Today I was given an audience with 4 members of the USA Rugby Board of Directors. I made a powerful request for them to call a special meeting for a confidence vote of the current CEO, Nigel Melville.
Friends and vested parties warned me this would be a tough battle, and today did nothing but enforce those views. I spoke to the Board members about a “mandate” from the American Rugby community for immediate change in the leadership of USA Rugby. This mandate includes endorsements from multiple (if not all) Rugby World Cup Captains, RWC Coaches, and RWC administrators, and now hundreds of American Rugby shareholders/customers of USAR ranging from parents of players to several of the founding fathers of the USARFU in 1975.
Summary of My Conversation with Board Members
I was met with firm resistance, and it is logistically difficult being one person on a conference call with four others, having met only 2 of them briefly.
There must be no more talking about the ‘why’ of this required change (to keep it concise, what other organization would tolerate a 1-11 RWC record over 9 years?). The change is a mandate. I made it clear that ‘this is the conversation no one wants to have”. I am having it.
My vision was called ‘narrow’ by one of the members, and that I was focusing on the Men’s National Team too much. Well, I only do that because RWC is the perfect metric to gauge ourselves against the rest of the world (the overall program – where everything comes to light). And, I assure everyone – the vision is not narrow. What I have done to date is identify problems, and I now have solutions.
Don’t accept mediocrity any more. On or off the field.
When I asked the board members to name an achievement this year… the first response was an emphatic: “We qualified for the Rugby World Cup”.
Attention: American Rugby People – if our rugby leadership considers it a significant achievement to simply qualify for the Rugby World Cup, then we should consider packing it all in.
If this mediocre expectation is considered an achievement by our board, what are the rest of us to think? After two weeks of extensive research, I can confirm these standards and expectations are what we have come to expect at all levels from USAR. This isn’t criticism, it’s fact.
“What about RIM” asked one of the board members. That is an achievement? Really? Setting up a ‘for profit company’ that has the same people doing the same work with the same people as they should have doing for the non-profit USAR in the first place? I have confirmed that USA Rugby has not created a business plan in over 8 years, despite that being a requirement in USA Rugby’s by-laws. All of a sudden the creation of “RIM” is going to derive better business practices than the past 9 years years has seen? Why is the CEO of USAR also the CEO of RIM? This leadership team has been in place 9 years with very little to show for it. This RWC and the ‘everything’s ok, no knee jerk reaction’ and complete lack of self assessment is the last straw. The question is not if, but when? How do we best facilitate “Change Management”?
My Solutions: The Emergence of Hope & The Raising of Standards – “Culture”
The focus of my vision for American Rugby is to actively create a ‘Culture of Rugby’, at all levels. The culture of USA Rugby (i.e. Board/CEO) appears to me (and many others) to be quite ‘exclusive’ and not particularly in touch with what is required on the ground at the grass roots to build culture. We must create systems that are aligned for both players and clubs. We must provide a clear pathway for players at all levels to seek ‘A higher level’. Our sport should be the most inclusive of any. The game that cares nothing of anything but what you bring onto the field on the day.
Rugby at the top level is professional. This is the culture, at that level – professional. We will have a professional, executive approach to our National Teams. They are an essential part of the success of our game in America. American’s are patriotic, and we like winners. American’s want to see a National team, and a competitive one. We will have an international technical director, who assists the USA Director of Rugby, high performance staff, and coaching staff in an advisory role. We do not have natural eyes for the game at the top level. Lets open ourselves up hand selected and targeted rugby champions to assist us on the technical side. The international can ‘train the trainer’. I have received a commitment from a legendary All Black, currently involved in high performance academy work (who happens to have a US residence) to take this role.
Concurrently, we will generate a community of rugby around the country where our constituents feel included, and more importantly assisted by USAR. We will have a weekend called on as little as 3 weeks notice for key stakeholders from around the USA to fly into a central site for a session administered by a professional management consulting company that also knows rugby and the nuances associated with our game. Our version of Rugby Summit. We will create the organizational structure upon which we can build our performance expectations. Its time to get to work. Our first international’s are in 3 1/2 months! It’s time to start creating high expectations right now!.
A Thought on Club Rugby
The takeaway from this meeting will be specific goals and objectives in which key stakeholders can attain alignment. Results could include initiatives like “how to get 2,000 people to regularly attend our club games” and make this a national initiative to assist clubs in this effort. Lets not talk about just growing the game, but lets exponentially grow the game!!. Lets raise our expectations at all levels! More people leads to better events, leads to attraction of players and funding, and, and , and, … . FYI, informal poll of top club leaders leads to average estimated attendance at USA Club game at 250. Just today, the only way I found out my home club has a home match was from a random post on FB from one of the rugby loving women who play on the club.
After thorough evaluation of the entire club structure (this to be consulted on at the Rugby Summit from the key stakeholders from all over the country), top markets by demographic, we can then from the top down provide resources and professionalism to assist the clubs. Basics, like scores getting reported, announcements of matches and locations, .
There’s that word “Basics”. The great teams on the field do the basics the best. In the USA, we have the top thought leaders and business practices in the world. Lets start bringing those basics into the administration at top levels of the game in this country. It will translate to on the field success.
