IN most areas, the NRL follows the trends of other professional sporting competitions that are more advanced in terms of commercial success.
But we should pause for deep thought before we follow their leads when it comes to sacking coaches.
“We don’t want to get to the point where the EPL is, where if you lose three games in a row, you’re gone,” sacked North Queensland coach Neil Henry said on the ABC on Sunday.
“That’s just a bad environment for everybody.”
On the surface, sacking the coach of an under-performing team is justifiable. The coach usually plays a big role in recruitment. He devises tactics. He picks the team each week. He determines the public image of the club more than anyone else with his (at least) weekly media conferences.
There’s just one problem though. Recent evidence indicates sacking the coach makes very little difference to results.
Under Stephen Kearney and Brad Arthur in 2012, Parramatta won six games and lost 18. Under Ricky Stuart in 2013, they’ve won three and lost 15.
Under Tim Sheens in 2012, Wests Tigers won 11 games and lost 13. This year under Michael Potter, they’ve won six and lost 12.
People on both sides of the decision to sack a coach – and those in the middle, the players – will tell you rugby league is a “results-driven business”. But recent evidence suggests results don’t benefit from sacking a coach.
And if it really is a results-driven business, then it shouldn’t matter if the coach “loses the dressing room” or isn’t talking to the chief executive or doesn’t get on with sponsors. If you’re sacking a coach to improve results, then the figures above indicate you just shouldn’t sack him.
Perhaps the answer is what has happened at Parramatta and Penrith this year – significant and painful cleanouts of playing staff; paring things back to a best-case scenario even if you end up like the Eels and can only afford a fulltime squad of 21 players the following season.
Even if you’re paying multiple ex-players to play against you for rival clubs.
Or maybe it’s what Mal Meninga suggested at the weekend; giving the man who has a contract some more help.
If Neil Henry is willing to accept an assistant coach’s job at another club – as he said he would in that ABC interview we did on Sunday – then who’s to say Trent Barrett, Paul Green, Nathan Brown, Justin Morgan and the rest wouldn’t be willing to assist HIM?
Or who is to say Henry wouldn’t accept a demotion at his own club to assist one of THEM? It would certainly save him the hassle of picking up his family and moving interstate. Has anyone asked him?
Perhaps what we really need to do in order to get results is take the ego out of coaching and of coaching appointments. It’s an old saying – put to good use by Meninga for the last eight years – that performances improve when no-one cares who gets the credit.
Instead of hiring one of the many on their long list of candidates, the Cowboys could effectively offer them all a job and then work out who is in charge. Won’t work, you say? It works for Meninga.
How is it good business to pay someone to do nothing? The money you are paying someone to sit on their backside could be much more constructively spent paying someone to help them while they continue to come to work.
The thing you are paying for when you sack a coach today is his replacement’s vision; the football nous to come in and make changes and employ a program that will eventually bring you success.
And that’s OK if the man in question has been around long enough to HAVE a program, have a system, have a philosophy. But many of the people being discussed as replacements for Neil Henry are ex-players with limited coaching experience.
Having the previous coach on staff, it would appear, would only help them.
Everyone says South Sydney’s success is largely down to Michael Maguire but what is overlooked is that John Lang did not want the job last year. He was always leaving at the end of 2011. Similarly, Trent Robinson had done an apprenticeship under the man he replaced, Brian Smith.
This sort of professional, dispassionate succession plan soothes players, allows recruiters and agents to plan and takes the drama and pain out of coaching upheavals.
Yet there are rumblings Wests Tigers have at least discussed making the same mistake again – paying out another coach without even knowing who is going replace him.
Why is it that coaches and players are expected to learn from their mistakes but clubs are expected not to? Sacking a coach is not “doing something”, it’s just being seen to do something
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK