Former ACT coach Jake White doesn’t regret walking away from the Brumbies, declaring: ‘‘I don’t feel guilty for chasing an international dream.’’
White has written a letter to every Brumbies player to detail the reasons he quit the last two years of his contract.
The World Cup-winning coach has broken his Australian silence after he quit the Brumbies last month, despite leading the team into the Super Rugby final in August.
He paid more than $200,000 to the Brumbies as compensation to be released from his contract to move back to South Africa and start a job as the Durban Sharks’ director of coaching.
In a wide-ranging interview, White told Fairfax Media his only regret was not being able to inform the players of his decision before it was made public.
Why did you quit?
Jake White: I didn’t just go in one day and decide I’m leaving. I went to see [chairman Sean Hammond] and [chief executive Andrew Fagan] before I went back to South Africa and said I’m feeling a little bit disillusioned about being involved in Australian rugby. It’s not like I came and didn’t do any work and then said I wanted to move on. I was always going to leave, I was never going to stay at the Brumbies forever. It’s not a case of sour grapes, it’s just about moving on. When is the right time? Which is the right way? Sure I’d like to have stayed another year or two, but when I weighed it all up ... I asked my sons and they said ‘No, dad, I think it’s better if you come back.’’
Do you still want to be an international coach?
JW: I don’t feel guilty at all about wanting to chase an international dream, players do it all the time. That’s what you expect players to be. If I was coaching a Brumbies guy and he said he never wanted to play well for Australia, chances are he wouldn’t play well for the Brumbies.
How do the Brumbies players feel?
JW: I’ve written a letter to the boys explaining my reasoning. I would have liked to have been able to tell them face to face. It was one of the most special groups of players I’ve ever worked with. Everything we ever asked them to do or challenged them with, they put their hands up.
Did missing the Wallabies job lead to your exit?
JW: There’s no grudge or animosity, the landscape has changed and that’s fine. It’s not [the Brumbies] fault. If I had have got the Wallabies job they would have had to find a new coach anyway. I put the Brumbies first. But I didn’t think it was fair on my family or anyone else to be there if there was no chance of coaching any higher.
Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher are the two candidates to replace you. Who should be the next Brumbies coach?
JW: I don’t think the Brumbies can get it wrong. Laurie has been a head coach and understands the Brumbies. He’s senior, that’s in his favour. But there’s no doubt that Bernie will become a Brumbies coach now or in the future. I don’t think it makes a difference who they pick, there’s no negatives. It’s all positives between those two guys.
You came with a four-year plan. What changed?
JW: The four-year plan was also part of living in Australia, don’t underestimate that. It was for me as well, I was going to embrace Australia and the Brumbies. It was four years for the program and four years to see what opportunities would come. If in two years the program accelerated and the opportunities are no longer there, well then you’ve got to reassess.
But you would have stayed in Australia if you were Wallabies coach.
JW: I applied for the Aussie job and put my hand up because I was always comfortable staying in Australia for the next 10 years because I was prepared to sacrifice being away from what I was comfortable with, family and my kids, if I was able to coach an international team. But I didn’t think it was fair on my family or anyone else to be away if there weren’t opportunities.
You got so close to a Super Rugby title. Why leave now to join the Sharks?
JW: Of course it made it tough. I know how special this group of players is and I’ve got no doubt that this group of players can go on and create a massive legacy for the Brumbies and Australian rugby. Some [coaches] would be selfish and just hang in and stay for that reason. But I weighed all that up. I just thought the club’s in a fantastic state. I have an opportunity to coach in South Africa and at the same time I’m happy with the position the Brumbies are in. It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s not seen as dumping one club and joining another.
Do you have any regrets about how it unfolded?
JW: In an ideal world I would have loved to have sat with every player and told them my thinking. I know if I had that opportunity, I know they would have understood. Some of them might have been disappointed, but in the scheme of things they would have understood. Some said ‘You said you were going to be here four years’. But things change. I’m in the career of coaching. It’s always good to leave a year or two years too early than a year too late.
How do you feel about the timing?
JW: The Brumbies was a family to me. My wife Lindy was in tears when we decided. But in a family you have to let people move on. Times have changed. It’s the middle of holidays and I say I’m moving on. It’s not the first week of pre-season, it’s not in December or after the first two games of a season. If I’m going to make a decision, this was the time to make it. I didn’t want to get there and then after three months say that I’d like to be [back in South Africa].
How will you feel about coming back to Canberra with the Sharks next year?
JW: I will enjoy it. I’ll catch up with a lot of my friends that I’ve got in Canberra. It’s not like I’m sitting here in trepidation thinking I’m going to have to go back to Canberra. I know that in my heart I did my bit and I gave my 100 per cent and there was no malice or skulduggery. The bottom line is I just wanted to move on.
What state do you think you’ve left the Brumbies program in?
JW: Everything about the Brumbies made me feel as though it’s the right thing. It might look from the outside like it’s a sudden change, but there was work going on behind the scenes. If ever there was a time for change, this is it.
What was the hardest thing about leaving?
JW: I wanted to create something special in Canberra and a family at the Brumbies. It was hard for me to say that I needed to move on. I felt as though I was letting people down.
What’s your message to Brumbies fans?
JW: No message other than to say thank you and that I enjoyed my time and the people in Canberra. I genuinely felt heartsore when I left, both my wife and I felt like that. It was as difficult coming back to South Africa as it was when we initially decided to leave.
What was the timeline of your decision?
JW: When the ARU appointed Ewen McKenzie to the Wallabies job, I went to see Fagan and Hammond, I had nothing to hide. I said to them that I didn’t enjoy the way things unfolded. They said I didn’t coach the Aussie way and I didn’t enjoy that. They [critics] said [my coaching style] is conservative, but that’s unfair because we scored more tries than Queensland. I never wanted to be seen as undermining Australian rugby or Ewen. When I had time to reflect in South Africa, I told [the Brumbies] I was feeling disillusioned with where my career was going in Australia. And who says I can’t coach Australia after the World Cup? I’ve not turned my back on Australia.
What do the Brumbies have to do to win a championship?
JW: Work as hard as they have over the past two years. I don’t think anyone can work as hard as the Brumbies have. It sounds simple, but if they keep working they’ll get the rewards.