Was Stephen Kearney simply too nice?
Greg Bird: NRL Rugby League match, Parramatta Eels V Gold Coast Titans at Parramatta Stadium, Sunday April 24th 2011. Digital pic by Robb Cox © Action Photographics.
As much as it was a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’, Stephen Kearney has received the axe at Parramatta. The announcement really puts into focus just how difficult it is to be a head coach in the NRL.
Consider the reputation of Kearney before he accepted the Parramatta job. He was an assistant at the Melbourne Storm, but he was also Craig Bellamy’s right hand man. He was a very successful coach of the New Zealand national team, winning a World Cup and a Tri-Nations title.
When he decided that he was ready to take the reins of his own NRL team, he was touted as an almost certain success. Bellamy couldn’t sing his praises enough and neither could the Storm players.
The Kiwis were no different, including special guest assistant Wayne Bennett. Anyone who was anyone in rugby league gave Kearney the big thumbs up.
So what went wrong?
One aspect of Kearney’s make up may have been overlooked: he was such a nice bloke. In the last couple of days, that’s all we’ve heard and read about Kearney. The coaching qualities that he apparently possesses have been swept under the rug and all anyone wants to look at is how nice he is to everyone.
It’s almost as if the opinion makers feel sorry for him and instead of criticising the terrible record that Kearney and his Parramatta team have in the past two seasons, they are content in saying that he’s just too nice a bloke for this to happen.
I say he is too nice a bloke to be a coach, and that is why this has happened.
Think about the last time Parramatta were getting beaten, which shouldn’t be too hard. What image do you have of Kearney during the game? What image do you have at half time?
The image I have is of a pensive coach not having much to say in the coach’s box. Not losing control of his emotions. At half time I see Kearney sitting on the same kind of seat that the players are sitting on, almost begging his players to have a dig.
There’s no Wayne Bennett-esque standing in front of players pointing to the ground to emphasise a point. No Craig Bellamy-like spray or theatrics leaving no-one in any doubt as to what he thinks. Definitely no repeat of Des Hasler’s carpentry work on the Parramatta Stadium doors.
Even in the post match press conferences, Kearney seemed either unable or unwilling to vent any anger. He was always looking at the positives to come out of the game or saying that “things need to be addressed” in the coming days.
Even when the Tigers win by plenty, Tim Sheens does nothing but snarl at the journalists. Sheens’ press conferences don’t last too long. Kearney almost asked for follow up after follow up and despite the apparent frustration starting to actually show, he would persist on the “easy does it approach”.
Despite the technical knowledge, vast playing experience and eye for detail that many other coaches in the NRL possess, Kearney didn’t have the nasty side to him that is required to gain the respect he warranted. The most successful coaches in sport all have a mean side to them.
They can come down on a player at the drop of a hat and put the fear of God into the rest of the team by doing so.
They also have the ability to encourage and inspire their chargers. To be a head coach in the NRL is a very difficult job, as you need to have the ability to implement the technical knowledge of the game. But you almost need a psychology degree to be able to manage your players and have them in the best frame of mind to perform consistently at their best.
And sometimes a bit of tough love is what is required. Players tend to take you more seriously when they know you are a genuine threat to their careers.
The ability to be everyone’s friend is a great personal trait to have. But if you want to be a NRL head coach, you need to have a bit of mongrel in you. You won’t have the respect of your players or support staff if you can’t make the tough decisions or put a rocket up your squad when they are playing terrible footy.
You need to be tough but fair. It seems to me that Kearney was too fair on the Parramatta players. I’m not sure they ever saw the tough side of their coach (Luke Burt might be the exception).
As a player, Stephen Kearney led by example. He was hard. He had that mongrel in his playing days. Somewhere along the way he lost that.
I’m sure that Kearney will once again find it but probably after another stint as an assistant, probably back with Bellamy and the Storm. Whether the scars endured over the last two years will ever heal enough for him to take the plunge and become another head coach, we may never know.
If he does, my bet is that we will see a coach to be reckoned with this time. He won’t get another chance otherwise.
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