Don’t just blame the coach

Results matter. We get it. 

It’s the way the life is, whether its sports, business or whatever. Fair enough.

And so the Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U) is perfectly within its rights – providing they have not violated a legally-binding contract – to change coaches as they see fit. 

In this case, we are talking about Englishman Damian McGrath who has become the latest victim of the Union’s revolving door policy when it comes to coaches of the abbreviated code. 

It helps to remember that apart from McGrath’s ethnicity, his treatment – or mistreatment if you like - is no different from what many local coaches have had to grabble with over the years. 

In fact, some of them were far more successful than McGrath, having won at least two or three World Rugby series titles - and yet they still got the boot. 

So the treatment of McGrath is only the continuation of the Union’s long record of sacking coaches season after season. Hardly surprising.

This week, the Union’s Chief Executive Officer Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i defended the decision saying it was based on a review undertaken by an independent panel. 

Apparently the outcome of the review was a major factor when the Board – chaired by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi – made the decision.

Faleomavaega insisted the decision was strictly based on results. He explained that for every coach, there is a process to follow at the end of every season. The process involves a review, which considers results. 

Obviously McGrath does not agree with the review.

Contacted for a comment last week, he told the Samoa Observer he has engaged the services of a lawyer to represent him. That means this fight is far from over and the outcome could well set a precedent for things to come and it could well change the Union’s habit of sacking coaches at will.

Come to think of it, we can understand why McGrath has taken this route. 

The issue here is not just the sacking of a coach. This man’s future and reputation has been ruined by what the Union has done. Coaching is his bread and butter. And now that he has been sacked from such a high profile role, this would have a tremendous impact on future employment opportunities. 

It’s crystal clear the sacking indicates that McGrath’s results were not good enough. These results by the way include coaching a relatively inexperienced team to the Paris Sevens title as well as coming tantalisingly close to qualifying for the Rio Olympics. 

Speaking of Rio qualification, one can argue that Samoa was robbed in the final against Spain. We all saw how poor the officials handled the game. It was sure a tough one to swallow. 

Fast forward to today, we accept we cannot undo what has happened but if the Union is serious about the results – and if the failure to qualify for the Olympics was the final straw that broke the camel’s back in the case of McGrath – they cannot just blame this poor coach. 

The Board – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa – must also shoulder the blame.

The facts are pretty straightforward. McGrath and Brian Lima were recruited quite late in the piece to train a team that was expected to go on to win the Olympics. As if that wasn’t hard enough, they virtually had a new team to work with, with the exception of Selesele and a few others. That is a sure recipe for disaster.

It’s not as if the Union had just found out last year that there was an Olympic Games in 2016. They had known about it and yet they fluffed around until it was too late. 

Having observed the success of Ben Ryan with Fiji, they were perhaps hoping for McGrath to replicate the same model in Samoa. To be fair, he succeeded in some areas but the man is human, he is not a god. There was no way he was going to turn our fortunes around in a hurry.  

If the Union knew what it was doing, it would have invested in McGrath – or someone of his ilk – three or four years before to train the team. By setting the expectations so high and giving McGrath and Brian Lima insufficient time to prepare the team for Rio, they were setting them up to fail.

The irony now is the Union making all these noises about results and performance. Seriously? What about the performance of the Board – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa as the Chairman? Has anybody done an independent review about their results?

It’s easy to make the coach the scapegoat. 

Samoan rugby has been doing this for years and we’ve only gone backwards. Sack the coach, sack the captain, sack whoever doesn’t sing their tune. This is truly bizarre.

 Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to sing a different tune. After all, we live in an era of professional sport where a team’s success takes far more than the effort of a group of athletes and a coach. Decisions made in the boardroom are reflected in the success on the field. That’s the reality. Which means if the team is failing on the field, we’ve got do better than just sacking the coach. 

Incidentally, if that’s the path the Union wants to continue on, why don’t we sack everyone involved in the decision-making at the end of every season until we start getting the results we want? 

Have a wonderful Friday Samoa, God bless!

Bg pattern light


Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?