TUNE UP THE COACH, IT’S WIND BACK WEDNESDAY


It’s not music but it could hardly be more in time.


Right at the moment there’s talk in the backpages of coaches bombing, of Phil Gould lecturing, of star players coming to save teams and teams searching for hiding places until the saviour arrives, of underachievers and overachievers, of Des Hasler resurrecting a Manly side, of impending finals, of disappointment and of how you measure success.


In late 2008, approaching the rugby league finals, this was written for a column on the backpage of the Sydney Morning Herald. Just about all of the above applied then too – including state government ministers of staggering incompetence!


Reckon it makes as much sense then as it does now. (Also, that year Manly made the grand final, and won with a record score. Omen? No, not this year, though it doesn’t hurt. But then Hasler left three years later after another win. Omen? Hmm.)


Anyway, normal music programming returns next week, for now … sport!


Oh frabjous days boys and girls, it’s coach hunting season.


Now, Phil Gould doesn't like people taking potshots at coaches, arguing quite reasonably that most of us don't know what it's like to do the job. I'm not going to argue with Gould about coaching. That would be like competing against Roger Federer on forehands or Reba Meagher on serial incompetency.


Let's agree that everybody running an NRL team can coach: develop defensive patterns; organise attacks etc etc. Give any of them an Andrew Johns, a Darren Lockyer, a pair of Smiths or even a brace of Jarrod/Jarryd/Jared and they would do well, win a comp even.


However, from my standard position of blissful ignorance (that's in the row behind arrant nonsense and across the aisle from breathtaking stupidity) it strikes me that winning is hardly the most useful measure of coaching ability. If it was, then Michael Hagan, who won a premiership with Newcastle and nearly got a second one with Parramatta, would be near the top rather than being one of the first deserving of a boot this year.


For me, what matters is whether the players, particularly the average, the hitherto unnoticed, the seemingly plateaued, develop under you. Whether the club is better when you leave than when you started.


Take a look at my team, Manly, for example. A few years ago, when Peter Sharp was coaching them, they struggled for several seasons at a time when there was little money and it wasn't exactly a Broncos or St George-like roster.


The wooden spoon was just barely escaped. Sharp wasn't useless but he couldn't turn them around and even a Ben Kennedy (or a Johns) couldn't have sealed the deal.



Under Des Hasler, the team made the semis, then made a grand final and looks likely to again this year. Clearly Hasler is a better coach than Sharp, right? Well, yes, but not because of the grand final, not even because there are better players at the club now, but because of people like Glenn Hall.


Who? Exactly.


Two seasons ago Hall was a slogger who had been at several clubs already but was never more than a reserve grader filling holes in first grade when things were desperate. But after a couple of seasons under Hasler he's turned into a ball player, a damaging runner, a threat. And an automatic first grader.


There are other examples like this at Manly: from Mark Bryant and Michael Robertson, to new kid David Williams and even the great second rower Steve Menzies suddenly looking good at five-eighth at the age of 74, who have flourished under Hasler.


He may not be a Wayne Bennett, a Jack Gibson or even a Craig Bellamy but like Brian Smith and Tim Sheens, Hasler is a coach who grows a player and a club. He can stay.