Ex-Leicester boss Pat Howard believes the struggling Tigers will eventually be restored to their place at the top of the English game provided patience is shown with the new Steve Borthwick regime. The Australian, who played and coached at the club during its halcyon trophy-winning era, returned this time last year to conduct a wart and all review of the club that have fallen on hard times in recent years.
Leicester’s form on the pitch hasn’t yet improved much, Tigers in eleventh place in the currently suspended 2019/20 campaign after just four wins in 13 Gallagher Premiership outings. However, with more than 20 players leaving, a new CEO in Andrea Pinchen, and Borthwick ready to become head coach with Geordan Murphy becoming director of rugby, Howard feels that the wheels are in motion to restore a winning culture at the club.
Howard was revealingly initially asked to return on a full-time basis by recently departed CEO Simon Cohen, but he instead opted to conduct a root and branch review in 2019 that contained some unpalatable findings.
Speaking from Australia to LLTV, the Leicester club’s YouTube channel, Howard said: “Simon Cohen gave me a bell. He said, ‘Look, I do want some fresh eyes, you know the culture, do you want to come back to the UK permanently and live here again and what can we do?’ He was looking at all sorts of roles and management at that point.
“I said, ‘No, I have a family of four at home’. But I said, ‘Look, I have some time, I can come over for a couple of months with no agenda, have a look… are you happy for me to do that?’ He said, ‘Yes, that is great. Come over’. I was on a plane within a little while.
“I saw a place that I was surprised by. Culturally it was in more than a difficult place and I had some very hard, direct words with everybody up and down the chain. That is from Geordie to players, star players to Peter Tom as chairman, Simon Cohen because I just said, ‘Guys this isn’t good enough’.
“Sometimes you need the fresh eyes with no agenda to be able to go, ‘Look guys, the high expectations that a Martin Johnson would set, they aren’t here’. For all the things that Cockers (Richard Cockerill) can be accused of, he was a disciplinarian, he set really high standards.
“That was missing and it was clear that some things had gone and the facilities didn’t inspire as a consequence. Not the ground, the ground is one of the great places still to play today… but it was an absolutely top to bottom look and one of the key things was making sure the board, Oval Park, Welford Road, that spine of the organisation, was tight and it wasn’t at that time.”
Fingers have been pointed in many different directions over the years as to what has gone wrong at Leicester and while Howard concluded that no one single issue was at fault, he believes the imminent arrival of Borthwick will alter the mood for the better.
“If your chairman, CEO, coach, captain aren’t tight, if the boardroom and the changing room can’t connect, then how are you going to make decisions? There were lots and lots of anecdotal points where people believed the club went off the rails. People talked 2010, 2014, ’15, 2017 – there is all these sorts of trigger points but no one is at fault on its own.
“But you do need someone with really stern ability to go, ‘I’m going to take this by the reins and turn it around’… The board and Peter (Tom, the chairman) has been smart in terms of making changes now while there is some daylight and some clear space.
“Simon can hold his head high, he has some great succession planning. Andrea knows the organisation back to front, she knows what it’s like down in pumps underneath and she knows what it’s like to do the tickets, and she had actually done an internal look at Oval Park even before I got there and it formed the basis of some really good clarity.
“It’s just so important that unity, that clarity, that inspiration and I do really believe that these guys will act in the best interests of the game. It’s a lovely balance between the inspiration, someone that has just been to a World Cup final as a coach and someone that absolutely knows what success looks like with some certainty around delivering it under this culture because there is no one trick to success. It has got to fit the culture.
“You need some discipline and inspiration. I said in that report as well it would take a little bit of time. There has been multiple coaches. Aaron (Mauger) recruited the types of people he wanted to coach for a couple of years, Matt (O’Connor) recruited the type of people he wanted to coach for a couple of years. Even Cockers (Cockerill) recruited some of the people he wanted to coach. That doesn’t bring together a squad that has a great theme to it.
“There are high expectations with this group but don’t expect it absolutely day one because Steve and Geordie have got to form a team. I already saw that they let some people go already, I understand that. They did it with respect. I saw Jan (McGinity, head of elite performance recruitment) talk about it really… I’m really positive about what is possible and how they come out of this.”
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