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?
‘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”.’
Good God! Do our board members not even know when we qualified? You can argue, and I would agree, that winning a series against Uruguay is a pretty minor achievement, but it is kind of mind-boggling that a board member would offer something that happened 19 months ago as our greatest achievement “this year”.
Do you think he was that clueless, or was he trying to say that nothing has been achieved in 2015?
Hi Alan, this low expectation level just reinforces what I am saying. I didn’t bother w/ semantics of when it happened. Suffice to say, we have a lot of work to do on all levels. Raising standards/expectations. I am trying to make a difference, and I will – but no impact can be made until we get in position to make that difference.
As a collegiate level rugby player, hearing my thoughts appear before me in words makes me pretty hopeful. My four years here I’ve seen dozens of class players in the University system fall through the cracks of High Performance selectors due to the old style of cronyism by All American selectors. It’s a goddamn old boys team in which they pick the players that they coach. We currently have the highest number of U18 and collegiate athletes and it’s been growing for quite some time. We just have to figure out how to turn that pure numerical strength into becoming a rugby power.
Wonder if the board feels they’re accomplishing the goals outlined in this?
Click to access USA_Rugby_Strategic_Plan_2013_2015.pdf
What was the plan if they weren’t tracking on their performance indicators?
The bylaws call for a business plan that supports this strategic plan. The tactics that will make the strategy work. No business plan has been produced in 8 years.
Tough talk for a guy who last played in 1993……..
You know I’ve wondered what your street cred was in rugby. Turns out you’d know what mediocrity looks like since your record was 4-10 as an Eagle.
Baxter, you are so correct. And it is my mission to never have Eagles put on the field that half to live with that insufferable record. The record over the past 10 years is significantly lower than 40% . I am making no comparisons to my team vs this team in 2015. They would beat us by 30-40 points. No doubt. The problem is that this years Aussie team would beat their 1991 team by 100. We are falling behind. Big time. Tier 3.
Lets not make this a childish fight over who played when and where. Its about USA Rugby advancing and right now not much has changed in the last 10 years.
Baxter, the point of what Mr. Ridnell is saying is that we, the American rugby community should not be satisfied with a leadership that accepts mediocrity, that has not produced a business plan for almost a decade and has not improved the level of rugby across the board. What he is NOT doing is trying to compare himself or his team record to anyone or anything else. Look at the bigger picture.
Jon, thank-you for this comment. I tried to clear it up in reply to Baxter. This has nothing to do with ‘my’ playing record… it has to do with ensuring that our future men and women that where the Eagle don’t have to suffer the humiliations we have allowed and come to expect. “Hope and No Expectation” as my woman’s rugby friend put it. Pathetic really. Let’s get after it with a new leadership team. You would like the names I have assembled.
I lived in Australia for 8 years playing Rugby and now have been back for about 6 yrs in the US. We are a joke and after seeing how the Aussies run things our officers and coaching running USA Rugby is a miles behind. The USA’s biggest problem is freaking egos. Look at what happened to Todd Clever…… We will never go to the next level till you have people who know what they are truly doing in head office and coaching. Until then we will never be taken serious. How come Argentina does so much better than the US……
I don’t know, why is Argentina better? You played in Australia, so enlighten us………..
Lol Baxter……Because Argentina doesn’t have the EGOS that USA rugby officals and coaches does. They actually F#$%In listen. Pretty simple.
Oh and Baxter you ask “Why is Argentina better” Where did they finish in the 2007, 2013, 2015 World Cups and the US…….. doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure that one out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hi Baxter and lbs.
My name is Agustin and I am from Argentina. I am currently studying at Georgetown University (Sports Business Master’s degree).
Argentina got better after the great 2007 RWC when the players sat down with the national rugby union reps and demanded a professional structure around the national teams and requested a long term development plan including the competition needed to get better. That development plan reached the Under-17 level. That is why it is not surprising Argentina had several players 24 years old or younger in this past RWC. Argentina had the human resources and just needed to adapt its structure to the new professional. Those players that retire after the 2007 RWC came back to Argentina after spending a decade playing pro rugby in Europe and brought back with them the knowledge that Argentina needed to do things on and off the field.
Rugby has been played in Argentina since 1890’s. The UAR (Argentine Rugby Union) has been very smart about how to make the transition from amateur rugby to professional rugby. There are thousands of amateur clubs all over the country. That’s where the talent comes from year after year and what WE (as argentines) are protecting.
The good. Kudos for looking at the high performance side. Of course we can develop better systems to improve the 2-300 players who will go through it each year. Melville has lacked vision and has failed miserably to push rugby forward here in US. Aided and abetted by the some of the same ‘names’ that seemed to have been around forever. You have concrete plans and have obviously done much work. Well done.
The bad. For everything else you talk like a consultant with ‘blah blah’ generalities. That whole section on “My solutions” is a load of drivel/gibberish taken straight from the ‘Idiots guide to consultant speak’ The first sentence set the tone for the corporate bullshit you spout. Quote “actively create a ‘Culture of Rugby’, at all levels” unquote. It just carries on in the same vapid vein. “Systems that are aligned for both players and clubs”???? What does this mean? Your club is obviously run by those exceptional business and thought leaders you waffle about because they don’t know how to post times for games? There are too many clubs like this. I’m beginning to digress and waffle like you. I think you are clueless as to how we get rugby to really take off for all. How do we get the non playing American public to embrace this product? There will always be people who want to isolate and market just the elite.
