By Geoffrey Mason
First of all, let me preface these remarks by giving the disclaimer that I am from the much maligned Commonwealth that is screwing up U.S. rugby as we know it, if we are to believe many of the bloggers that frequent the rugby sites. Those that know me, know I am a Knight of the Southern Cross and proudly so. But I am not necessarily blessing the need to get a foreign coach for the Eagles.
The question of whether the Eagles need a foreign or US born coach comes down simply to who can dig us out of the mire that the Eagles are stuck. The Eagles are currently ranked 17th in the world behind such powers as Georgia and Fiji. This is unacceptable!
The Eddie O’Sullivan era and the Scott Johnson and Peter Thorburn periods were less than stellar and they all held the supposed key to success in rugby…a foreign passport.
To my view, I do not think it matters much what nationality the new coach is. We do need someone who is not necessarily a big name but someone that has a passion and a willingness to get out and find the needed players the US has to have to be even marginally competitive.
The player pool is where the US is weak. Our playing numbers are actually far larger than Fiji and Georgia yet we are ranked several places below them. Australia doesn’t have too many more registered players than the US according to IRB numbers, and rugby is the third most popular code behind rugby league and Aussie rules there. Look where they are. There are good players all over the US that can be found but they must be developed. The next Eagles coach whatever the accent has got to know the US system, know the coaches and deal with the politics, and not have geographical biases in favor of certain parts of the country. Oh, and live in the country fulltime.
All that said, I would plump for an American. A manager that is energetic, young and technically astute. You can always hire a foreign assistant or two for additional technical purposes if necessary. Also, what is badly needed is a fulltime developmental academy where you send the up and comers to live and breathe rugby and turn out the kind of players that will be at least regularly competitive with the Tier 2 and Tier 3 nations.
Watching the Leinster game in the Heineken Cup last weekend, the commentators talked constantly about the young players on the field that had come through the local academy for the current cup champions. The part-time set up the US has now has to change.
But USA Rugby doesn’t have the money to pay for any year round academy, you will say. It strikes me that we should be hitting up corporate sponsors to get this funded. What about NBC? Rugby will soon be an Olympic sport in 2016 and it would be in their interests with the television rights to the Games to have a successful rugby debut. Another 2016 version of Miracle on the Ice but instead between the sidelines?
But maybe we are all on a fool’s errand. When you have a lot of the rugby countries starting kids out at 6 and 7 years old playing and being coached, and we have most of our players beginning in late high school or college, we will never be able to compete. Experience means a lot. We could disband the national team for a while and concentrate our funds on getting younger kids learning the game, increase the high school numbers and continue to energize the college game. So we hold off on hiring a new Eagles coach for a while. Of course, I am only kidding, right?
HAVE YOUR SAY…Does the U.S. need to stick with a more experienced foreign born coach? Or would the program be better off with someone that knows and appreciates the unique issues of U.S. rugby? Talk about this below.
A native of Australia, Geoff Mason played both rugby league, professionally in Sydney, and rugby union for 35 years. He emigrated to the US in 1980 and was a Player/Coach at University of South Carolina from 1983-1985 and returned to his alma mater to serve as USC’s head coach from 2004 through 2011 compiling a record of 166 wins, 94 losses and 8 ties.
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