As editor of RUGBYMag.com I am proud to see what we’ve been able to offer readers in recent weeks. We’ve had columns from several very intelligent observers of the game, with thoughts on training (Aaron Manheimer), nutrition (Heather Mason), coaching (Gavin Hickie), game philosophy (see AW Scott’s observations on the RWC), and High Performance (Bruce McLane).
Interestingly, many of the ideas from these writers dovetail into a single message – that the USA needs to have a plan going forward as a rugby nation.
We need to recognize how the game is best played, and, in addition, how it can be played in an attractive way. We need to produce a system that helps the USA perform better internationally. Why? Because more success makes us proud, more success means more exposure on TV and in the media (not just RUGBYMag), and more success means more players, more fans, more fun.
In addition, remember that rugby exists for the players. Players who want to play recreationally can do that fairly easily. Players who want to play at the highest level need a structure in which to test themselves.
That structure isn’t there right now, but we have the chance, today, to create it.
USA Rugby’s Board, which has enormous power in the decisions related to hiring a National Team coach, should do well to consider the following:
USA Rugby does not have enough money to pay more than 3% of its budget on a national team coach. RUGBYMag.com’s own survey of National Governing Bodies with vaguely similar budgets found only USA Basketball and USA Water Polo pay a higher percentage to their national coach than does USA Rugby. For most, the percentage is about 1.5%.
Several exceptional coaches would do the job for 1.5% - which is about $100,000.
The National Team coaching job covers perhaps seven test matches in a year. Certainly no more than eight. The USA is slated to host Italy, Georgia and Canada next year, and that Canada game might be a home-and-away. Then they might tour in November.
What about the rest of the time? Yes there’s scouting and player evaluations and camps and assemblies. But there is certainly time for the National Team coach to serve as an ambassador for the Eagles. He can visit training, expose players and coaches to his philosophy, his ideas, and his standards.
Similarly, the rest of the coaching staff should be able to branch out into other aspects of play. We could have an assistant coach in charge of player development (working with age-grade coaches and scouting). We could have an assistant coach in charge of coaching outreach (those visits to clubs and communicating with clubs). And we could have someone (a member of the USA coaching staff or someone off to the side, even part-time) in charge of elite competitions – someone who can work with the Super League, someone who can establish what, if anything, needs to be done on a regional level.
We could bring in a team – rugby’s a team game, after all – that knows where the players come from, how they talk, and how they’re coached, and combine all that expertise to create a program.
If USA Rugby’s Board of Directors chooses to hire an Eagles coach who is in the mold of Nick Mallett or Peter de Villiers, or anyone else with a name and an impressive international resume, they will have made a huge mistake.
It’s not because those guys can’t coach a national team, it’s that they will cost a lot of money, they will need significant time to learn the lay of the land in the USA, and they won’t understand the need for the Eagle coach to take care of everything – coaching, outreach, scouting, competitions.
This is my appeal to the Board to not go down the Eddie O’Sullivan, Scott Johnson path; it’s my appeal that we can actually be better overall if we work together and use the expertise we have within our community.
Alex Goff is Editor-in-Chief of RUGBYMag.com and wrote his first Eagle Eye column in 1998.