Just before the 2024 NWSL Draft the just-recently-sold Thorns announced hiring former Houston assistant-and-interim-head-coach Sarah Lowdon as an assistant coach.
My comment over at Stumptown regarding this was:
“This is kinda the WoSo equivalent of hiring Sir Alex Ferguson as assistant to Big Sam Allardyce, or a pitchbot remake of “Who’s The Boss”. I expect a technical box coup before midseason.”
Because…well, let’s look at the newcomer and last season’s gaffer.
Mike Norris is a Newcastle boy, He played as goalkeeper for several junior sides as well as York City FC, a lower league side that during Norris’ presumed stint in the late Nineties to early Oughts yo-yoed between the Second Division and non-league football.
In 2007 he got the job as goalkeeper coach with a Canadian club in the regional “BC League” of British Columbia. He coached there, and at several college or university sides, for the next seven years until Canada Soccer picked him up to coach the U-20 Women keepers.
Between 2014 and 2021 Norris was keeper coach for several Canada Women junior sides and the senior CWNT from 2019 on. As we know, he came along with Rhian Wilkinson as an assistant here for the 2022 season and took over last year.
Sarah Lowdon is another Geordie, playing for Newcastle United Women after a six-year juniors career (as well as playing for Gateshead College); she left the UK in 2008 to play in the States, first at Mississippi State, then at McNeese State University in Louisiana, graduating in 2012. For a couple of years after that she was a “volunteer assistant coach” (read: “grad student”) at McNeese, then spent a year as an assistant at some place called “Wayland Baptist”, presumably at one of their Texas campuses.
In 2015 she was picked up as an assistant coach at Sam Houston State while at the same time picking up a coaching internship with the Houston Dash.
2017 saw Lowdon moving to University of Florida, first as assistant, then as “director of soccer operations” in 2020. From there? Penn State in 2020-21, where she worked as an assistant for a year. She almost immediately moved back to Houston where she worked as an assistant, being tapped as interim head coach for two stints, the last in 2022.
Lowdon quit in 2023 after it became obvious that Houston intended to hire a permanent gaffer outside the club (and did, picking up Fran Alonso in December 2023 from Celtic Women).
What I find fascinating about this is that as an actual “head coach” Lowdon looks better on paper than Norris.
His experience is primarily as a specialist coach, and that the most un-soccer-ish specialty, goalkeeping. One year as Wilkinson’s assistant, and a single season in charge.
Hers, on the other hand, has general management (i.e. overall squad tactical and technical) assistantships all over the map, including a time as operations manager in Florida.
So I’m not quite sure what to make of this.
Did she come on board here as a true assistant, helping Norris run drill and warmups and set out the practice cones? Does she have some connection with or loyalty to Norris as another Geordie?
That could very well be.
It would seem, at least to me, that she is, or was, ambitious; when the path to permanent head-coaching closed in Houston she handed in her two-weeks’-notice. If she was going to just be happy as an assistant, why not there?
The whole business seems very odd to me. We’ve got new owners, a squad that looks like it’s in the middle of some sort of rebuilding, and now two potentially head-coach-qualified people standing next to each other outside the touchline.