Wilson: System must change for coaches' sake

JEFF WILSON
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014
Mark Hammett
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ
MOVING ON: Mark Hammett announcing he will leave the Hurricanes at the end of this season.

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OPINION: It's easy to blame the coach, but sometimes in New Zealand rugby we'd be better off taking a closer look at the system behind the man preparing the team to play each week.

I know there are plenty of Hurricanes fans happy that Mark Hammett has confirmed he will step down at the end of the year, but the question has to be: did the franchise provide him the support he needed to undertake his role effectively?

What the game is missing here at Super Rugby level is a GM, or director of rugby, who can look after the bigger picture stuff - the planning, recruiting, decisions around next year, or the year after - and leave the coach to prepare his team to win each week.

Their focus should come down to getting the best out of the team that year. Coaches will always be blinded by trying to win now.

It's Graham Henry. It's Phil Jackson. The master of it was Sir Alex Ferguson. They aren't necessarily Xs and Os guys, or technical gurus, but they know how to put their teams together and get the best out of them.

The Chiefs are the best New Zealand franchise at the moment, and that's because they've got the right people in the right roles. Their coaching strength is well documented, but they've made great use of the contractual nous of Chris Tindall, their high performance manager, who has come from the NZRU. The coaches identify the talent, and he makes sure they get people they need signed up. They also have another management team member dedicated just to recruitment.

Steve Lancaster and Matt Sexton used to perform that role at the Crusaders and they've struggled since they left.

Also, should we just be casting Hammett aside, with a "thanks, but no thanks". Deciding someone will never be a good coach because of a bad year is just rubbish.

If we look across the coaching landscape in New Zealand, with Hammett finishing, and the uncertainty surrounding Jamie Joseph, you wonder where the successors are. If you're promoting inexperienced coaches to Super Rugby, that GM role becomes so much more important.

Our biggest problem is we export so many of our coaches, and there are very few roles for them to come back for. The moment a head coach loses their job in New Zealand, their only avenue is offshore. That doesn't make sense.

Success in Super Rugby is incredibly difficult to come by. Just ask Todd Blackadder, who's feeling some pressure even though he's never missed the post-season. They're judged so harshly.

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As much as the jump is difficult for players from provincial to Super Rugby, it's even harder in head coaching. An eight-week season with 10 games simply doesn't prepare you for what's required at franchise level.

Is it any wonder that Tana Umaga and Tony Brown are reluctant to dive in yet? They're young coaches, and if they want to be career coaches they've got to choose their roles wisely.

Look how long it took Henry to win a World Cup. It would have been so easy to dump him. But if you want to build something substantial, you have to be there for the long haul.

When something goes wrong, as much as you should look at the coach, you should look at the organisation. I'm sure that's what Owen Glenn is talking about at the Warriors. And why he wants out.

Who is in control at the Warriors? Since John Hart left they've lacked stability. That model with him and Ivan Cleary worked - John took care of all the other stuff and allowed Ivan to focus on what his job was.

Coaching is fraught with danger. You're going to be judged on results. Sometimes that's out of your control because you're dealing with so many aspects of other people's performances, not necessarily your own.

There are few other jobs which can hinge on a single moment as much as coaching. Head coaching is also so different to being an assistant. So much of your work is done outside the white lines. It's done in the meeting rooms, done in the pre-season, done with your board, done with your phone building relationships.

It's not the coach's job to promote the team, to manage the organisation, or to be a visionary. His job is solely around producing a performance on the field.

Was the work for Hammett done before he got there? Will his successor hit the ground running? If an organisation is doing their job properly, then changing coach should be a seamless process.

- Sunday Star Times

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