Richard Cockerill is inextricably linked to Leicester Tigers, 23 years as a player, head coach and Director of Rugby. It was an association that was ended in January last year when he was sacked with the club lying fifth in the Premiership.
It was a decision that clearly rankles with the 27-times capped England hooker, who led the Tigers to Premiership success in 2009, 2010 and 2013, with the club reaching the playoffs in each season of his tenure. Since his departure from Welford Road Aaron Mauger and Matt O’Connor have been and gone and now it’s Geordan Murphy in charge of the club.
“I was either a finalist or a semi-finalist and that wasn’t good enough. So people can bring their own conclusions from that.”
“I don’t want to comment too much around the hierarchy, but the reality is if you sack me, you sack Aaron Mauger, you sack Matt O’Conner – were all three of us that poor that you have to keep making change,” he said in an exclusive interview with RugbyPass.
“Now it’s Geordie, who is a good man and you just hope he gets looked after because there’s another guy that – if you’re not careful – is going to end up out the door and the same people are making those decisions.”
“I love Leicester Tigers as a club because it is my club, I was there a long time, I have no angst against them, but to have sacked three coaches in less than two years, it’s more than the coaching isn’t it.”
Asked whether politics is the big problem at Leicester, Cockerill replied “I think you just need stability. You need support within the group and it’s one thing Leicester haven’t had in the last 20 months is stability.”
Cockerill played alongside Murphy, winning multiple Premiership titles as well as two Heineken Cups in 2001 and 2002. Murphy was also part of Cockerill’s coaching staff and despite a relatively quiet and reserved public demeanour, Cockerill says there’s more to the former Ireland international.
“Even though he’s a very affable, nice Dubliner, he’s got a steely edge about him which probably not many people have seen before, so I think he knows what he wants from the team and he knows how he wants it run.”
“I just hope he gets the support from behind the scenes so he can go and do that. There is clearly a lot going on, there is a lot of interference from above Geordan’s head, so hopefully he will be given the opportunity, hopefully he will be given free reign to do what he thinks is right because he understands the game very well and he is a good man.”
“I have spoken to him briefly and messaged him just wishing him good luck and basically that – be your own man and run it how you want it to be run, because as I well know – you’ll get the blame whether it is your decision or someone else’s around how things are done, you’ll always take the consequences, you’re the man in charge.”
Cockerill is now into his second season with Edinburgh Rugby, in his first campaign the Scottish side had their highest league finish and points total, also making it into the Champions Cup on merit. They just missed out on a PRO14 semi-final, losing 20-16 in a playoff against Munster at Thomand Park. Cockerill admits it’s been cathartic after how it ended with Leicester.
“Yeah it was a good experience for me. A lot of people have asked why Edinburgh, why weren’t you looking for a bigger team and look they came at the right moment and the timing was good for them and it was good for me. It is a very different project from a management and coaching point of view, develop a side from a pretty low base, whereas Leicester and Toulon have different bases and different expectations.”
Cockerill says he found a “lethargic” club when he arrived at Edinburgh, but he’s not been afraid to shake things up.
“When you have a club that has some good players and has been a little bit lethargic over the last few years, you’ve just got to make change and to make change you have to make tough decisions and people have to leave and you have to make decisions that potentially people don’t like because ‘we’ve always done it like this, so we’re going to continue like this’. No, we are going to change this, because it doesn’t work.
“People don’t like change, because they are in their jobs and they are getting paid and they are comfortable and they are still getting paid and we’re still not winning. So we have to make change.
“For me that is part of the experience, I’ve not had to do it before. I think I am a strong enough character to make change and make tough decisions and I think I am better for it, better for doing it and I will be better wherever I go next in the next 15 years of my coaching career to have this experience of building a team. But yeah we’ve got over some challenges and we are still not as good as I’d like us to be and there will be more challenges to come.”
Having put his “life and soul” into Leicester Tigers, Cockerill’s attentions are firmly now on Edinburgh, his Scottish adventure has been fruitful for both sides, so much so that he signed a contract extension in April to take him to 2021. It’s that kind of continuity that has been missing in the East Midlands for a while.
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