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'You do get some autocratic bullies as coaches. It's my way or the highway and they surround themselves with yes men'

By Liam Heagney

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Former Premiership and PRO14 prop John Andress has hit out at autocratic bullies and their ‘do as I say, not as I do – my way or the highway’ style of coaching. The 37-year-old Ireland A forward, who now runs Edge Rugby Management Limited in Belfast, had a respected professional career that featured stints at seven clubs in three different countries.

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Ulster, Exeter, Harlequins, Worcester, Edinburgh, Munster and Connacht were all pitstops on the tighthead’s circuitous journey through Ireland, England and Scotland which eventually ended in February 2017 and he has now explained why the game’s most successful coaches are those who are respectful of everybody and treat people well.  

“I would have had a bit of a reputation when I was younger,” said Andress in an interview with The XV. “I was boisterous, liked to drink, got into a couple of scraps, things like that but nothing major. From the later middle stage of my career, it was completely fine, no problems, but sometimes you can get a reputation when you’re younger that doesn’t help.”

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This happened at Ulster, his home province, where acrimony eventually sent Andress on his travels around England and Scotland before he came back to Ireland in the twilight of his career.I had Allen Clarke as an academy coach and we had a falling-out,” continued the prop.

“He left the academy, I got brought back in and when I got contracted at Ulster, he was the forwards coach. A three-legged dog would have got picked ahead of me. I was just desperate to play rugby and looked at an opportunity to get away.

“I certainly wouldn’t advise a player to handle it the way I did but part of me was like, ‘Nah, I’m my own man so I don’t care’. I can live with myself knowing I gave it my all but at the same time, from a professional point of view, I wouldn’t want my players to have to take a path like I did.

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“It’s a hard path, a hard slog, and sometimes you are better minding your Ps and Qs. If I was purely to go back for me to get the most out of my career as a player, I would have handled it differently. But because of where I am now (as an agent), I wouldn’t change my path because I saw the different environments.

“You saw how really poor environments were run, how really good environments were run. I had some great coaches and some pretty poor coaches. What I saw was the best places treat human beings well. The most sustainable, successful clubs or the best coaches are guys who look after the person first.

“Unfortunately, you do get some autocratic bullies. It’s do as I say not as I do, my way or the highway. They surround themselves with yes men and can’t be challenged, leadership groups full of yes men who are sucking up to favourites and it’s just not enjoyable, but they are starting to grow out of the game and a new breed of coach is coming through with more of an understanding of what sustainable success takes.

I was very lucky. I had Rob Baxter, Rassie Erasmus, Pat Lam, Alan Solomons early in my career… the way they treated people was on a wavelength to get the best out of them. They were respectful of everybody, whether a player or the lady serving the food. They were just respectful, hard-working and a great example. It was an eye-opener.”

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'You do get some autocratic bullies as coaches. It's my way or the highway and they surround themselves with yes men'

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