In a surprise move, Northern Mystics coach Debbie Fuller has stepped back to a lesser role and former decade-long Silver Ferns mentor Ruth Aitken will take over the reigns in Auckland.
Fuller will remain in the Mystics' coaching set-up, as defensive expert, but the reason given is she has decided to spend more time with her young family, after two-years in charge.
"The reality is that I have two pre-schoolers at home and I need to dedicate this time to them," Fuller said. "I am very excited that I will still have the opportunity to remain involved with the team but the time commitment will be much less and will allow me the time that I need with my family."
On the face of it, the move appears strange, given Fuller took the Mystics to their maiden grand final last year and the semi-finals this season, albeit with a star-studded squad.
Fuller is also viewed as a promising New Zealand coach, having been appointed to assist Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu during the FastNet series.
But after a post-season review, Mystics chief executive Julie Paterson identified the need for the team's coaches to be based in Auckland, but said she was supportive of Tauranga-based Fuller's decision.
"While we are disappointed to lose Deb from the head coach role, we understand the commitment a young family requires and combining that with the pressures of coaching a professional netball franchise can be difficult," Paterson said. "We are totally supportive of her decision and are delighted that she will stay within the Mystics coaching team providing specialist defensive support."
Aitken will take six months leave form her coaching director role at Netball New Zealand to make her first foray into the trans-Tasman league.
However, Aitken's appointment on a one-year deal has not been greeted with wide-spread approval. Some coaches are claiming it shows a lack of vision from NNZ with aspiring coaches having their pathway blocked.
After her successful 10-year reign with Ferns, Aitken would be a natural fit with any of New Zealand's five franchises. The Mystics should be no different.
"Ruth brings over 10 years international coaching experience to the role, including two Commonwealth Games gold medals and a world championship," Paterson said. "We believe we have an extraordinary management line up and we are really excited about what they will produce both on and off the court."
Paterson said it was important to have the coaching line up settled and in place.
"I think players like to know who the coaching team is going to be and players like to work with coaches that will help develop them into better players. Ruth has the ability to do that from a player's perspective as well as helping to develop the coaching talent we are nurturing within the franchise."
- © Fairfax NZ News