After handing over the reins to Ruth Aitken, Northern Mystics coach Debbie Fuller has revealed her squad rotation caused “heated debate” with leading players this season.
Despite the change of head coach, Mystics chief executive Julie Paterson is publicly backing Fuller, warning some players to realise “it's not all about them”.
Fuller took the Mystics to their maiden grand final last year and the semifinals this season, but she is taking an unusual one-year “family sabbatical” with the blessing of the franchise. That move could spark an overhaul of the Mystics' coaching structure.
Fuller's role was not advertised. Instead, former Silver Ferns coach Aitken, who will relocate to Auckland from Paeroa, is set to take charge of the side in a caretaker capacity next year. It will be Aitken's first stint in the trans-Tasman league and she could be joined by former Ferns midcourter Jenny-May Coffin.
“I'm not in a position to confirm who the assistant coach will be. I have had discussions with Jenny-May,” Paterson told the Sunday Star-Times.
Fuller will not be completely detached, stepping back to a technical assistant role which involves overseeing the defensive structures, though she is not planning to attend matches.
Coffin's likely inclusion could be bad news for this year's assistants, Gail Parata and Megan Dehn.
“I have kept Gail in the loop with where we are at in the decision-making process,” Paterson said.
“We would love be able to keep Megan in the mix but it's a matter of finances and all those details.”
But it is outside the coaching box the Mystics appear to face major issues.
The Star-Times understands Fuller's squad rotation throughout this season caused strained relationships and put some high-profile noses out of joint.
With five Silver Ferns, plus retiring veteran Temepara George in the star-studded Mystics squad, managing court time, and egos, was a challenge.
It seems Fuller's vision for full squad development didn't sit well with some.
“You don't have to like people to work with them. Everybody is very different in the team,” Fuller said, confirming she encountered pushback from certain individuals on team philosophy.
“When you work with people in a very competitive environment like this competition, it's got to be about performance before personality. I did have heated debate with players. That wasn't the reason for me stepping down. That's all part of coaching. If you go through a season without heated debate with your players then I'd be worried.
"As long as you can work through any debate and have the professionalism to put it on the table, and work through it without being overly sensitive, it can work. It's about the performance, not the conversation you have with people.”
In the post-season review, where all players have input, Paterson became aware of friction between the players and coach.
Paterson attempted to downplay the internal feuds and made it clear she firmly supported Fuller over those incidents.
The Mystics CEO indicated some players took the allocation of court time personally and suggested some were too self-centred in their approach to a team sport.
“Not bucking heads, but certainly there was feedback from some of the players that they would have liked 100 per cent court time,” Paterson said.
“The reality is the coach decides who goes on and off. Sometimes the players find those decisions a little difficult to understand and difficult to follow. I think that's absolutely normal in any coaching environment.
“The players need to learn to deal with that. They need to learn it's actually not all about them. They are part of the team and the coach makes the decisions.
“I don't think there were any personality issues, but there were discussions and robust debates. That's the way it should be.”
Despite the conflict, Paterson and Fuller appear to have agreed that she can return to the head coach position in 2014.
“It was definitely my decision to step back. I'm not throwing in the towel,” Fuller said. “I'm taking a family sabbatical. I'll definitely be putting my hand up at the end of next year. I'm very keen to coach the Mystics again in the future.”
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