Remember when the Newcastle Knights made the decision not to re-new Matthew Johns playing contract?
Johns was coming towards the end of his career and the club felt it wanted to go in another direction. So they announced that they would no re-sign Johns, and all hell broke lose.
It upset fans, it upset the players, it made his brother think about leaving the club. There was talk that Matthew Johns would be signed as the coach and be a player/coach to get him into the side. There was talk that Matthew Johns’s contract could be funded by fans and he could play for the Knights for free, there was even talk that they should erect a statue in his honour.
It was insane, Newcastle basically had a massive brain fart.
Mathew Johns left for Wigan, the Newcastle Knights won the 2001 NRL Premiership, and the rest is history.
Fast forward a few years and Michael Hagan, one of the clubs first players, is coaching the side.
Hagan won the NRL title in his first season as Knights coach in 2001. He had taken over the job from Warren Ryan, an experienced old coach, a tough coach, one who didn’t make any friends but who was an out and out winner.
2001 was a great season for the Knights but every year under Hagans control the club became worse and worse. Hagan eventaully left the club, upsetting Knights supporters, and the club made the decision to bring in Brian Smith.
Smith’s job was very focused. He was there to get rid of the dead weight, he had to change the culture of the club, he needed to turn everything around and make the Newcastle Knights a professional NRL team.
Brain Smith did a dirty job, he got rid of fan favorites, he changed the focus of the club. Some of the players revolted, funnily enough they didn’t want to be moved on and told they were no longer wanted by the club.
Through it all Smith copped grief, he even had the Knights management starting to waiver, but he kept at it. Tellingly through this entire episode, Andrew Johns stuck by his coach, he knew what the club needed. He knew for his last few years, he needed the team to be focused.
Johns career ended early, Smith had the role of coaching the Knights post Andrew Johns.
Smith forged a great culture at Newcastle. He revived their junior development set up. He had the player fitter, faster and stronger, they were now competing with the best in the NRL.
Then, last week, Smith decided to move on. The Knights wouldn’t give him the commitment he deserved after doing such an amazing job, and another club was willing to give him a 4 year contract.
It all started again.
Sack Smith new, bring back Michael Hagan, bring back Mal Reilly….and possibly the worst one of all, get Matthew Johns as coach.
Matthew Johns is currently out of the spotlight after the whole 2002 Group Sex saga came to light recently. Johns was stood down from his assistant coaching role at the Melbourne Storm. He was stood down by Channel Nine from his commentary duties.
Johns has not ruled out applying for the Newcastle coaching job and you can be sure that a lot of Knights fans want him in charge, but it would be a huge mistake.
Of all the young coaches given a head coaching job in the NRL, how many of them have been a success?
Brad Fittler and Nathan Brown struggled taking over their former clubs. Apart from lacking the experience that was required, they struggled with getting the complete respect of their playing staff. They also lacked the pull with club management to get what they wanted.
Matthew Johns would be going into his former club as a former player, not as a coach. How could he possibly get the respect a coach needs in that situation.
We have all seen Johns on the footy show. We have seen the crap he has been involved in recently. Good bloke, funny, but not thought of the way you need to think of a coach.
A first grade coach is in charge of the entire club. His attitude is the clubs attitude. He sets the rules, the culture of the club, through all grades comes from the dicipline that the first grade coach forces on his players.
A first grade coach needs to be feared, respected, trusted and believed. His players need to worry they will be targeted by him, and yet at the same time they have to be willing to run through a brick wall for him.
These are professional footballers, they know their job. They can sniff out a pretender from a mile away. You put them in front of a coach that doesn’t quite get it, that is poor tactically and he will lose them forever.
A first grade coach can not be a friend. He can not do you favours. He can not cut you slack.
Going back to Newcastle, to his home club, Matthew Johns can’t do the job. If anything, he is too nice of a bloke to be a head coach, to much a man of the people.
Newcastle needs someone that will step in Brian Smiths shoes, be seperate from his playing staff and who will rule with an iron fist. He needs to be tough, to no care about critisism or a fan fan that could turn on him quickly.
At the same time the Newcastle Knights club needs someone who doesn’t bring baggage with them. You never know what will happen in the future, you may need to move on a coach, and how difficult would it be to sack one of Newcastles favorite sons, again?
Newcastle needs to look at their past and realise that they need someone that can maintain the high levels of professionalism that Brian Smith has brought to the club. They need to move as far away from the former culture that the Knights at one point become famous for.
The way to do that is not to bring back a former player will little coaching experience to be the guiding light for you club. The Knights need to go in a different direction, one that doesn’t involve Matthew Johns.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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