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Club by club - How many head coaches has the Premiership had in 10 years?

By Dan Johansson
Aviva Premiership (L-R) Mark McCall of Saracens, Rob Baxter of Exeter Chiefs, Dai Young of Wasps and Richard Cockerill, formerly of Leicester Tigers (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images for Premiership Rugby)

After a string of disappointing results, Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder has left Northampton Saints in a move that, depending on who you ask is either long overdue or unfairly harsh.

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Mallinder’s 10 years at the helm marked him as the longest serving DoR in the Premiership, and one that brought a great deal of success to the Midlands club.

It was only three years ago that Mallinder’s men were holding aloft the Premiership trophy, and there have been a few disgruntled rugby fans expressing concern that his sacking heralds a move towards the cut-throat managerial merry-go-round of football.

So we thought we’d take a look at the last decade of the Aviva Premiership to see just how precarious those top jobs are:
(Given that the hierarchy differs from club to club, the following article will consider Head Coaches, Directors of Rugby or anyone else that assumes overall control of the team on a match-day basis for inclusion, though the final total will be based on whoever assumes the main figurehead role at the club)

Bath

Bath started the 2007-8 season with Steve Meehan as Head Coach, having replaced Brian Ashton on a supposedly temporary basis the year before. Meehan was replaced briefly by Ian McGeechan, who in turn gave way to Gary Gold. Mixed performances saw something of a reshuffle, with Gold moving to the Director of Rugby position (leaving in 2013), and Mike Ford taking over the day-to-day running of things as Head Coach. After Ford’s acrimonious departure, Bath again changed their coaching structure, with Todd Blackadder taking control as Director of Rugby with now-departed Tabai Matson under him as Head Coach.
Total: 5 different coaches have led Bath in the 10 years since Mallinder’s appointment, not to mention any number of assistants

Exeter

When Exeter moved to the state-of-the-art Sandy Park in 2006, they appointed Pete Drewett as Director of Rugby but after several failed attempts to shift the club out of National League One, Drewett was replaced with Robin Cowling in March 2009 to see out the rest of the season. Ahead of the new campaign, Rob Baxter was promoted from assistant to Head Coach, bringing in Ali Hepher underneath him. Since then, very little has changed for the club – indeed, the only notable shift has been Baxter and Hepher’s reassignment to DoR and Head Coach respectively, though quite what the difference is from before is anyone’s guess.

Total: Just two permanent coaches have been in charge of Exeter since 2007

Gloucester

Dean Ryan had been in charge of Gloucester since 2005, but extra scrutiny was placed on the club after Martin St Quinton’s heavy investment in 2008 and Ryan’s days were numbered after failing to reach the play-offs that season. Bryan Redpath was promoted from assistant coach ahead of the 2009-10 season, but resigned in 2012 after a disappointing campaign. Two years of Nigel Davies’ leadership followed, but another disappointing season saw him replaced with David Humphreys in 2014. Humphreys is still in place now, but things aren’t quite that simple at Kingsholm. The team very much feels like Johan Ackermann’s baby at the moment, the South African having replaced Laurie Fisher prior to this season.

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Total: It really depends how you qualify it – four Directors of Rugby have run Gloucester since 2007, but given the Ackermann’s prominence on the touchline it could be argued that more have assumed control of the Cherry and Whites than first appears

Harlequins

Following relegation in the 2004-5 season, Quins appointed Dean Richards to steer them back into Premiership safety. A few moderately successful seasons followed, but after the notorious Bloodgate scandal in 2009, Richards was off. He was replaced temporarily by current incumbent John Kingston, who gave way to Conor O’Shea for the most successful period in the club’s professional history. O’Shea survived from 2009 all the way up until last year when he headed off to bluer pastures with Italy, leaving Kingston in charge.
Total: Only three different men have headed things at The Stoop in the last ten years

Leicester

When Pat Howard returned to Australia in 2007, Richard Cockerill was promoted from forwards coach to caretaker as Tigers awaited the arrival of Argentinian Marcelo Loffreda after the 2007 World Cup. After just seven months in charge, during which he steered the club to two finals, Loffreda was unceremoniously sacked. The board saw Heyneke Meyer as the man to steer Tigers to long-term success, but family circumstances meant he returned to South Africa after just six months. Cockerill then took over as permanent Director of Rugby in 2009, and racked up an impressive trophy collection during his reign. After a couple of fallow seasons however, Cockerill was let go following a defeat to Saracens at Welford Road. He was replaced by Aaron Mauger, who guided Tigers to victory in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, but the very next day it was announced that Matt O’Connor would be coming in, with Mauger out. Despite a modicum of outcry over Mauger’s ousting, O’Connor remains the main man at Welford Road.

