New coach, same problems?

CS Knott Roar Rookie

By , CS Knott is a Roar Rookie

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    Let me just say right from the start: I really like Brad Thorn.

    The man has a professional title haul without equal across two rugby codes. I still have his trading card from his days at the Broncos.

    I watched with awe and no small amount of jealousy as he made his name with the All Blacks, often at the expense of teams in green and gold. Heck, when he switched to play for the Highlanders in Super Rugby they even became my ‘favourite Kiwi side’ (if such a thing actually exists).

    So in many ways I could not be more pleased by Thorn’s appointment to the head coaching position at the Queensland Reds. He is passionate about the game and espouses a philosophy of hard work and defensive toughness. He seems not only to be well-liked by players but also able to foster an environment of competency and teamwork. These appear to be good indicators of his potential success at the Reds, although his only experience thus far has been coaching under-20s and NRC sides.

    That last point gives me some pause for thought, though not necessarily about Thorn himself. Instead, I fear that this appointment is yet another symptom of broken management at the Reds.

    Recall the Richard Graham debacle. A poor run of results from 2013 to 2015 sees the Reds apparatus conduct an in-depth high-performance review of the franchise. The result? A ‘worldwide search’ for a new head coach that delivered Richard Graham.

    Not for long, though. Two rounds into 2016 he was sacked, finishing in Super Rugby with an unenviable record of nine wins from 34 matches at the Reds following seven from 24 at the Force.

    Matt O’Connor and Nick Stiles, both Reds assistants up until that point, were made interim replacements. Yet another coaching manhunt saw the franchise again opt to stick with what they knew, appointing Stiles as solo head coach while O’Connor was let go.

    That whole episode would have been farcical enough, but behind it all more consequences of the Reds’ mismanagement were brewing.

    That high-performance review had also seen former Wallabies coach John Connolly axed six weeks into his consulting contract. Understandably he was unimpressed by this. The resulting litigation saga ended only a month ago, with the courts ordering the Reds to pay Connolly $150,000 in compensation.

    It might all have been worth it had fortunes improved on the field. Alas, another disappointing year from a team packed with stars was all we got. Stiles wasn’t working out, so it was time for another change. Another short-term coach axed, another search for someone to turn it all around.

    This is the weirdness of the Reds setup. Time and time again the fans and then the organisation realised change was needed, but every time the franchise has opted not for change or new blood but for an insider. And not only that, their candidates have boasted terrible success rates and/or little to no top-level coaching experience. How this approach leads to better things is beyond me.

    Brad Thorn is no slouch – granted, he has not been with the Reds for long – but he is nonetheless an internal candidate and one with no track record of top-level coaching behind him.

    In a perfect world he would have been afforded another few seasons as an assistant to a successful experienced coach brought in from outside the franchise. He could have honed his coaching craft and confidence before stepping equipped into the head coaching role.

    It may be that Thorn has the skill and substance to be a fantastically successful head coach at the Reds. My fear is that he, along with the talented squad and Queensland fans, will be burned by another case of mismanagement.

    But I sincerely hope not. With some luck and some Brad Thorn brawn at the helm, this Reds side may well achieve something of their great potential next season.