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'Sorry and embarrassed' Coleman opens up on 'sour and sad' Tahs ending, but dreams of return in time

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21st May, 2024
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Outgoing Waratahs coach Darren Coleman says he’s “sorry and embarrassed” that he couldn’t lead the Super Rugby franchise to more success, but the affable mentor hopes to one day return to complete the job.

“The dreamer in me would love to come back one day,” he said. “Whenever. Ten years down the track and have another shot at it as a better coach.”

In a dignified address to the media on Tuesday afternoon, Coleman, who was told on Monday that his time would come to an end with the Waratahs at season’s end after three years in charge, opened up on his time at Daceyville during a long media conference alongside Waratahs chief executive Paul Doorn.

After picking the Waratahs up off the canvas in 2022 and leading them to the finals following a winless season, Coleman’s side struggled for consistency in his second season despite making another quarter-final before falling down the standings rapidly in his final year in charge.

With two matches left in the Super Rugby season, the Waratahs are stone cold last on the bottom of the standings on 12 points after two victories from 12 matches.

Ultimately, having won just 16 of 42 matches over the past three years (38 per cent), the NSW Rugby board in consultation with Rugby Australia decided the time was right to move on from Coleman.

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman before the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between Hurricanes and NSW Waratahs at Sky Stadium, on March 17, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman says he’s “embarrassed and sad” after failing to earn a contract extention. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

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Coleman said he felt a sense of “relief” after being told on Monday his time as Waratahs head coach was coming to an end and he wouldn’t be “slinging and throwing rocks on the way out”.

“You didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out that there may be changes, so it wasn’t like it was a mad shock,” he said.

Nonetheless, the homegrown talent, who in his own words said had been to more Shute Shield clubs than Tiger Woods had in his golf bag when taking on the coaching role, felt “six strong emotions” after reflecting on the news that he wouldn’t return as head coach, including being appreciative, frustrated and motivated.

Amongst that, he added: “I’m sorry and I’m embarrassed.

“I couldn’t progress the good work and the on-field results of my year one here to further success with the team.

“I feel especially bad I couldn’t deliver for all the passionate and loyal Tahs fans and supporters.”

Despite beating the Crusaders twice in 2024 and a mounting injury toll, which included the loss of all ten contracted front-rowers, Coleman didn’t think he was “stiffed” by being thanked and pushed out the door.

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“You make the best decision for the team and I feel the board and the organisation have taken everything on board and they’ve made the best decision,” he said.

“There’s definitely no bad blood from my end.”

The Waratahs react during their heavy loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Nor does Coleman believe he was driven off the click by the news he had until the end of March to prove himself, saying he was given more than enough time to push his case.

“No, I didn’t coach any better or any worse because of that,” he said.

“I was always giving my best.

“We didn’t do well in the first four weeks. I think we were one and three.

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“I guess the board… I have a feeling that they wanted to keep me. I just needed me and the team needed to perform.

“They stretched it out to the mid-year review and we still weren’t going well and they gave me some feedback and another shot and then we still weren’t going well. So, no hard feelings.

“They gave me three chances, not one.”

But he does believe the job was harder than he first imagined.

“I’ve got to admit the outside noise was harder than I expected,” he said.

Asked what he would do differently second time around, Coleman said “heaps”.

“The end’s a bit sour and sad but when I reflect and emotion goes out of it, I’ll look back and it’ll be an amazing three years of my life,” he said.

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Darren Coleman ahead of the Waratahs’ loss to the Rebels at Allianz Stadium on March 29, 2024. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

He said that coaches coming out of the Shute Shield competition could make the leap to Super Rugby but added that it would be an “easier” and “natural progression” to be an assistant coach first.

Under pressure CEO Doorn, who hired Coleman in mid-2021, said the process surrounding the coach’s future had been “honest and truthful” throughout the entire “journey”.

Doorn said no irons were in the fire yet regarding finding their next coach, but added the process to find Coleman’s replacement would start “immediately”.

Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who led the Super Rugby franchise to their one and only Super Rugby title, is an obvious target.

