HARRISON, N.J. (AP) — While the leadership of the New York Red Bulls continued a tireless search to find a new coach, the interim, Mike Petke, remained patient.
He persevered through it all, even after not receiving a formal interview for the job.
But his appreciation for the position he was already in, and his respect for the organization overall, was rewarded on Thursday. That's when Petke, 36, had the interim label removed, and officially became coach.
"If they decided to go with someone else, I never would have had a problem," Petke said. "But I believed that I was always more than ready. I'm more than capable. I always put this club ahead of me in everything I do."
The road was long and not easy for Petke. He was first promoted to interim after Hans Backe's contract was not renewed following the end of New York's season. He then went about his business as the franchise attempted to hire Gary McAllister and Paulo Sousa.
Sousa, 42, had been close to filling the position, but he told The Associated Press on Thursday "we didn't reach a final agreement. This sometimes happens in football and we need to turn a page and focus on the future."
Sousa, who has managed British clubs Queens Park Rangers, Swansea and Leicester, left his job at Hungarian club Videoton earlier this month citing family reasons after winning three trophies inside two years.
Sousa said "this will be a fantastic opportunity for another manager."
That will be Petke, who was quickly promoted because the team is already in training in Bradenton, Fla. The MLS season is set to begin March 3.
Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh said Petke is very passionate about the club, and has shown the leadership and organizational qualities to be coach. Petke served as an assistant the last two seasons, after playing for the franchise as a defender for the MetroStars from 1998-2002 and later the Red Bulls from 2008-2010.
"From the minute he took over as the interim coach, Mike has been enthusiastic and organized," Roxburgh said. "Mike is very experienced in the ways of MLS. If we brought in a coach from Europe, that might not be the case. Mike knows the league and he's passionate about this organization and team. All of those things add up to make him the appropriate choice."
The Red Bulls went 16-9-9 last season, finishing with 57 points in the tough Eastern Conference. Petke has a talented roster, but a tough chore ahead of him, especially considering there is a thought out there that he is a replacement hire.
"I cannot believe in my mind that Red Bull needed to rush something, just because we opened training camp," Petke said. "I think my interview process began when they turned to me and asked me to take the reins in November. I think Andy saw me in action. I'm not the least bit slighted that they might have looked elsewhere before me."
Roxburgh explained the flirtation with those experienced coaches.
"It was very important to see all options," Roxburgh said. "I had spoken to a number of people about the position. For whatever reason, it didn't work out. But I always thought I would like to have a young and hungry coach, who is adaptable. As we went through the process, we didn't rush anything we did. I did have a deadline that I wanted to have a coach by the time the players came to camp. The players had to know."
The Red Bulls, who have never won a league title, were eliminated in the first round of last season's playoffs by DC United.
"Everyone is behind Mike, no question," Roxburgh said. "We told the players this morning and they were very supportive. Mike is one of their guys. He's a pro. He's humble and hard working. He has to start somewhere. He brings so many qualities to the job."
If nothing else, Petke appears ready for the challenge.
"I know the players," he said. "I've been around this team for a while. I'm not going to do anything differently. I'm going to do what's in the best interest of the club."
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report from London.