Oct 7, 2008
Carolina RailHawks founder Chris Economides had his remaining ownership stake in the team bought out on Monday, and he will no longer serve as the USL First Division club's president and general manager.
"It was a mutual, good parting of the ways," said Economides of his split with the team's majority owners, F. Selby Wellman and Brian Wellman, and minority partner Paul Singh. "The franchise is in good hands, and I'm looking at some possibilities at a higher level within soccer. For me to be able to achieve what I'm trying to, it couldn't be done simultaneously."
Also Tuesday, the RailHawks announced coach Scott Schweitzer would not return to the franchise. Schweitzer played at N.C. State.
Economides declined to elaborate on what higher level of soccer he's aspiring to, but he did say he would know more about his next move within two to four weeks.
"We wish nothing but continued success for Chris," Brian Wellman said. "I have no doubt wherever he lands, he'll find success again. There would be no RailHawks without Chris Economides. He's the founder, the reason we exist. For three years, he's dedicated his life and time and positioned this team for success in the future."
Economides founded the RailHawks in early 2006 after a successful stint as an owner and general manager of the Rochester Raging Rhinos, a First Division club he helped launch in 1996. In nine seasons in upstate New York, the Rhinos won three league championships and the 1999 U.S. Open Cup.
The RailHawks had a strong debut season on and off the field in 2007. They finished 8-12-8, qualified for the playoffs with a win in the season's final match, and they made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. They also averaged nearly 5,000 fans a game at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
This season started with even higher expectations, but after a 3-0-4 start, the RailHawks went 6-10-7 the rest of the season, which also featured a nine-match winless streak. In July, the team found itself in last place, the first time in Economides' career one of his teams ever sat at the bottom of the table.
While the team finished just short of the USL-1 playoffs, Economides said the team's on-field struggles had nothing do with his exit.
"That's part of the business," Economides said. "I'm competitive as any body, but I wouldn't say that had anything to do with this. It was just time to look at some other possibilities."
The RailHawks saw their average attendance dip to just more than 4,000 per game in 2008, and Economides' decision to leave the franchise has led to speculation that the organization is on the brink of collapse.
Not so, Economides said.
"I wouldn't read anything more into it," he said. "It was a business partner being bought out. That's it. There's no gloom and doom. It's been [the Wellmans?] capital that kept the franchise going. They've done a tremendous job with the franchise, and I see nothing but positive things ahead for the RailHawks."