‘White’s ego got in the way’

2014-10-17 00:00

AS the rugby world still ponders what went on behind closed doors at the Sharks that led to the departure of former director of rugby Jake White, John Mitchell, who has also been at the coaching coal face, gave some interesting insight into the situation.

Mitchell, who is a former All Black player and coach of the All Blacks, Lions and Western Force, is no stranger to difficult exits from teams.

Mitchell had controversial departures from the All Blacks, Force and Lions — mainly due to his strong character and emphasis on certain structures.

Speaking at the launch of his book, Mitch: The Real Story at College Rovers on Wednesday night, Mitchell gave guests a glimpse into what goes on in the mind of a coach and in the dressing room.

When asked if he could empathise with White and the situation that led to his departure, Mitchell said that coaches and administrators sit in difficult situations.

“Firstly leaders, head coaches and administrators only know what they know. John Smit only knows what he knows and he is very experienced as a player, but he’s got a lot to learn as an administrator and a leader,” Mitchell said.

“Secondly Jake White is an exceptional coach, he’s had success but perhaps his ego coming from the Brumbies probably got in the road because he had a choice, but accepted the coaching group that he went with [at the Sharks].

“So he chose to take on a very young coaching group and ultimately he probably brought a model from the Brumbies which suits an Australian side because they’re only really on their training grounds for half the year whereas as here we are in our grounds from Super Rugby to Currie Cup.”

Being seen as a tough customer during his coaching career, Mitchell has been in the same boat as White and knows all too well where that leads.

“He was a mentor at the start, but he was perceived a disciplinarian and once you’re perceived in that way by the player group and your assistant coaches, all the thinking goes out the door and nothing is accepted.”

Mitchell believes that White may have held onto the structures he put in place for too long — not trusting his player group or younger coaching staff to teach and develop it.

“As much as you’ve got to give direction on structure, I think Jake owned the structure for too long and this player group was crying out for ownership of the philosophy and style of football to have input.

“But I don’t think Jake let that go because the middle management, as I call it, were too inexperienced to understand and teach it properly and maybe Jake resisted in giving them the empowerment. As a result of that, the assistant coaches then sided with the player group and nothing ever got back to the head coach about fixing things or working on the vibe within the team environment. What happens? Head coach gets marginalised — gone.”

It seems that Mitchell had some foresight of trouble arising and told guests at the launch of a conversation he had with Smit some time ago.

“I had coffee with John Smit, would you believe, and we were talking about the junior programme. I said to him that he would need to support Jake at some point in time because there will come a time where he will be perceived as a disciplinarian — but clearly he only knows what he knows.”

Mitchell has left the world of coaching behind and is now the CEO of Egli, a manufacturing company based in Pietermaritzburg.

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