How Long Does a New Coach Get?


After a season of abnormal coaching stability in 2016...

The new season is off to a flyer with Jason Taylor already sacked from the Tigers and replaced by Ivan Cleary. The Warriors seemingly did things the right way in bringing in new head coach Stephen Kearney during the off season, but with the Warriors having just 2 unconvincing wins from 5 (after many had them slated for a top 4 finish before the season began) some may argue that it hasn’t gone that well.

So the question facing these two teams now is – how long does a new coach get to show if they are up to the job?

There are a lot of sub-questions to this one that need to be answered to understand how long a new coach should have to prove their credentials, some easier to quantify than others.

Is it their squad?
This is a question that is often asked in other sports such as football or basketball when pressure begins to build on a coach. What it means is, has the coach inherited a squad of players that were selected by a previous coach to suit their playing style? If so, does that squad suit the style that the new coach wants to play? How effective a coach is, can often come down to if the players they have are suited to their game plan. Of course the question can be turned around to begin asking questions of why a coach isn’t able to adapt their game plan to the players that are at their disposal, so it is a double edged sword. Neither Kearney or Cleary have a really distinct style, so this becomes a matter of if they have the players that they want.

Is the squad strong or is it a long term project?
The two teams that are facing this question at the moment have very different answers to this question. The Warriors went into the new season with high hopes. They have a squad of players that should be capable of winning now, and most people expected them to do just that. Kearney has a wealth of experience at both NRL and International level, but so far he has failed to get the best out of his team, with their only success being from late game heroics against poor opposition. One the other side of that coin, the Tigers have a youthful squad that isn’t expected to finish at the pointy end of the table this year, but need to be competitive and have their young players start to deliver on the promise they have shown in patches for the last few years. In this capacity the incoming Wests coach has less pressure to perform immediately, but at the same time, the Tigers have been in rebuilding mode for several years now, and eventually they need to start showing some results.

Are the results reflective of the performances?
If you look at the NRL ladder right now, you will see that Canberra and New Zealand have the same win/loss record, but there is a big difference between how the Raiders are going and how the Warriors are going. In terms of making the finals and winning trophies, results are all that matter. In terms of how much patience do you have for your new coach, performances matter.

What is the history?
Expectation can play a big part in a coach’s fate. The Broncos expect to make the finals every year. Finishing 9th in Brisbane is a big problem. Melbourne have played in 6 of the last 11 Grand Finals, and not making it through September is seen as a failure for the Storm. However, if you could get the Titans to a single grand final, they might just build a statue of you down on Cavill Avenue. On top of this, a club’s culture can play a part. It is less of a factor in these modern times, but a club like the Bulldogs has had only 4 coaches in the last 27 years, whereas Parramatta have had that many in the last 8 years. Some clubs pick and stick, others have less patience.

External factors
Speaking of the Eels, external factors such as issues with club’s board of directors, as well as bad football operations set ups can hinder a coach’s ability to achieve anything with a squad of players. If people aren’t getting paid, if they aren’t happy at the club, if there are too many chefs in the kitchen, they aren’t going to be able to perform. Some of these are uncontrollable factors that you can’t hold against a coach. Others you would expect a quality coach to overcome. Both the Warriors and the Tigers have the same level of difficulty here. The boardrooms are both a mess.

Coach’s reputation
This can help a coach and hurt them. Similar to the type of expectation that comes from a club and its fans, coaches with a big reputation need to deliver results. But that same reputation can also buy them some more time if things aren’t going well. Cleary’s history has sporadic and unsustained success at club level, while Kearney has the same at international level (but a poor NRL record). Both are considered career coaches, so they will need to deliver.

Cleary – He can do whatever he wants this season. It is already a write off and the biggest thing on Tigers’ fans minds already is the contract negotiations of their supposed young guns. Cleary needs to spend between now and the end of Origin working out who he wants and who he doesn’t. He doesn’t have the amount of time that he was given at Penrith because the Tigers started this rebuild a while ago, but if the Tigers can come out of the end of this season with some results, some improvement and something to look forward to, that will buy Cleary until the end of next season.

Kearney – There will understandably be less patience at the Warriors with the squad they have assembled for this year. They genuinely expect to be title contenders, and while it is still very early, the signs aren’t great. He has only just taken on the job this year, but given he has the Kiwi Test spine, he can’t claim that it isn’t his team. They are highly touted, and their results are actually misleading given how poorly they have played which will buy Kearney time, but if they are not in the top 8 come Origin time, the knives will start to come out. This team needs a top 8 finish or Kearney will be out of a job.