| 2.4°C Dublin

George Hook: Joe take note – just four of 15 have left the Ireland job with reputations still intact

The IRFU announcement that Joe Schmidt will succeed Declan Kidney was predictable – but there has never been a surprise in selecting national coaches, only in firing them.

Schmidt arrived in the beginning of the 2010 season as the seventh coach at Leinster in the professional era.

He succeeded an eclectic bunch. There were three Australians, Michael Cheika, Gary Ella and Matt Williams; two Irishmen, Gerry Murphy and Kidney; and Mike Ruddock was the lone Welshman.

The personalities were wildly diverse. They varied from the shy and retiring Ella through the attention-seeking Williams to the abrasive Cheika.

Meanwhile, Kidney never won the dressing-room and departed early. Murphy, as he had done with Ireland, loyally acted as an interim coach until Cheika arrived.

Murphy never played politics and had a naked honesty that was rare in professional sport. So when Schmidt arrived, one did the usual job of attempting to interpret what he was saying.

It took a while to realise that this coach was in the Murphy mould and actually said what he meant.

I massively underestimated that aspect of his character. His early interviews were tentative and low-key and his team played with none of the elan that was to become the hallmark of his coaching.

In those early games, players like Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney kicked the ball aimlessly up field and Ian Madigan admittedly a novice, struggled with his kicking game.

There was no semblance of the continuity game that Schmidt and Vern Cotter had brought to Clermont Auvergne. Used to 15 years of coaches promising much and delivering little, I was ready to believe that Schmidt would not convert senior players to his way of thinking.

There is a truism in coaching: teaching skills is in inverse ratio to the level of performance. That means that more coaching is done at underage than at full international level.

What Schmidt has done more than any of his predecessors is to actually teach players and make them better. Brian O'Driscoll has been generous in admitting that.

Backs and forwards alike have become better performers under his tutelage.

Jonny Sexton was very lucky to be at Leinster with a coach that allowed him freedom to express himself.

Only a very confident coach gives his players such a high level of responsibility.

The Biarritz game was the perfect send-off for Schmidt. Here was a team taking risks when a game was still up for grabs; a team with backs and forwards inter-linking; and above all, a team that could defend equally well.

Schmidt's appointment to the Ireland job has been greeted with universal acclaim. However, like all of his predecessors he faces the risk of ending his tenure in charge unsatisfactorily.

None of Murray Kidd, Warren Gatland, Eddie O'Sullivan and Declan Kidney left the position with reputations intact and expectations fulfilled.

Remember, also, the fifth Irish coach of the professional era. Brian Ashton was offered the best contract of any coach before or since, and it ended in tears, when he famously declared as his team imploded against Scotland, "that may be their game plan, it certainly isn't mine."

Ashton, uniquely, resigned rather than be pushed and generously gave up all rights under his contract. It demonstrated that he was a gentleman, but totally without commercial sense.

Schmidt comes to the Irish job at a time of crisis. The latter days of Kidney saw a team without any obvious game plan, suffering from eccentric selection and the humiliation of Ronan O'Gara and O'Driscoll. The back play, high on individual skills, was low on coordinated performance.

Sexton and Co in the blue shirts of Leinster destroyed opponents in three passes.

The same players in green were lacklustre, fearful and without a whit of invention.

There is no certainty that Schmidt can deliver on a higher stage. Kidd at Garryowen, O'Sullivan at Connacht and Kidney at Munster were very different personalities and delivered very different results.

The reason is not obvious but Ciaran Fitzgerald, another national coach, had one view, when discussing Ireland at the breakdown. "It is not, George, whether we ruck or maul, but whether we maul like Munster or Leinster or Ulster, when we consider it for Ireland."

Jimmy Davidson faced another dilemma when he was in charge. One of Ulster's most successful coaches, with a reputation for innovation, Davidson almost had a mental breakdown as he tried to understand what made sense to Ulster players had no meaning for players from south of the border.

There is no template for success. Willie John McBride and Fitzgerald were outstanding on-field leaders that could not transmit that when in the dugout. Roly Meates was technically one of the best but never understood the politics. And Mick Doyle allowed his inner demons to intrude on his coaching.

Ireland needs Schmidt and everybody wishes him well. He might well consider that in Irish rugby history, 15 men have had the job before him but only four finished with reputations intact. I will leave those names for discussion in your local club bar.

Irish Independent