Why the unhealthy obsession with Mitchell?

Garrin Lambley (File)
Garrin Lambley (File)

By hook or by crook, current Bulls coach John Mitchell has escaped criticism for the majority of his coaching career.

Until now.

In much the same manner as the All Blacks who lead the way in the World Rugby rankings, New Zealand coaches are light-years ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to coaching.

The exceptions?

Brad Thorn and John Mitchell.

READ: Super Rugby is dead - RIP

But this column isn't about Thorn's infant coaching career as he finds his feet at the Reds, it's about how Mitchell has found his way into coaching roles in Ireland, England, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the USA with limited, to NO success.

Don't get me wrong, Mitchell talks a great game, but he's seemingly unable to translate that onto the field of play.

After stints as Ireland and England forwards coach in the 1990s, Mitchell took over at the Chiefs between 2000-2001 where the Waikato-based franchise won a mere 3 and 6 (out of 11) matches in Super 12 those seasons, (27% and 55% win rate) respectively, comfortably missing out on the playoffs on both occasions.

Mitchell was then handed the All Blacks coaching job where he won 23 of the 28 Tests he was in charge, before being axed after New Zealand's third-place finish at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Mitchell's next high-profile role was at the Western Force between 2006-2010 where he took charge of the Perth-based side in their maiden Super 14 season (in 2006).

The Force won the following number of matches in Mitchell's five years at the club (out of 13 matches):

2006 - 1 (8%)

2007 - 6 (46%)

2008 - 7 (54%)

2009 - 6 (46%)

2010 - 4 (31%)

OVERALL: 24/65 or 37%

Mitchell was released after the 2010 season and headed to South Africa where he took over as coach at the Lions for two seasons.

In 2011 the Lions, now playing in the Super 15, won 3 matches and finished 14th out of the 15 teams competing (19% win rate).

In 2012 the Johannesburg-based side fared even worse, winning 3 matches and finishing as wooden-spoonists (again, 19% win rate).

In June 2012 Mitchell was suspended after complaints from Lions players regarding the manner in which they were treated, but in November of that year he was found not guilty of the charges and reinstated as head coach.

However, a week later Mitchell accepted a role with the Sale Sharks in the UK ... only for Sale to announce Mitchell had returned to South Africa citing "personal reasons" the very next month.

Following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Mitchell was linked to both the vacant Stormers and England jobs, but the Cape side were reportedly warned off appointing Mitchell (rumoured to be by Golden Lions Rugby Union president Kevin de Klerk as well as several players), while Eddie Jones was handed the England role.

In January 2016 Mitchell was named head coach of the USA, an appointment which was met with a degree of puzzlement given that Mitchell had stated he was not interested in working for a "minor" side such as Tonga or Scotland (who he had reportedly turned down in 2013).

Mitchell's 'stay' in the United States soon led to friction with reports suggesting he refused to relocate to America, preferring to attempt to coach the national team from his home in South Africa, while also refusing to help American rugby coaches develop.

Unsurprisingly, Mitchell left after 8 wins from 19 matches (42% win rate) and in May 2017 took over as Blue Bulls Executive of Rugby and Bulls Super Rugby coach.

Mitchell's maiden season in Pretoria has been a disaster in terms of results, with the Bulls having won five matches (with two remaining) in the 2018 season.

In the previous five Super 15 seasons, the Bulls won the following numbers of matches (out of 16):

2011 - 10

2012 - 10

2013 - 12

2014 - 7

2015 - 7

While there's been widespread talk of an "exciting" new Bulls gameplan under Mitchell, talking doesn't win you matches on the field of play. Just look at the log!

Neither does promising to be "better next year" or "building for the future".

That's nothing more than a slap in the face to other teams and coaches suggesting they themselves won't improve and will simply sit by idly and wait for the Bulls to play catch-up.

Case in point, Scott Robertson, who in his FIRST season as Crusaders coach in 2017 didn't come up with excuses, but rather put an end to a nine-year title drought. What's more, in his second season at the helm, Robertson looks set to successfully defend that title come August.

Furthermore, the so-called Loftus 'faithful' haven't bought what Mitchell has been selling with shocking attendances at the Bulls' matches this season, but bizarrely the Blue Bulls Rugby Union appear mesmerised by Mitchell, making signing him up for the long-term a priority.

Alas, Tuesday's confirmation that Mitchell was once again packing his bags and heading for another job (once again with the England national side), would've surprised nobody.

Where the Stormers correct in saying "no thanks" to Mitchell? Is he the sort of coach that at best will deliver a 40%-odd win rate? Is he a first-class talker, but a B-class coach?

Your thoughts in an email to mysport@sport24.co.za

Garrin Lambley is a very frustrated rugby fan and Editor of Sport24 for his sins...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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