Difficult choice ... Richard Graham. Photo: Anthony Johnson
These days, from both a playing and coaching perspective, loyalty is more fluid than fixed.
Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why, explains, when he writes: “Whether individuals or organisations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.”
In other words, one's loyalty is first to oneself then to one's team or organisation, that's human nature. When convenient, it may be a two-way street.
This is the ugliest time of year in sport; ugly from a personal perspective that is. Because sport is personal. It's personal because it trades in emotion and it's emotion that pays the bills.
This week it was announced that Western Force coach Richard Graham will coach the Reds next season, while Brumbies flanker Michael Hooper has gone to the azure of theWaratahs. Meanwhile, Waratah Dean Mumm has signed with Exeter in the UK, but that is less prickly and personal because Exeter is outside the eco-system of the Australian conference.
The Western Force reacted quickly with a corporate-like approach, sacking Graham. Brumbies coach Jake White, on the other hand, displayed disappointment but no resentment, wishing Hooper the best and indicating he would still be in the selection frame for this season.
This is not a unique issue to rugby. Wayne Bennett announced before the end of the last NRL season that he was to leave St George-Illawarra and take tenure at the Newcastle Knights.
Ross Lyon did the same in the AFL and this week led his new team, Fremantle, to victory over his previous team, St Kilda. If you want to know if time heals all wounds, it doesn't, not this little time anyway.
Even seven years after Nathan Sharpe left the captaincy of the Reds to assume the captaincy at the Western Force, some Queenslanders have never forgiven him–many will certainly never forget.
Undoubtedly, it is different for a coach and a player, particularly as a coach has to pick and mould his team. From all reports, Graham never sought the Reds position, it sought him. Neither has he erred contractually as he had a six-month termination clause, which he
triggered. But you cannot deny the emotional pull on himself and his young family to move home after 10 years away. With only one coaching position available in his home state, this was an opportunity that may never have come again.
At the same time, I can also understand the Force's swift action, for when that often uninvited guest of change thrusts himself upon you, one must act incisively to plan for the present and beyond.
Since it would be impossible for Graham to now build a team for the future, that responsibility lies with the new regime.
People invariably fear change, particularly when it is foisted upon them, as change introduces uncertainty. Yet despite that fear, some will adopt change early and adjust while others will hang on obstinately, and sometimes irrationally, to the past.
In my experience, however, most people will go with the noise, positive or negative. So to control change, you must control the noise. If those most threatened by change are adequately informed and supported through the process, and if they truly believe the promised benefits for themselves, then they will tend towards the positive noise.
This will be more easily achieved in the Reds camp than in the Force as it was the Reds, and more particularly Ewen McKenzie, who designed this change. He will now work with a coach dedicated to detail, not unlike himself. Together, they could make a compelling duo.
The Western Force must act decisively and appoint a new coach.
If there is such a thing, it may actually be an ideal time to search, as the northern hemisphere is approaching the end of its season and apparently there is no shortage of hats already in the ring.
Like McKenzie, Graham has the outcome he desired but it would still have been a tough week.
Interestingly, he received support from an unlikely source in recent Force chairman Geoff Stooke, a respected stalwart of West Australian rugby.
Stooke said to Graham that in the amateur days of rugby, you could change your car, your house or your job but never your rugby club.
Professionalism has changed his thinking. His parting words were: “While there is never a good time for these announcements, thanks for all you have done, you will always be welcome in my house.”
Graham may not get as warm a reception from the crowd when heads west next season.