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Total: From the 2007-8 season, five different men have held the Head Coach/DoR position on a permanent basis

London Irish

Brian Smith was in the driving seat at London Irish at the start of the 2007-8 season, but when he left to join the England set up Toby Booth stepped up as Head Coach. Booth remained in place until 2012, when the return of Smith as DoR and the lure of joining Bath’s new coaching set up enticed him to The Rec. Family reasons forced Smith to return to the southern hemisphere in January 2015, as they did to his successor Tom Coventry just a year later. With Irish relegated to the Championship, a reshuffle saw former captain Nick Kennedy appointed as Director of Rugby, with Brendan Venter given the new role of Technical Director. Whilst the former handles most of the figurehead duties, it’s perhaps interesting that the latter is actually billed first on Irish’s coaching hierarchy web page.

Total: Five Directors of Rugby/Head Coaches have led the Exiles since 2007, though Venter’s degree of control isn’t immediately apparent from the outside

Newcastle

John Fletcher was DoR at Kingston Park in 2007-8 when the Falcons signed Carl Hayman as the highest paid player in the world. However, he was gone by March and replaced by Steve Bates as interim (and later permanent) DoR. Bates’ tenure saw the departure of a huge number of Falcons’ star names, including the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood. Bates was sacked in 2010 with Alan Tait coming in. Following a bad start to the 2011-12 season Gary Gold replaced Bates, but was unable to prevent the drop. Dean Richards took over having completed his Bloodgate ban, and has overseen an impressive turnaround for the Northeast side.

Total: 5 DoRs in 10 years – though Richards looks like he’s in it for the long haul

Sale

Philippe Saint-André had replaced the aforementioned Mallinder in 2004, and held the reigns until 2009 when Kingsley Jones stepped up from Head Coach to Director of Rugby (club legend Jason Robinson took over as Head Coach, but was replaced in 2010 having said he’d never really fancied coaching in the first place). A shake-up of the coaching system that year saw Jones remain, but with Steve Diamond brought in above him as “Director of Sport”, his status was short lived and he was gone by the end of January 2011, with Diamond the top dog in Salford nowadays.

Total: 3 de facto leaders have stewarded the Sharks in the last decade

Saracens

Alan Gaffney had been DoR at Saracens following Mike Ford’s move to England, but in 2009 rumours started abounding that he was to be replaced at the top by former consultant Eddie Jones. Instead, Brendan Venter came in as Head Coach and set about culling the squad during the infamous “Night of the Long Knives”. Venter masterminded a great deal of Saracens’ transition to their current world-conquering status, and caused no end of controversy on the way, but in actual fact he was only in place until 2010, when family tragedy forced him to return home to South Africa. He maintained some level of input from afar as Technical Director, but Mark McCall made the move from Head Coach to DoR with Venter gone, and has guided the club to yet more success.

Total: Hugh Vyvyan spoke in 2010 of having had a whopping seven head coaches in just six seasons since his arrival at Saracens in, but in terms of DoRs, Saracens are pretty stable with just three in ten years

Wasps

Ian McGeechan saw a lot of success during his time at Wasps, but a disappointing seventh place in 2008-9 saw him step aside for Tony Hanks, who had subbed for Geech whilst he was away with the Lions. Another mid-table campaign in 2011 brought the departure of Hanks by “mutual consent”, and current DoR Dai Young has steadied the ship ever since. Simple
Total: Only three men have led Wasps on a permanent basis since 2007, though that might change if rumours of Young being lined up as Warren Gatland’s replacement are to be believed

Worcester

Mike Ruddock was in charge of Worcester as they fought off Northampton on the final day of the 2006-7 season to avoid relegation. He managed to keep the Warriors afloat for a few seasons, but eventually the inevitable happened in 2010 and they went down. Ruddock was replaced by Richard Hill, who led Worcester back to the Premiership at the first time of asking. However, after circling the drop zone for a while, Hill was let go with just two games remaining of the 2012/13 season. Dean Ryan came in and, whilst unable to prevent relegation in his first season, was praised for his long-term plans for the club. Ryan left at the end of the 2015/16 season, with Gary Gold coming in. More bottom-of-the-table scraps may have hastened the departure of Gold, who will be leaving at the end of the season with one of the hottest picks to replace him being Jim Mallinder himself.

Total: Thus far, four men have led the Warriors since 2007, but the jury is still out on who will be next

Conclusion: Across the twelve current Premiership clubs, a total of 43 men have held the top position in the last ten years. If you want to get really technical, a mean average of 3.58(2dp) Directors of Rugby have been in charge of each club since 2007. This means that each manager stays in place for, on average 2.79 seasons or 1019 days. Considering the average tenure of a football league manager was just 477 days earlier this year, I’d say that’s pretty respectable.

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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