Those who have risen to the top of the professional coaching ranks talk about the rush of experiencing a massive win, the cyclical highs and lows of the job from week to week, and the importance of the now clichéd “processes and systems”.
For some, it is an extension of their glory days after playing careers draw to an end – an opportunity to stay in the game that gave them fame and sometimes fortune.
But then there are those coaches hungry for success, who can’t wait to prove their doubters wrong. They want to get to the top and they will do anything they can to leapfrog the next guy, to keep their careers alive in a game they have built their life around.
What has always astounded me is the lack of a long-term vision among these coaches for life after rugby. Sure, there are four-year cyclical plans, but every coach knows that he’s only a few games away from being fired – hence the planning doesn’t go further than the next season.
And every South African coach wants to get his hands on the Springboks.
Rassie Erasmus wanted to coach the Springboks from day one. We heard the rumours when Heyneke Meyer was coach, and we watched as he left for Munster when Allister Coetzee was appointed. In the end, the move served him well as he’s now got the job.
Like every other man that covets coaching the Green and Gold, he has moved mountains in his personal life to get there. The question is, what happens after this chapter in his coaching career?
This is not an examination of the coaching system, nor the merits of each coach, but it makes the point that coach’s long-term planning often doesn’t go further than reaching the top of the game.
Companies across the world employ HR people to plot career paths, to do career development and to ensure that the right mix of training, experience and a vision of the way forward is always there for employees. In the world of rugby contracts, this is as foreign as a straight answer at a press conference.
Last year I spoke to a top coach, one who is now enjoying his time in a cold training ground somewhere far away, about why he wanted to be the Bok coach. The conversation was terse at times, and honest. And I reminded him that, as a forty-something coach he was on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of his career. And then what?
It sounds cruel, but I asked whether, even if he did ascend to the top, how long he would be able to keep the job. We’ve seen some strong characters being hired and losing it eventually, succumbing to the pressures of the job and falling apart. The fact is, every Bok coach will be fired eventually. History shows that the job is not a long-term proposition.
And yet, they all want it. But what happens next, after they’ve tasted the success and failure of Test rugby, once they’ve experienced the highs of packed stadiums across the world, and vanquished their foes on the field?
There seems to be a feeling among these coaches that the job is never completely finished and perhaps that’s why there are many examples of coaches who just can’t let go. Some find their way in other teams, others start academies and work as consultants to other clubs across the globe, but you always get the sense that they long to be back in the Test arena.
Jake White, for instance, makes no bones about it. He’s forever offering his services and applying for that next job. In coaching terms, he is still young, has a lot to offer and is a good coach.
So, Rassie beware; think about a life after the Boks. It will come, and you will still be a young man. Top coaches always have a point to prove, there’s always another game to win.
But when you leave, the way you handle the next step will be your biggest challenge. Too few coaches ever bother to think about that.