Let’s grow this game organically – do things better with help from USAR at all levels (i.e. marketing) and if/when professional money comes in, we have a foot print and a culture of rugby ready to be well represented as not only a professional league, but a league that is also professional.
Anyway, we are developing a strategic plan that is far more than the brush strokes outlined so far. It’s good. We ‘get it’. Thanks for your support for change in USA Rugby.
Emergency – Problem with the Women’s game in America
Guys, the women’s game is here too! And its great. But, the women’s game in this country is a total mess. There are at least three separate factions of competitions in the American game. Separate Championships, and apparently none in competition with each other. This dysfunction does nothing but hurt our rugby at all levels. The women playing in the competitions are denied the highest level of rugby because of diluted talent, they don’t get to raise their level… the same level that will be required of our Women at extremely high profile events like the Women’s Rugby World Cup and now, the Olympic Games. My group can create alignment in the women’s game to ensure the highest levels of standards and competition across the country. Why should the success of our Women’s game be effected by ineffectual leadership at USA Rugby.
A Discussion on “High Performance” (i.e. Rugby Academy)
I just received a letter (unsolicited) from a from a long time friend, who founded the IRANZ; the Rugby Academy that has morphed into the academy that produces All Blacks. He happens to be a 2nd generation All Black and is regarded as one of the greatest #8 forwards of all-time. Here are some excerpts…
I have been waiting for an American born rugby man to stand up & say “I’m up for it”. US Eagles have not progressed at all since the last RWC. Their scrum was weak, lineout poor & breakdown inept. The players have had no technical coaching at all. It was obvious for all to see.
I proposed an alliance with USA Rugby soon after Nigel was appointed. We have a signed agreement with USA Rugby but have found Nigel extremely insular & protective of his patch. I offered to run our highly regarded programmes in the US without any financial assistance from USA Rugby. It was a user pays concept with USA Rugby enrolling a minimum of 5 players & 2 coaches. A no-brainer I would have thought. Nigel declined the opportunity. We proceeded independently using a new rugby facility at Glendale Colorado. The resource coaches we utilized were Brian Ashton (English RWC Head Coach) Mick Byrne (Australian Skills Coach & current All Black technical skills coach), Dave Ellis (IRANZ skills coach) Sean Fitzpatrick (Specialist positional, & scrum Coach) Christian Cullen (Back & specialist coach) myself (Specialist & Mental Skills Coach) & several others. Our conclusion at that stage was that US rugby players didn’t see rugby as a profession.Over the last 14 years we have had approximately 20 ambitious US rugby players attend the High Performance Players Course. Over 50% of those returned to the US & played for The Eagles. Several of these were American footballers at college level who wanted to transition to rugby.Within 12 months of starting IRANZ the NZRU invited us to move into their HP Facility & closed their National Academy. I signed a 17 year memorandum of understanding to operate as NZ’s National Rugby Academy out of The Sports & Rugby Institute. The first & only privatised National Academy in a mainstream rugby country.We have had wonderful success. Nine of our graduates played for The All Blacks this year(2015) About a third of all provincial players in NZ are Iranz graduates. IRANZ graduates have achieved National Honours in 11 different countries”
It is egregious that USA Rugby cannot create alignments with outside organizations – we don’t have to use them, but lets not alienate great rugby organizations we come into contact with.
I love what the Serevi/ATAVUS guys are doing regarding USA Rugby Academy in the present day. Great stuff. Think if we could get ATAVUS supplemented with IRANZ talent and other nations’ academy talent, organized at the USAR level.
I have also recently come across a rugby name I had never heard of, Nathan Bombrys. He is the Managing Director, of the Guinness PRO12 Champions Glasgow Warriors. He has been involved in the commercial side of rugby in the UK since the dawn of professionalism in 1997. Nathan is the man who signed Carlin Isles to a pro rugby contract with Glasgow Warriors. He advised me he has met with Nigel several times over the years offering any assistance he could for partnerships with USA Rugby. Apart from a single request by Nigel several years ago to arrange for then USA Sevens Coach Alex Magleby to spend a week at English Premiership club Sale Sharks (where Nathan was commercial director at the time) to learn from coaches Philippe Saint Andre and Kingsley Jones, Nigel has not engaged Nathan further for collaboration or support. I took the call I thought I would be verbally harassed by some old Scotsman with a thick brogue accent. Does anyone have any idea that the MD of the Glasgow Warriors is an American? Born in Michigan, played for Syracuse University went to UK to play some rugby and 20 years later is a successful rugby executive offering assistance only to assist his home union (i.e. USAR).
I have received 100’s of emails, FB messages, and numerous phone calls from key American rugby stakeholders the past two weeks. Now I wouldn’t care if USAR and Glasgow Warriors never put together a deal. But the fact that the head of USAR cannot from an executive level reach out to a globally powerful American Rugby stakeholder is a disgrace. No communication! This is not the leadership we can tolerate any longer in our rugby community.
I have a vision to create global alliances, domestic alliances and create a vision of high expectations for rugby at all levels in this country. There is so much to do. My group is prepared to take on this monumental task.
What can the average American rugby person do?