Brent Pope on Joe Schmidt's big decision: Will he stay or will he go?
AFTER such an historic and eventful occasion last weekend, where the Irish rugby team suddenly became the most talked about sporting team in the world, the question on every body’s lips? Is national hero and coach Joe Schmidt staying or will he go?
For Schmidt, this is a career and life-defining decision. Already revered for what he has done for Irish rugby both at provincial level and now with Ireland, Schmidt yesterday revealed that will probably announce his future plans early next week – a week or so before All Blacks coach Steve Hansen announces his.
Fans here, of course, will be hoping Schmidt will do what former Irish coach Warren Gatland has done in Wales, and stick around for a longer period than most. Schmidt and Gatland, however, are different characters altogether.
Whatever decision Schmidt makes, it will be extremely agonising for him as there are pros and cons on both sides, but he is first and foremost a family man and all coaches plying their trade overseas always come to a crossroads in their careers where it simply comes down to where they see their family settling and laying down roots.
If Schmidt sees that being in New Zealand, where he and his wife obviously have extended family, then he will probably say that ‘if not now, than when?’. This is true, especially given he would be bowing out at the very top of his game in Ireland and Europe, a situation that all players and coaches ultimately aim for.
The mark of a good coach is that you leave the team in a much healthier state than when you took over and, regardless of what happens in next year’s World Cup, Schmidt has already immortalised himself in Irish sport.
Schmidt will also know that he is, at the present time, certainly considered one of the front runners to coach the All Blacks should, as most people in New Zealand expect, Hansen parts ways after the World Cup.
It would be naive not to presume that the NZRFU have not already sounded the Irish coach out. According to some of the New Zealand pundits last week, Schmidt’s years as assistant coach to the Auckland Blues still qualifies him as fulfilling the requirement of coaching a domestic team before the national one.
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Even that, in my opinion, is a paper obstacle for the NZRFU. If they really want Schmidt, they will go after him. It’s as simple as that.
It just begs the question would the NZRFU be prepared to overlook Hansen’s assistant coaches – including Ian Foster – who have not done anything wrong and would have support in New Zealand too.
Of course, Schmidt is not unfamiliar to the process. Years ago I heard the coaching ticket of Vern Cotter, Schmidt’s old boss at Clermont, and Schmidt being touted even before Schmidt’s heroics with Ireland.
But, such has been the Kiwi’s trajectory with Ireland, it would be the Irish coach who would go in as the head man now, and then decide who he would take on as an assistant.
That’s if he opts to throw his hat into the ring.
All things considered, I would find it hard to think that Schmidt would give up his job in Ireland if he didn’t have some sort of assurance that he had an excellent chance of coaching the All Blacks.
I suspect the decision will have nothing to do with money. Schmidt has never struck me as a man that does any of this for purely financial gain.
He has always struck me as a man motivated by success and achievement plus, realistically, he could write his own cheque if he wanted to move back to club rugby in France or Japan.
Imagine how much a club side such as Toulon or Racing 92 would pay for his services or in Japan, where Eddie Jones was reputed to be the highest paid rugby coach in the world before he took on the England role.
So, in my opinion, the decision hinges on his family first, as it should.
The chance of coaching the All Blacks, regardless of Ireland’s recent success, must still be a dream for Schmidt. Growing up in a rural area of New Zealand, Schmidt would have dreamed of being an All Black. While that dream didn’t materialise, he’s now presented with a probable chance to coach the national team of his birthplace; no higher honour one would presume.
He may say that chance may never come again and he may be right. All Black coaches in recent years have tended to stick around a good while and Schmidt may feel that this is his opportunity to go back to his homeland.
Of course, the risk is that he has to make his decision before the World Cup and, if he decides to leave, will that detract from the team’s motivation?
I guess the same reasoning could also apply to Steve Hansen. Whatever his decision, Schmidt is that type of person that would have mulled it over and over in his head.
In the end, it will be a gut feeling and I wish him well.