Western Force coach John Mitchell claims his team’s calamitous start to the Super 14 season has nothing to do with his decision to step down when his current contract expires.
Mitchell, coach of the Force since its foundation year of 2006, confirmed on Wednesday he would not seek reappointment when his current deal expires at the end of next season.
The Force have endured a disastrous start to their 2010 campaign, losing their opening five games as injuries to key players including marquee signing Andre Pretorius, David Pocock, Cameron Shepherd and Richard Brown took their toll.
But The Fordham Company, which manages Mitchell, claimed their client made his decision to step away before the season even started.
“Because of the circumstances of the Force’s injury-plagued start to the year, John’s focus recently has been squarely on the team and not on himself,” the agency’s chief executive John Fordham said in a statement.
“But because Vern (Force chief executive Vern Reid) has been keen for some time to have a chat about John’s future plans, I decided this morning to be totally transparent with him.
“The Force now has ample time to recruit a replacement and John always wanted to give them the courtesy of a long window.”
Mitchell, who through a statement expressed his desire to see out his current contract, has endured a rocky ride in his four-and-a-half years at the Force.
Alleged complaints from players and staff about their dealings with Mitchell in late 2008 threatened his hold on the top job as the club’s hierarchy ordered an independent inquiry in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Mitchell was temporarily stood down and a raft of recommendations from the inquiry were implemented, the most notable being a more even spread of power among the coaching staff.
The changes seemed to ease most of the tensions as the Force finished eighth in 2009, which included the Triple Crown with wins over Australian rivals the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies.
But the Firepower sponsorship debacle, which led to the departures of Matt Giteau to the Brumbies and Drew Mitchell to NSW at the end of last season, left gaping holes in the Force’s playing roster.
While the recruitment of former Springbok Pretorius was hailed as a coup, his season-ending hamstring injury on the eve of round one was a devastating blow and one the Force never recovered from as the injury-curse spread throughout the team.
In 57 games at the helm of the Force, Mitchell has guided the Perth-based franchise to 20 wins, four draws and 33 losses.
That record is in stark contrast to his stint at the All Blacks, where he enjoyed an 86 per cent winning record before being axed after failing to lead the side to glory at the 2003 World Cup.
Reid could not be contacted for comment on Wednesday.