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Who would be a coach in this dog eat dog era of NRL?

Progress halted: Aaron Woods of the Tigers is stopped in his tracks by the Dragons' defence.

Progress halted: Aaron Woods of the Tigers is stopped in his tracks by the Dragons' defence. Photo: Getty Images

What do you make of the whole Mick Potter/ Wests Tigers saga? Actually, it’s more than just the Tigers and Potter. This stuff is happening everywhere. The world has gone crazy.

What is it that people want or expect from an NRL head coach?

What are the key indicators that tell you a club or team needs a change of head coach?

Who makes these decisions and what qualifies them to determine whether or not the coach is doing his job? What is it you think you are going to get from a new head coach that you can’t get from the man currently in charge?

Once you accept a job as a head coach in any sport you understand that intense scrutiny comes with the territory. You accept that you will be judged by fans, media, club management and ultimately the club’s board of directors.

It seems though, that in the modern era, head coaches are also judged by their own staff and players. The saying "he has lost the dressing room" has become almost cliché. What does that mean? 

How many in the dressing room actually voted as to whether or not the coach has lost their confidence? How many votes does it take to convince management or the board of directors that a new coach needs to be found? Who conducts this poll on whether or not the coach should continue? Where and when is this poll conducted?

If, in fact, players and staff are unhappy with certain aspects of the head coach’s work, then surely the first way to address this is face-to-face with the head coach himself. If the players and/or staff are going directly to the board members or club management outside of the proper forums, then surely this is a break in the chain of command that needs to be addressed.

If management and/or the Board members act on such complaints without first digging down deep to investigate the validity of the issues, or without some attempt to at least resolve the issues, then who is actually running the club?

If assistant coaches are working against the head coach, are they doing so in the best interests of the team or the club? Or are they protecting their own jobs or trying to advance their own cause within the organisation? It is the head coach with his name in the program? He is the one who wears the responsibility for all decisions relating to recruitment, retention, selections, playing styles and tactics.

The head coach needs to have confidence and trust in those around him. If not, he should be able to remove them.

This season is only eighteen matches old. It has been described by all and sundry as the closest competition race of all time.

Yet already this season we’ve seen two coaches sacked. We have another being told he has no job as from the end of the season. We had one caretaker coach quit his club due to lack of player support. We have another leaving his club to take on a role at his former club. If media reports are to be believed, we have another two coaches under pressure with their respective club’s conducting reviews into the team’s performances. And now we have Mick Potter and the Wests Tigers. For the life of me I can’t see what these coaches were doing so wrong that warranted sackings or the pressure of a public review. 

If a club is experiencing difficulties behind the scenes or the coach is not applying himself to the job in the proper manner, then it will surely manifest itself in the performances of the team.

To be honest, I see no such indicators with any of the 16 NRL clubs this season. Which brings me back to Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter.

Mick woke up on Sunday morning to find that everyone else in the world, except himself, was aware he was facing the sack. Club agitation had again found its way into the media.

The Tigers are having a better-than-expected season. One of the early favourites for the wooden spoon position, the Tigers still find themselves in with a chance to make the top eight, with only six rounds remaining. The team has performed creditably all season, despite the fact they have had a huge injury toll on key players and Origin football deprived them of star players at crucial times. I’ve seen them play some brilliant football. A month ago they produced one of the most courageous wins of the season against the Raiders despite suffering several major injuries during the match. Potter has nurtured and developed some of the game’s most exciting young talent. He is well mannered, well presented and quietly spoken. Potter has coached for 14 years without once losing his job for so-called non-performance.

Yet here he finds himself in an untenable position, with individuals inside his organisation, agitating for his removal. I dare say none of those pushing for his removal have ever been a head coach themselves.

I watch the Wests Tigers play every week. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I think I have a fair idea on what a well coached or poorly coached team looks like. I don’t see ANY poorly coached teams in this competition. No team is losing because of poor coaching.

I see champion players making a huge difference at crucial times. But there are only so many of these blokes to go around. I see just as many lazy players influencing results as well. Will they sack themselves? I bet plenty of assistant coaches have made mistakes as well. Have they put their hands up to accept responsibility? I feel sorry for Potter. I feel sorry for all head coaches these days. It’s a tough gig.

6 comments so far

  • Once again the voice of reason nails it. Thanks Phil. And here's another thing. Every season 8 coaches will have teams in the semi's and the other 8 won't but it's lunacy to assume those bottom 8 should all be sacked.

    Commenter
    That'll do me
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 28, 2014, 7:10AM
    • Unfortunately Gus, Football mirrors business. This is the "My friend the Axe Murderer" principle at work. No wins, No sins forgiven. Big wins, Big sins forgiven. And everything in between.

      Commenter
      nap-in-the-shade
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 28, 2014, 7:41AM
      • Its a fact of life that winning games is a KPI for any NRL coach......

        Loose too many games and you will certainly get sacked.....That's why Elliot,Price and Sharpe are no longer holding clip boards......and why Griffin has been sacked with a year and a bit remaining on his contract

        Results show that Cartwright,Stuart,Potter..............are simply "dead men walkin".........just waiting for that dreaded tap on the shoulder...its only a matter of time

        Commenter
        Francis J Farquar
        Location
        Wentworth Falls
        Date and time
        July 28, 2014, 8:05AM
        • To take your argument to its logical conclusion, then 15 coaches should be sacked at season's end.

          Results are about relative performance and achievement. Has a club over/under-achieved? As a start, I think the Eels and Tigers have over-achieved. Knights and Sharks under.

          How many expected the Tigers to be knocking on the door of the Top 8 at this stage of this season? I didn't and more so after Round 1.

          Commenter
          Growler
          Location
          The Coach
          Date and time
          July 28, 2014, 2:20PM
      • Ricky Stuart !

        Commenter
        Mankad
        Location
        The Bush
        Date and time
        July 28, 2014, 10:45AM
        • Agree 100%. Tigers were one of three teams I'd bracketed as possible wooden spooners (along with Dragons and Sharks). Potter has overachieved. They look like a team on the rise too. It's a very poor way to assess performance to simply look at wins and losses without any contextual information. But I think NRL and most sports really struggle with collecting and utilising data to make optimal decisions, both on and off the field

          I also think players need to look at themselves in these situations - e.g. last year with the Cowboys - if they are terrible and then win 6 in a row after it's announced the coach is sacked (but he is still there), how much accountability do the players need to take? These guys are professionals, mostly paid handsomely, and should be able to get over personal stuff to perform.

          Of course, this isn't an NRL problem - it impacts all sports. Soccer is perhaps the worst. I remember a few years ago Derby County got promoted to the EPL. They were expected to be midtable in the lower division, so overachieved massively. The next year they are predictably last in the EPL and completely outmatched, and the manager gets cut midseason. The same manager who had them playing in a league higher than they should be, is then adjudged to be not performing. If he'd missed promotion and continued being midtable in the lower league he'd be safe! Completely illogical.

          Commenter
          Rob
          Date and time
          July 28, 2014, 12:15PM

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