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