Hammett quits, non-Kiwi may get Canes role
The Hurricanes hope to have departing coach Mark Hammett's successor confirmed by mid-June and say it doesn't have to be a New Zealander.
Hurricanes chairman Brian Roche said the hunt for a new coach for 2015 would begin immediately, as Hammett confirmed today he would leave when his contract ends at the end of the season.
"We formally start it today," Roche said.
"The announcement will have a few people thinking about their CVs. We'll go through a formal process. What we'd like is certainty and stability as soon as we can for the players and the organisation and to allow an orderly transition."
Early contenders include Wellington and New Zealand under-20 coach Chris Boyd, while former Hawke's Bay coach Peter Russell has just parted ways with English club Newcastle. Chiefs assistant Wayne Smith and former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans would be two possible high profile contenders.
Former Hurricanes skipper Tana Umaga won't be among the applicants, though, after a curiously timed statement today confirmed he would remain at the helm of Counties-Manukau until 2016, thereby ruling him out. It was issued five minutes after news of Hammett's departure.
"I'm not sure about the timing of that particular announcement," Roche said when asked about Umaga.
"We'll go through a standard process, people will put their names in and we'll interview. If we could get something in place by the middle of June then that would be good for everybody.
"This is an important decision and we'll take as much time as we need to get it right, but we don't want to be slow about it."
When asked if the new coach had to be a New Zealander, Roche said the they were "completely open minded" about who the new coach would be. The NZRU would be heavily involved, as it was with the appointment of all Super Rugby coaches.
"They [NZRU] are a part of the selection process," Roche said.
"It's important that we get somebody who fits strategically where we want to take the club. They have an input. It's a collaborative process."
Hammett said he decided before the start of this season not to seek re-appointment, feeling the time was right after consulting with his family.
He said he told the Hurricanes' head office, but didn't tell captain Conrad Smith and team management until last week, then announced it to the team today.
"The decision was made before a ball was even kicked off," he said.
"Whether we'd won every game or lost every game, that was irrelevant.
"There's not the perfect date but there certainly is a date that's not good. We've got a bye this weekend and it allows my players and management to get their heads around it and digest it."
Hammett's tenure began in controversy in 2011 when he axed popular Hurricanes stalwarts Ma'a Nonu and then-captain Andrew Hore, sparking an exodus of talent including Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu and Hosea Gear.
A string of five losses at the end of last year ramped up the pressure and this season's early losses sparked public anger and vitriol against the Cantabrian.
The Hurricanes have turned things around in the past two weeks with wins over the Crusaders and Bulls, but the culmination of the past three years is sure to have already had an effect on Hammett and his young family.
Hammett said he never had the opportunity to play overseas due to a neck injury near the end of his career in New Zealand. Coaching offshore obviously appealed in the future but he insisted nothing was on the table.
He was reluctant to reflect on his sometimes-tumultuous four seasons at the Hurricanes until the end of his tenure, saying it was back to work tomorrow as they prepared to host the Blues on Good Friday and chase their third straight victory.
Asked if the announcement would potentially derail the team's momentum, Hammett said: "I know my leaders and my players and management extremely well. The answer is no. I'm not naive to think there won't be a period of mourning or questioning. There's no need to."
Hurricanes' chief executive James Te Puni acknowledged Hammett's contribution to the club and said he was confident in the head coach's commitment to the team for the 2014 season.
"Mark has worked incredibly hard to create a strong and positive culture here at the Hurricanes," Te Puni said.
"We are looking forward to the remainder of the season and will be in full support of Mark and the team as they focus on their performance."