PRETORIA - The major but swift coaching overhaul at the Blue Bulls has been a painful but necessary process, according to Bulls executive for rugby John Mitchell.
The late Sunday night blood bath that occurred at Loftus Versfeld and saw the culling of most of the Super Rugby and Currie Cup coaching staff, including coach Nollis Marais, came quicker than expected but Mitchell is adamant it had to be done now.
Marais has been placed on paid leave until the end of the Currie Cup competition with his future still uncertain, while backline coach David Manuel has been appointed Blue Bulls Under-21 coach, with forwards coach Anton Leonard also demoted to that side.
Mitchell has taken over the coaching reins of the Currie Cup side with Pine Pienaar remaining as defence coach, while Pote Human has been elevated to line-out coach along with Hayden Groepes, who will be in charge of skills and kicking.
“Restructuring is not a nice thing to do, it’s always hard. Let’s face it, I’ve also faced restructuring in my career as a coach as well, so you do have feelings for people who are asked to go backwards,” Mitchell said.
“We, as a board and as a company, have a responsibility to serving the athletes and we are dealing with people’s futures as well. Then we have the fans and stakeholders. Ultimately, with my appointment we were going to restructure and it happens to be that we made a decision to go earlier with it.
“Our coaches who have gone backwards, it’s important that they know that we want to build a club and the intellect around our new methodology, so we are trying to spread it around the whole club.”
Mitchell could not comment on Marais’ future, saying: “That is not my area it is Barend (van Graan) and Xander (Janse van Rensburg). Nollis is still very much employed by us. He’s a bloody good bloke and unfortunately he has been through a tough year ...
“His heart is in the right place, he loves this place, it is massive to him so it is a chance for him to refresh, come back and at some point make a vital contribution again.”
Mitchell also revealed that his role and that of Marais’ were becoming confusing to the players.
“It’s been about getting back to our processes and we’ve got to be fair to Nollis and the athletes because it is not easy when you bring in a director of rugby and that person has a new methodology and end point in terms of where we want to go.
“So, who really is the player’s master and one has to feel for Nollis as well because the perception that we create is that who is the head coach? In many ways we’ve cleared that up from the start and it is very helpful for the players.”
While much of the Bulls' on field problems have been blamed on previous coaches, there has also been harsh criticism of high performance manager Janse van Rensburg and how inept he is with recruitment and retention of players at Loftus.
However, Mitchell came to his defence.
“It is a big role, being high performance manager... In some ways he’s probably been put in a situation where he’s had too much to do, you have to be fair when you see his work load and what he has been responsible and accountable for. We’ve got a great opportunity Barend, Xander and myself, to work as a team in making sure that we serve the player first,” Mitchell argued.
Mitchell also did not hold back in his criticism of the poor standards that had set in at Loftus, coupled with the denialism and lack of accountability, and is determined to change the archaic mindset at the Bulls.