OPINION: Even at a club that was desperate to appear stable by not getting rid of another coach ahead of time, Stephen Kearney finally had to go.
He only lasted this long because the Parramatta board was determined to give him every opportunity to be successful - right up to the appointment late last month of two-time premiership-winning coach Chris Anderson to act as his assistant.
Anderson was Kearney's choice, but it didn't change the results. Since he came on board to help, the Eels have been beaten 20-12 by Newcastle, 40-24 by Manly and 32-12 by Canterbury, and they face a Melbourne side at Parramatta Stadium tomorrow night that will be desperate for a win after a recent run of defeats.
Parramatta only narrowly avoided the wooden spoon last season. They had to beat Gold Coast in the final round to do that. The Eels finished with six wins, one draw and 17 losses. After 19 rounds of this season they are last, with just three wins and 14 losses.
So why was Kearney still there at all, after only nine wins from 41 games? Some people will say it was amazing he had survived this far, but it wasn't really, when you consider the circumstances.
The board had already paid out Daniel Anderson as coach, a year ahead of his time, to put Kearney in place. Kearney was on a deal understood to be worth $450,000 per season that ran until the end of next season. And it was well documented that the New Zealander had a clause in it allowing for a full season's payout if he was removed.
That scenario meant the board, which faces elections next May, had to be seen to give Kearney all the time and help he needed to turn the team around, and they did that. Now, getting rid of him, even at a large financial cost, can be reasonably justified.
There was no point in waiting. There is still a chance Parramatta can avoid the wooden spoon, so someone else has to be given the chance to do that. There is a history of teams suddenly improving after a change of coach, for whatever reason.
The Herald, which broke the story exclusively online yesterday, was told Kearney's fate was sealed at a meeting with club chairman Roy Spagnolo on Thursday. There was speculation last night that Parramatta players may have had some influence on the decision.
It is understood Kearney wanted to delay an announcement until after tomorrow night's game, and spin it as a resignation. But, once again, yesterday, there was a leak from the Eels.
This was Kearney's debut shot at coaching a first-grade side and he wouldn't have left of his own accord. He has obviously been tapped on the shoulder - sacked, to be blunt - and now his coaching career is in ruins.
A media opportunity with Kearney and Eels captain Nathan Hindmarsh, who is retiring at the end of the season, has been scheduled for this morning, at which all will be revealed. Parramatta issued a media release at 6.42pm yesterday which said: ''The club will not be commenting on tonight's media reports.''
Hindmarsh himself was in the news late yesterday, when it was revealed he had admitted in his upcoming autobiography that he had lost more than $200,000 because of a poker machine addiction early in his career. The odds about news like that being trumped must have been huge, but it was, by the news about Kearney.
The question now is: who will replace Kearney? In the short term, it would appear logical that Kearney's assistants, Brad Arthur and Anderson, will take charge of the team, possibly until the end of the season. But the figure of Ricky Stuart obviously looms large.
Stuart, who has coached NSW in the past two State of Origin series, has always made it clear he wants to return to coaching in the NRL. In the past year he has been linked to several clubs without anything developing beyond speculation, but with the vacancy sign up at Parramatta he has to be a very serious contender.
Jason Taylor, who has coached first-grade at Parramatta and South Sydney and is now the Sydney Roosters under-20s coach, could also be a chance, along with Arthur.
This probably won't take long to play out, and considering the situation the club is in, the big-name option must be appealing to the board.
- Sydney Morning Herald