December 2011 Archives
This week saw Scott Johnson announce that he would be leaving the Ospreys at the end of the 2011/12 season. It has surprised few in Welsh rugby and the predictability of his departure was evident in its execution. There were no histrionics, there were no reporters clamoring for interviews outside the Liberty stadium, there were no shock media leaks.
This wasn't the sort of managerial sacking that rolls along the yellow 'breaking news' banner on the BBC Sport website. Johnson's departure was calm, premeditated and came complete with rose tinted comments from the Ospreys senior management. In fact, so gushing were the remarks that if you didn't know Johnson was leaving the Ospreys at the end of the season, reading the press release may have led you to believe that he was signing a new contract.
Andrew Hore, the Ospreys Operations Director said it was "a huge disappointment for us to be losing Scott at the end of the season". Roger Blyth, the Ospreys Managing Director said "Scott is an innovative thinker who has worked tirelessly for the cause since joining the Ospreys. While he has brought silverware to the Liberty Stadium, and we hope that will be the case once again this season, the real legacy he will leave is the systems and structures he has helped to develop."
The above comments not only highlight a carefully planned exit strategy, they also highlight the gulf that exists between the Ospreys senior management and their supporters. The Ospreys supporters don't want to hear about systems and structures, they want to see results. Andrew Hore may marvel at Johnson's ability to create structures, but the only structure that the fans cared about this season had 6 groups of 4 in it, and it's one the Ospreys now can't get out of despite having two games left to play.
This disparity of opinion between fans and rugby professionals towards Johnson isn't new. Whether it was coaching Wales, Australia, the USA or the Ospreys, few players, coaches, club or union executives seem to have a bad word to say about him. His closeness to the Welsh players was well documented during 'Ruddock-gate', and just this week Rhys Williams, the former Wales fullback, tweeted that "Scott Johnson was one of the best coaches I played under". Even the media seem to have a soft spot for Johnson with South Wales journalist Dafydd Pritchard tweeting that 'press conferences will be tamer for his exit".
Yet for all the quick thinking he demonstrated in press conferences, sharp thinking was rarely evident on the training ground or the touchlines. Recent examples include his decision to play 5 back row forwards at the expense of the in-form Ian Evans at Wembley and his bloody mindedness to continue with Kahn Fotuali and his prodigiously slow pass, whilst the highly able Rhys Webb warmed the bench at Parc Y Scarlets on Boxing Day.
But perhaps his greatest failing is the brand of rugby that he has created at the Ospreys. Johnson is a skills coach by trade, and has had some fine players at his disposal over the past 3 years, yet he has created a negative 'kick-first' mentality at the Liberty. It's a style of rugby that has favoured stodgy players like Dan Biggar and Andrew Bishop and marginalised the talents of James Hook. It's also a style of rugby that hasn't sat well with Ospreys supporters - just ask the man responsible for counting the gate receipts at the Liberty.
Many have blamed Johnson's inefficiencies as a head coach on the simple fact that he seems more comfortable adopting the No.2 role within a coaching hierarchy - I'm sure many Ospreys fans will refer to him as a No.2 for quite some time. There may be some truth in this theory. It could explain Johnson's decision to accept the role of Andy Robinson's assistant at the Scottish Rugby Union. He has signed a 4 year deal with the SRU on a salary believed to be £200,000 a year and will join up with the squad on their June tour to Australia, Fiji and Samoa.
Johnson may have yet again wowed his peers with his ability to create developmental systems and structures at the Ospreys, but 'Great Scott ' he certainly was not. Who knows, things may work out for him at the SRU, where the title would be more apt.