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Rowdies coach leaves St. Pete for English League

Mark Parker

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Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Neill Collins is leaving the team following Saturday night's match at Al Lang Stadium. Photo: Rowdies Communications.

After leading the Tampa Bay Rowdies to unprecedented success in the USL (United Soccer League) Championship, head coach Neill Collins is heading to South Yorkshire, England.

Team officials announced Wednesday that they will allow Collins to take over as manager for Barnsley FC in the English Football League One following Saturday’s match. He signed a two-year deal with the club Thursday.

The move represents a homecoming of sorts for Collins, who played in 216 matches for Sheffield United FC in South Yorkshire between 2011 and 2016. The Scotsman then finished his career in St. Petersburg, playing two seasons with the Rowdies.

Collins, 39, was named head coach in May 2018. He led the Rowdies to 98 wins in 175 matches across six seasons.

“We bid farewell to Neill Collins with a mixture of pride and sadness,” said owner Stuart Sternberg in a prepared statement. “While we are saddened by his departure as head coach of the Rowdies, we are immensely proud of the success our club has achieved – both on and off the field – under his guidance.”

Tampa Bay Rowdies fans celebrate a goal with green and gold smoke. Photo by Mark Parker.

The Rowdies finished 12th in the USL Eastern Conference during Collins’ first year at the helm. However, they improved to fifth in 2019 and reached the conference quarterfinals before falling 2-1 to Louisville City FC.

Collins had the club in championship form in 2020. The Rowdies finished atop the USL’s leaderboard in a pandemic-abbreviated regular season.

The playoffs would resume, and Tampa Bay made it to the Championship Final against Phoenix Rising FC. However, several players and staff tested positive for Covid the day before the match, which officials subsequently canceled.

“I’ve been so fortunate during my time here to work with so many great people,” Collins said. “The professionalism and attitude of our players and staff have made my life a lot easier. I’m especially grateful to our previous owner, Bill Edwards, for giving me this chance and to our current owner, Stuart Sternberg, and our leadership group, who have given us the platform to go and do what we do best.”

Rowdies Coach Neill Collins discusses a match outside of the locker room. Photo by Mark Parker.

The Rowdies picked up where they left off in 2021, finishing with a league-best 23 wins and a club-record 71 points. Tampa Bay again made the Championship Final but dropped a 3-1 match to Orange County SC.

However, Collins was named Coach of the Month for April, May and September 2021, as the Rowdies remained undefeated during those times. The club also played 891 minutes without conceding a goal, a USL record.

Despite losing the 2021 Final – without star goalkeeper Evan Louro – Collins was named the Coach of the Year. The Rowdies finished third in the Eastern Conference in 2022 and dropped the season’s penultimate match 1-0 to Louisville City FC.

Collins is tied for fourth in USL Championship history with 85 victories. In the release announcing his departure, he noted that the team accomplished everything “apart from winning a championship.”

“That’s probably the only disappointment I’ll look back on in my time here, but we’ve had so many unbelievable moments,” Collins added. “When I came here seven years ago, I didn’t expect this club to become such a big part of my life, but it has for me and my family.

“The biggest thing when you leave any club is that you want to be able to come back in the future to support it and be welcomed. I hope that’s the case.”

His St. Petersburg swan song is Saturday, as the Rowdies host Oakland Roots SC at Al Lang Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m., and team officials will honor Collins with a video tribute following the match.

Assistant coach Stuart Dobson will serve in the interim role while team officials search for a permanent replacement. Collins is leaving the club in good shape, as the Rowdies sit in third place in the Eastern Conference.

The team’s 31 points is a three-way tie for most in the conference, and the Rowdies remain undefeated in their last 10 matches. Collins’ overall regular season record is 85-39-34 heading into Saturday’s match.

“While change can be bittersweet, our commitment to excellence remains unwavering,” said Rowdies Vice Chairmen Matt Silverman. “We will continue to field a top-tier team that competes for championships and entertains our devoted fans.”

 

 

 

 

 

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