Sacking Jason Taylor highlights the real problem engulfing @WestsTigers #NRL #WestsTigers

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Another day at Concord, another coach is sacked. Wests Tigers, the Joint Venture NRL Club has terminated the services of its Head Coach, Jason Taylor, effective immediately. Taylor’s dismissal by the Concord based franchise means that Wests have now had 3 coaches in 5 years. The terms stability, professional are not ones that should be associated with the organisation. Since their maiden premiership in 2005, the entity has also churned through 5 Chief Executive Officers.

Jason Taylor, a former First Grade halfback, a diminutive No.7 who amassed over 2000 points and well over 200 NRL games across Western Suburbs, North Sydney and Parramatta started his coaching career at the Eels. Taking over from Brian Smith, after sitting 15th, Taylor look the Blue and Golds to the finals series and handed one Jarryd Hayne his NRL debut, one of his first decisions when picking up the clipboard at O’Connell Street.

Wanted by the playing group yet unwanted by the former Emperor of the Eels, Denis Fitzgerald hired Michael Hagan for the 2007 season. Taylor then was given opportunity by South Sydney after parting ways with Paul Langmack. Taylor took the Rabbitohs to the Finals, the first time since 1989. His tenure whilst a successful one was unceremoniously ended through an off field incident being assaulted by one of his players on a Mad Monday function.

Taylor took ownership of the stuff up, admitting it was wrong for him to be on the drink with his players. Lesson learned. As most in society will attest too, nothing good happens after 2.00am with alcohol. A decision that he regretted and probably still regrets to this very day. Taylor was given a lifeline by the Sydney Roosters, taking the reigns of Easts NYC U20’s side before Head Coach brought Taylor in as an Assistant Coach, charged with the responsibility of the Roosters attack.

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Jason Taylor leaves Concord Oval after being sacked (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports Australia)

Robinson a premiership coach in his first year at the helm of the Bondi based club, credited Jason Taylor for the side’s attack, saying he was instrumental in refining its attacking sequences, pieces and structures. Whilst at Concord, movement was a foot yet again with Wests Tigers deciding not to provide an extension of former Coach Mick Potter, who was embroiled with a stand off with former club captain Robbie Farah after Farah said he “couldn’t coach”.

The Tigers are now looking for a new Head Coach to take the club forward into the future. Just as Mick Potter and Jason Taylor were supposedly hired to do. So who’s the next sucker? Which current Coach, be it one that is currently without a coaching gig in the NRL or ambitious Assistants want to take on Mission Impossible; and I’m not talking about taking Wests Tigers to the finals and ultimately a second Premiership. No folks, I’m referring to surviving what is a toxic, volatile playing group that is in control of the football club and has done for far too long.

Player power saw veteran Coach Tim Sheens tenure end at the end of 2012. Player power saw Mick Potter also lose his gig ending any possible extension beyond 2014. And now, player power has also ended Jason Taylor’s occupancy in the hot seat in the lower tier of Concord Oval’s western grandstand. Wests Tigers is a club that governed by personality, driven by egomaniacs, a culture, an environment that has been allowed to fester due to one key factor. A severe lack of credible and strong leadership in the front office.

Governance was an issue that was highlighted by the NRL and ARL Commission when the game’s governing body had to financially assist the Joint Venture Club when the Balmain side became insolvent and unable to financially contribute as apart of the original shareholders agreement formed back on 27th July 1999. Despite not being able to financially contribute long before the 2014, the time the NRL had to step in, they still had representation, a voice and shared the Chairmanship of the Club, decision making which has ultimately led to this specific point in time.

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Player power controls and runs Wests Tigers (Photo courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)

Decisions to sack two previous coaches before Taylor received his marching orders. Decisions to kill off and end the life span of both foundation clubs in the second tier level (Reserve Grade) NSWRL Intrust Super State Cup competition, where fellow pioneers from 1908 including North Sydney and Newtown still have a representation. Decisions to continue to neglect a growth region in the South-West of Sydney, a population of half a million people, a stadium that hasn’t had a full-time rugby league presence since 29th August 1999 when the Magpies last flew.

Decisions to allow players to be paid overs, well over what their market value was, decisions that led to the club’s salary cap become an absolute mess which equates to Jason Taylor having very little autonomy in being able to build and formulate the playing list, the squad, the team he should have been allowed to have. Decisions that enabled the club’s four biggest names coming off contract at the same time which has inevitably seen the quartette hold the club to ransom, ending Taylor’s tenure and I’d dare say coaching career in the NRL.

Contray to reports, Jason Taylor isn’t and was never the issue at Wests. Just like Potter or Sheens were not the issue. Sheens put it bluntly a couple of years back when asked why his services were terminated by the Joint Venture club. The Australian Kangaroos coach at the time on Fox Sports’ magazine show NRL360 put it bluntley “Players sack coaches” and left it as that. Read into that what you will.

Fast forward to 2013. Farah comes out and tells the world “Mick Potter can’t coach” that virtually spelled the end of his tenure at the club. The point being that it does not matter if Jesus Christ was coaching Wests Tigers, whilst the power resides with the players who dictate what happens at Concord, no coach will be able to enforce change. Turning water into wine and arising Lazarus from the dead would be a much easier task than coaching at Wests.

