Long-term Stability Key for Aviva Premiership Head Coaches

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Aviva Premiership Head Coaches
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: An emotional Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby looks on after their victory during the Aviva Premiership match between Wasps and Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Over the past year or so, there have been claims that Rugby is going the way of Football in England; with regards to sacking coaches. The way Leicester Tigers dispatched club stalwart Richard Cockerill mid-season was the prime example. In comparison Rob Baxter, in his eighth year as Head Coach, guided Exeter Chiefs to the title. This season the evidence seems to suggest long-term stability is a vital part of success for Aviva Premiership Head Coaches.

Hiring and Firing at the Bottom End

The current bottom three in the league, Gloucester, London Irish and Worcester have all had a number of coaching regimes in the past ten years. Indeed, Worcester have just announced Gary Gold will be leaving at the end of this season. Is it just a coincidence that these sides are struggling? Looking at the top of the table, it would appear not. The current top four have had their DoR/Aviva Premiership Head Coaches in place for at least five years.

Gloucester, despite never suffering relegation, have gone through the most coaching teams. Johan Ackermann is the latest Head Coach to be in control of the reigns, and the former Super Rugby head has already had his work cut out pleasing some disgruntled fans.

The West Country side have regularly been in the lower reaches of the table but with every ‘reboot’ of the coaching team comes a transition period. This inevitably delays a rise back up the table. For Gloucester in particular, this may be because they have consistently chosen coaches from outside the Premiership. Ackermann is now the second in a row, to arrive from Super Rugby. And as he found out at Sale Sharks last week, fast and loose Southern hemisphere rugby does not always work up north.

From Championship, to Aviva Champions

In comparison, two long-serving coaches; Jim Mallinder and Rob Baxter, have guided their sides from the second tier to the title. After a 55-24 thrashing in round one, Mallinder’s side are now sitting atop of the pile with four consecutive wins.

Jim Mallinder, the Northampton Saints director of rugby looks on during a Aviva Premiership match. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The accusation that he was ‘losing his touch’ is a tough argument to make right now. Mallinder will know by now how to get the best from his players having built long-term relationships with senior players. Similarly at Exeter, Baxter has cultivated a remarkable culture that has seen the club grow incrementally. That is, despite appearing to have limited playing resources ‘on paper’.

Evolution not Revolution

When discussing stability and team culture, it is hard to ignore the Saracens model. On the field they have the ‘Wolfpack’ mentality. Whilst off it, they support players and their families. This no doubt increases loyalty and commitment.

This type of philosophy cannot be done without long-term backing from the top. It would certainly be harder to implement if an incoming new coach had to alter the values significantly, every couple of years [think Glaws].

It applies to any club, or International side. Think Steve Hansen with the All Blacks. Think Gregg Popavich from the San Antonio Spurs. The evolution that builds it’s own dynasty–not ‘quick fix’ design.

It is too early in the season to say that the hiring and firing phase with Aviva Premiership Head Coaches is over. But, there is every reason that it should be.

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