His former right-hand man Nathan Grey, who since finishing up as Cheika’s assistant with the Waratahs and Wallabies has taken over the Junior Wallabies, is believed to be one of the favourites.

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Current assistant Jason Gilmore, who also led Australia A over the past two years, is likely to accept a role with Harlequins in England.

Outgoing Randwick coach Stephen Hoiles and current Australian men’s sevens coach John Manenti are also options.

While other left-field options like Dan McKellar and Simon Raiwalui are currently in roles.

Doorn didn’t want to speculate whether Cheika was a serious option despite currently being a free agent.

“I haven’t spoken to Michael this time round, no not as yet,” Doran said.

“I’m not going to put names on it today because there’s plenty of people. I don’t want to necessarily suggest that there’s one ahead of the other. So yeah, we’d be open to all incomers.”

Michael Cheika, Head Coach of Argentina reacts prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Quarter Final match between Wales and Argentina at Stade Velodrome on October 14, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Former Wallabies and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is a free agent. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

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In addition to finding their next head coach, Doorn said the hole left by Andrew Blades’ departure as general manager had been more significant than first thought and the Super Rugby franchise would consider whether to fill that role.

Coleman, who temporarily filled Blades’ shoes over the past ten months before being relieved of those duties earlier in the Super Rugby season, is thought to be interested in moving into the role.

Doorn didn’t shut the door on Coleman transitioning either.

“Darren and I have not surprisingly had those conversations,” Doorn said. “So effectively, that is an option.

“But again, we’ve got to land on what do those positions look like? What’s the skill set we’re looking for? We’re going to derive that from that objective as opposed to just automatically finding jobs for people.”

DARREN COLEMAN’S CLASSY OPENING STATEMENT

I think it’s important to have a strong emotional connection to your job.

For me this is more than a job, it becomes all encompassing and sometimes unfortunately to the detriment of other things in your life. But at the moment I’m feeling six strong emotions and I reckon if I go through them it will help probably answer most of your questions as well. I’m appreciative, I’m very appreciative to the organisation for giving me the opportunity of being head coach of this great state.

I appreciate that the board enabled me to finish the season when results weren’t great and invested in me with a mid-year review to improve my game. Unfortunately this season the results didn’t match the endeavour of everyone involved. I’m thankful, I’m really thankful, for all the friendships I’ve made in my time here and some great memories.

The staff and players I’ve met and worked with in this three-year period, many I’ll call friends for life. I’m also thankful I get to move on to another organisation, project and start that mateship process with a new bunch of friends again. I’m sorry and I’m embarrassed.

I couldn’t progress the good work and the on-field results of my year one here to further success with the team. I feel especially bad I couldn’t deliver for all the passionate and loyal Tahs fans and supporters. The ones that jump on and off from time to time and prefer to be negative, I’m not so sad to see the back end of them.

But I generally understand how important this team’s success is to NSW Rugby and I’m sad I couldn’t contribute more to the growth of the game through our team’s on-field performances. I’m frustrated. I feel this year could have turned out a lot different with a bit of luck at crucial times around our front row injuries and that run of four games early in the season.

I feel some success in those or a result or two may have seen a different season unfold.

I’m proud. I’m really proud of what happened in year one and the positives we built at Leichhardt.

I’m proud I did my best to stay in the fight under tricky circumstances at times and with mounting pressure. I didn’t quit.

I’m more resilient because of it. It doesn’t mean what you guys write sometimes doesn’t hurt, but I’m definitely more resilient and more thick-skinned off the back of it. But I’m genuinely proud that I stuck it out and went to the end.

And lastly, I’m motivated. I’m motivated to reflect, learn and improve from this experience and to continue to enjoy the fruits of this great sport. I already can’t wait to take what I’ve learned from this gig and rip into my next project.

The dreamer in me would love to come back one day. Whenever. Ten years down the track and have another shot at it as a better coach.
 I want to finish well here. We’re sitting in a horrible position on the ladder, which I want to rectify.

I want to win our last two games and get up a few spots on that ladder and have all the staff and players that are here leave with a smile on their face and on a positive note after what’s been a disappointing season.

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