Have a look at the Tigers list. Since Taylor arrived, he has improved Wests position on the ladder each year, remembering they missed the finals by 1 point last year. 1 point – then you consider how many games Simona’s actions had an influence in games they lost by narrow margins in 2016. Who’s to say the club doesn’t go on to make the Finals and Taylor’s job is safe and sound? Whilst it’s a hypothetical, it could have certainly has influence, shoring up his future well before the kick off to this season, where the playing group would have known well in advance who the coach would be beyond 2017.

No other coach would have been able to get the Wests Tigers any higher or performing better. Sometimes there’s no more juice in the lemon to be squeezed. Again, this ultimately comes back down to incompetent administration and a playing group that has the power and control of the organisation. That in it self is a recipe for disaster.

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Go and Pascoe at face the media after sacking Taylor (Photo courtesy of NT News)

Chair of the Wests Tigers and CEO fronted a media conference at Wests Ashfield Leagues club yesterday citing that the decision was purely ‘performance related’, almost to save face and send a message that “we’re in control” that the administration of the entity is calling the shots. Stevie Wonder can see that is so far off the mark, it’s not funny. The sad thing is, the vision impaired musical genius and Wests Tigers Chair Marina Go have something frighteningly in common. They both have absolutely no Rugby League nous; no concept, no grasp, no understanding of the fabric of the Game. Her performance in addressing Taylor’s dismissal clearly highlights this yet again.

Just as she and her co-horts on the Wests Tigers board hired Taylor for the purpose of enforcing generational change at the club and fixing the club’s ailing salary cap woe’s. It wasn’t Taylor that sacked Farah and denied him his 250th Game for Wests Tigers, it was the board. The board loaded the gun and merely made Taylor pull the trigger. Taylor since day dot in 2015 has been hung out to dry by the utter incompetence that is Wests Tigers Board and Management. He is the scapegoat for a sporting organisation; an NRL licensed franchise that wouldn’t know its arse from its elbow.

The key element in all off this fall out is Leadership, or lack there of it. Something Wests do not have and wouldn’t know it if they were to walk down the street and tripped over it. Leadership would have ensured Taylor as Coach was given the full support, reigns and autonomy to run his own race, steer the ship and set the course for the football side. Leadership would have seen player power and control extinguished, ensuring the ego’s and self-aggrandizers would have been shown the door.

Former Premiership winning coach at Eastern Suburbs and Parramatta, the late Jack Gibson coined a phrase that is still relevant today, that “winning starts in the front office”. He additionally said that “Coaches make the best recruiters”. The Tigers Board and Administration as a whole is shambolic. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The Coach, now former Coach was not allowed to build and establish the roster he so desperately wanted, instead inherited a list and a salary cap mess due to sins of the past. That in essence sums up Wests Tigers in a nutshell.

For all those coaches that are being head hunted and linked to the now vacant post at Camp Concord, whilst the opportunity to coach in the NRL is extremely scarce, those that did not come down in the last shower would be steering clear of this potential job opportunity for a plethora of reasons as performance and Jason Taylor’s coaching ability is purely a smokescreen, a concealment of something much more dire that is not visible from the outside looking in. Be it Ivan Cleary, be it Todd Payten or any other potential candidate who’s name is yet to be tossed up by the media, it is crucially important to ensure what they are getting themselves into; if it is the ‘right fit’.

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Taylor addressing the media at Concord at his weekly media conference last week
(Photo courtesy of WestsTigers.com.au)

Is the next coach willing to be subjected to dealing with hierarchical structure that wets the bed and shoots from the hip when players and their managers threaten to re-commit their futures beyond their current season? Is the next coach prepared for a playing group to stop listening to their philosophy and voice, turning against the new mentor, citing change because they no longer ‘like’ the coach? In every other workplace, in every other industry, managers and employees aren’t expected to be best buddies, but at the very least, fulfil their duties and obligations in a professional manner. This unfortunately is not the case at Wests and it’s been this way for far too long.

I was utterly dismayed, yet not overly surprised at some of the fan reaction, celebrating to dismissal of Jason Taylor. Something that many Wests Tigers fans and members have no idea about. For those irate and disgruntled supporters that are rejoicing at the fact that Taylor is no longer at the helm, do not let your emotional attachment distort your view like the sun does to ones eyesight on the Leichhardt Oval Hill. Taylor was merely made out to be the perpetrator, whilst the real architects of the continuous mismanagement of the entity, the Farah debacle and failings of the NRL side, are the same individuals setting the strategy and vision for the future of your club.

Sacking the coach isn’t going to solve the malignant problems plaguing this basket case of a rugby league club. If the club’s leaders (and I use that term loosely) allow and listen to the players to have a say in the appointment of the next coach, they would have learnt nothing out of this entire, shameful experience which really is, a line in the sand moment for the 18 year old football club.

One thing is clear, rugby league and professional sport is a cut throat business. Yes, it is driven by performance, driven by results. It is a results based industry. One lives by and dies by the sword, a metaphor for success. It is also an industry that does not treat people very well. The Game and in particular rugby league clubs have a long history of chewing up good people and spitting them out without hesitation or consideration of their livelihood. Taylor will most likely never coach in the NRL ever again as a result of being knifed by the supposed people that initially supported him and hired him to make hard decisions and bring about change. The same should apply to board and management who fail to deliver. Accountability. Something that does not seem to be present at Wests Tigers. If it was, Taylor would have been joined by a few others yesterday as he walked the Green Mile, down the long corridors of Concord Oval.

 

*Daniel Watson Hayes was a former General Manager of the Wests Football Club