Leicester were woeful at Sandy Park on Saturday but there is more to their sacking of Matt O’Connor than meets the eye and those above him at Welford Road now need to be held accountable as well.
The board have taken the decision to sack him one game into the season and, unless some more information emerges from behind the scenes, it’s only natural for people to question the assertion in the club’s statement that “the time is right to make this change”.
There were reports that he turned up two weeks late for pre-season so I don’t know if he arrived and tried to change things and lost the group a bit but everyone could see from the performance at Exeter that something was completely wrong.
There were murmurings of unrest over the summer and perhaps the board should have done this then if they weren’t going to give him time to turn things around. I can only assume they wish they had done now and given someone else a whole pre-season to work with the players.
The effort, work rate and all of the things that should be a given for a Leicester player weren’t there at Sandy Park and that did set alarm bells ringing but there’s no reason to sack O’Connor on the back of that one game. It was a hugely disappointing performance but it’s not a sackable offence if they were happy to let him lead them into the new season.
They have acted decisively and that may well be “in the best interests of the Tigers moving forward”, as the statement also says, but it does raise more questions than it provides answers.
They are now in the embarrassing position of having to look for a fourth head coach in a little over 18 months and a club of that stature just shouldn’t be in this position. The people making the decisions on the coaching front have to be held accountable for that.
If they’re making these coaching changes so regularly, then they must be making mistakes with their appointments and then there is the player recruitment, which hasn’t been good enough of late.
Tradition dictates that the Leicester pack has always been a force of nature and, while the backline looks world class on paper, the issues were clearly in the forwards last season and they weren’t addressed in the summer.
And then there’s the academy. Harry Wells, Ben White and co aren’t bad players either but it’s not far off a decade really since the likes of the Youngs brothers, Manu Tuilagi and George Ford came through and had a real impact. That’s vital for the DNA of the club.
Let’s not just pin the blame on Matt O’Connor here, there are other people to look at.
Ged Glynn is Head of Rugby Operations. Exactly what falls under his remit isn’t always completely obvious to the public but recruitment is certainly a part of it and he was a scout for many years.
Leicester are a massive club with the size of the fan base and all of the other off-field aspects that generate huge revenues that other clubs can only dream of but they have to face up to the new reality that they have been overtaken by the likes of Exeter, Saracens and others on the field.
This isn’t football and there’s undoubtedly more to it than meets the eye but the Tigers are in danger of attracting comparisons with Manchester United, who are still monstrously successful commercially but are now struggling to compete with the very best on the pitch, or even Arsenal given that they’ve dropped out of the top four.
If you listen to what players and staff say at Exeter and Saracens in particular, there is very much a family environment where people care and there is a real bond and that helps to deliver results on the field in tough times.
It used to be like that at Leicester when we enjoyed regular success 10 or 15 years ago. I’m not for a moment suggesting that anyone at Tigers doesn’t care but I do think it’s become a more commercial environment and some of that old identity has been diluted.
There is a definite need to operate properly as a business but when you speak to people honestly about the club, the family identity is gone and the club has strayed from what made it successful over the years.
On the pitch, Leicester missed out on the top four for the first time in 14 years last season and they went into their final game against Sale knowing that a defeat could have seen them miss out on a Champions Cup spot as well.
The club will say that they’ll be competing for the play-offs this season and looking to win the title but they’ve just sacked their head coach one game into the campaign and you’ve got to be realistic. More importantly, they have to make sure that they don’t repeat the same mistakes they’ve made before and get it right this time.
I’m really glad Geordan Murphy has been given the opportunity and he should be backed fully by the board until the end of the campaign with someone else brought in underneath him.
He played for the club for 16 years and has now been a coach there for five years after transitioning straight into his new role so there’s nobody better in terms of knowing the DNA of the Tigers and I’m looking forward to seeing him put his imprint on things.
A lot of people have already suggested that he doesn’t have enough experience to do the job but I think that’s nonsense. Leo Cullen’s not doing a bad job at Leinster right now and he went straight into the top job in 2015 just a year after retiring and with only a year’s experience as an assistant.
And the game has moved on massively but Dean Richards was a huge success at Tigers after being thrown in at the deep end, Pat Howard won things as a young head coach and then Richard Cockerill won numerous titles not long after retiring as a player so there is a track record of it happening at the club as well.
Longer term, I don’t think Geordan wants to be a Director of Rugby and there is no doubt that the role of a Head Coach and a DoR are very different now and there are very few people who can perform both at the same time successfully.
As a result, it could be a great opportunity to get Martin Johnson back involved in the Director of Rugby role with Geordan allowed to focus on coaching the team and getting the best out of them. My CV is ready for Geordan to take a look at as well though!
There will be high-profile coaches available after the World Cup if that’s the route they want to go down but there aren’t a whole load of available candidates right now. I’ve heard Mike Ford has thrown his hat in the ring already but he can’t be the answer and Stuart Lancaster is an extremely good day-to-day coach but I don’t think he’s the right man to come in at Leicester.
Someone like Johnno would be perfect as a DoR as he would be able to stand up to those above him and command respect, he knows Geordan well and would enable him to do what he does best but there’s no better man to lead the club forwards on the coaching side right now than Geordan Murphy.
His title is Interim Head Coach, though, which means he’s going to be looking over his shoulder and wondering if someone else is going to come in. Give him the reins for the whole season and let him go. That would be a big statement from the board but it’s what is right for the club.
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