Sacked coaches deserve respect
Stephen Kearney is one of the NRL's under pressure coaches (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
The recent sacking of Steve Kearney by the Parramatta Eels and the ensuing media interest had me cast my mind back to a similar incident that occurred during my own playing career. The incident stirred up emotions that had long been buried.
I am sure other players and fans will be able to recall the events surrounding the mid-season sacking of North Sydney’s first grade coach Greg Hawick. I am also sure many will have their own unique perspectives and offer their own insights – perhaps similar to mine, perhaps vastly different.
The removal of a coach mid-season back in the 80s was far less common than it is now.
Greg was not doing well, the team was losing, he seemingly had few ideas on how to turn the situation around. The team was fractured down the middle – there were players who just wanted to get on with it and those who were looking for a change.
To me the real low point of the season occurred when we players gathered behind the try line after conceding yet another try. I can’t even remember the team we were playing but I remember the emotions that we all felt standing there.
We were ashamed and embarrassed. The supporters were livid and to be truthful, because of our results at this time, those supporters in the stands were mostly wives and girlfriends.
Two players standing behind the try line had to be separated by teammates as they almost came to blows over what was going on. I think it was the night that the axe fell on the coach.
Previously players had meetings. Sometimes with coaches and sometimes without. I remember at one such meeting the playing group decided to take matters into their own hands and to multiply the effort. We trained the house down during the week and chalked up a rare win.
The effort wasn’t sustained and we were soon back standing behind the try line with heads bowed.
The night the coach was sacked was a normal post game night. The players gathered back at North’s Leagues – drinks were drunk, awards were given but the sombre mood was hard to shake.
There was talk that a meeting of officials was being held upstairs and the players wanting change seemed more buoyant than those that wanted to get on with it.
The memory from this night has stayed with me all my life and has helped shape a lot of my thinking.
Greg Hawick had made his way directly from the meeting to the conveniences and it there that we crossed paths. He turned to me and said “you’re going to hear about this when you walk back into that room – they just sacked me”.
He was proud, carried himself with dignity – but was obviously deeply wounded. His once square shoulders were slumped. I could understand his deep disappointment and felt a personal shame that my performances on the field had contributed to his situation.
The whole team could have done a lot better.
Greg was most likely a very good coach but boardroom and player politics did not give him the opportunity to do his best. Maybe his best was never going to be good enough – we never got to find out.
Coaches are often subject to a lot of negativity from fans and media when their team is not performing. I just think, from my own experience, that it is important to remind people that coaches come into the job with great knowledge and intentions. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
But sacked coaches deserve our utmost respect.