Coaches get the boot. It’s a fact of life.
If you are in any doubt, a quick search on Google for ‘rugby coach sacked’ will return almost a million results in less than a second.
Although not inevitable, unless you boast a Teflon-life ability to ride out bad results and criticism, it is highly likely you will be relieved of your duties – or be given the more dignified option to step down – at some point in your coaching career.
Just like a team dealing with a defeat, the key thing is how you analyse and process that setback before moving forward.
It is a quandary that former England head coach Stuart Lancaster will have spent many hours contemplating since the axe fell on him in the wake of a disappointing Rugby World Cup campaign last year.
But he did not disappear into a dark well of introspection that his generous severance package from the Rugby Football Union could have afforded him, although it is safe to say that Lancaster, the meticulous planner that he is, will have pored over every detail of their World Cup campaign with forensic precision.
Instead he actively sought fresh coaching opportunities and insight that would expand his knowledge and offer the chance to restore his faith in himself as a coach while at the same time put distance between him and his World Cup disappointment.
Lancaster’s experience, having graduated from the English club rugby ranks to the RFU’s head of elite player development and then the top coaching job, opened the door to several short-term roles with teams hoping to tap into that knowledge.
You clearly don’t become a bad coach overnight and NFL side the Atlanta Falcons, British Cycling, The Football Association and Counties Manukau in New Zealand all welcomed his input this year as Lancaster will have similarly embraced the chance to rehabilitate his reputation.
“I’ve still got a long way to go, so I want to keep learning and getting better, but I also want to pass on what I’ve learnt to other coaches and players,” he said during his sojourn in the southern hemisphere.
Such is the turnover of coaches in the increasingly cut-throat world of professional rugby that opportunities are never too far away. However, it was the departure of defence coach Kurt McQuilkin due to family reasons that opened the door his recent appointment as senior coach at Irish province Leinster.
Head coach Leo Cullen has granted Lancaster the chance to prove his doubters wrong on another short-term contract albeit one that lasts the course of this season. However, he is yet to be added to the team’s website – perhaps a reflection of their quest to find him workable home in their coaching structure?
It is a high-profile position given Leinster’s success-laden history including three European Cup titles and the team have made a solid if not spectacular start to the PRO12 campaign.
Time – and results – will tell if Lancaster can resurrect his career to the point where he can secure the Super Rugby or international coaching role he craves.
There is clearly hope for Lancaster and any other coach who reacts to a potentially career-derailing event in the right way and those unlucky enough to suffer such a blow need look no further than Sir Graham Henry for inspiration.
Today he is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches the rugby world has ever seen, and maybe the best of all, having steered the All Blacks to World Cup glory in 2011, but he was not always held in such high esteem.
Back in 2002 Henry ‘resigned by mutual consent’ from the Wales coaching job having endured a turbulent few years in the northern hemisphere.
It had begun so well following his appointment in 1998 with 10 straight victories that saw him hailed as ‘The Great Redeemer’ but results and public opinion began to go against him with his popularity not helped by his side going down to Samoa in the pool stages of the 1999 World Cup before being swept aside by Australia in the quarter-finals.
Henry still had enough support to earn the honour of leading the British & Irish Lions to Australia in 2001 but there was more criticism around the corner – most notably from within the playing squad.
A narrow series defeat to the Wallabies with arguably the most talent-heavy Lions squad in the modern era did Henry no favours and within a year he would be on his way back to New Zealand having hit what he has called “rock bottom”.
But crucially Henry regards that rollercoaster ride as the most rewarding period of his coaching career. “I think everybody who is successful has some disasters along the way before they triumph,” Henry recalled earlier this year.
“To go through those disasters if you like, and the Welsh experience and the Lions experience, I look back on them as the most valuable time I had in coaching."
“Because you learn so much about yourself and what you had to do to stay in the game, to stay in coaching, to be successful and you have to change.”
It prompted a radical change in Henry’s approach that would in turn lay the foundation for future success.
“I changed from a dictatorial, with some consensus from time to time, to a consensus coach,” revealed the former school master. “So it went from a ‘me and them’ environment to an ‘us’ environment.”
That collective approach would prove pivotal in his reappointment as All Blacks coach after yet another major setback in the form of New Zealand’s shock quarter-final exit at the hands of France at the 2007 World Cup.
In a complete reversal of the sentiment seen on the 2001 Lions tour, it was the support of the players’ – led by captain Richie McCaw – that prompted the decision to offer Henry, and his coaching team including current All Blacks boss Steve Hansen, another chance when many were calling for his head.
The lesson for all is not to let one defeat or career ‘break’ – or even a major victory or career triumph – consume you or distract you from your goal of getting the best out of yourself and your players.
Squeeze more out of the bad days than you do from the happiest. Acknowledge your shortcomings, make changes and move forward with renewed confidence.