Brit47, its too difficult to ‘argue’ online. I’d be glad to speak with you if you’d provide me your phone number on PM. Bottom line is this, change has to happen – now. This isn’t going be a discussion on whether I agree with you or not, or vice versa. This is a discussion about getting a team into a position to make a difference. Then, you and I can have a talk about ‘the plan’. This is a change movement, it’s not about me. I am not running for any office – I am stating that I have a group of people (the most respected names in USA and World Rugby – and this is my assessment, and I have the domain to make it) who have the talent and commitment to make a difference in USA Rugby. If you would like to join that team – send me your resume. If not, please agree that change must happen and that I am presenting immediate interim solutions that will enable us to not have hope, but to also have some expectations. Are you getting me now? Don’t attack me for wanting to make a difference.
Tony. I’ve been arguing to anyone who will listen that Melville and his cronies have gone well past their ‘sell by date’. They are clueless. Myself a couple of others have even had run ins with them over the issue of separating youth from adult TRUs etc. You have clear concise ideas on how to improve the top echelon. Great. There are so many models out there. Not too difficult. With all these respected names, and thought leaders, how come you offer nothing more than well worn jargon drenched cliches on the bigger issues. You surely know them? Don’t you?
Pete, great point. I do know them, and thank-you for framing the question in a way that creates some possibilities – not just complaints. Look, I am a one man gang at the moment with a team of 4 people around me, and only one in a position to be announced which I did today. This is a group of people that can provide rugby based counsel and combine it with the business side, the financial side. Please respect that they are currently involved in rugby at a level where their future in the sport might be effected. Ask me some specific questions, I’d be glad to give specific answers. Next blog post will answer many of your questions. Again, in addition to having the plan – perhaps a more important task now is to get in position to execute that plan. Because if we can’t do that, then the plan is worthless.
Tony, First identify the main issues on how we get on a path to professionalism. America is unique in many ways….good and bad…but we can take ideas from MLS, Japan and even Jacksonville Axemen and the rugby league fellows, who have so many more challenges than union. No matter how well we do at youth grass roots they leave for college and we lose the best for lack of the same incentives given to other sports. Out of a squad of 40 high school maybe 10 go through to play men’s. That sort of attrition is not sustainable. I could go on and on, but I await your plan and I shall be following and commenting.
The Board needs to go to. They eat from Nigel’s trough.
Here’s a great question about communication. When’s the last time any customer (CIPP paying member) even got an email from Nigel about USA’s direction? We are USA’s customer and THEY DO NOTHING for us.
The hope was they could at least put out a winning team. As a supporter who watched the Eagles humiliation to South Africa in person, it was embarrassing. That’s the best we can do? The only skunk, the largest margin of defeat, not even some good plays.,,
Nigel and his board have had 10 years to produce that result. It’s time for change. A lot of it.
Glenn, please support this change. Do what you can. A friend of mine described the scenario at USAR as a ‘tenured fiefdom’. This is an enormous task taking this on… and I will not go away. Do what you can to support. (communicate w/ board/congress or just endorse/share posts). Thank-you for understanding the pain we have experience in USA Rugby since 1975. No more. We will have an open. communicative and collaborative style. I can guarantee that.
Isn’t the lack of a business plan, which you say is required in the bylaws, enough to oust the entire Board & management structure? Bylaws are a legal structure, and if the USA Rugby Board is ignoring the structure by which it is empowered, that is a breach.
Is there anything in the bylaws about removal of officers and/or Board members?
Additionally, when it comes to XVs, only 1 of 2 goals were achieved, according to the strategic plan mentioned above:
MEN’S EAGLES FIFTEENS
• 2013 – Qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015
• 2015 – Rugby World Cup at least 2 wins
We didn’t even make the semi-finals, so this was a failure, too:
WOMEN’S EAGLES FIFTEENS
• 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup – Final Four
There is a ton of work going on at the youth level, mainly thanks to adults who played the game. There are a lot of successes there, and these kids are the future of the game.
Any person successful in business knows that a strategic plan is longer than 2 years. There are short-term, medium-term & long-term goals.
Yes, the lack of business plan will be a topic if necessary.
There are a ton of youth organizations that dont get squat from USA Rugby except they need to get their USA Rugby card. I know of one particular organization for sure that doesnt get shit except they have to get the USA CIP card and have heard of others.
Whoa can’t agree more. You’ve got my support and I’m a lowly High School coach and referee. Coming from New Zealand I have been flabbergasted at the stultifying politics of USA Rugby. We are surrounded by millions of amazing athletes who could make the US a tier 1 nation in 20 years but not with the current leadership and high performance coaching.
USA Rugby should’ve followed the pattern of USA Soccer-they brought in German ace and former manager Franz Beckenbauer and gave him almost carte Blanche to create a winning program-the result: 25 years later the US women’s soccer team is No 1 and the men are in the top 20 is the world’s biggest game. The US rugby will never break out of its ongoing torpor without a similar clean out and embracing of the kinds of approaches suggested by the former All Black quoted.
With the Olympics including Rugby for the first time in 92, this is a unique time to promote the sport in America. Especially since the Olympics will be held in the Western Hemisphere, perfect for prime time TV. If USAR isn’t already engaged in massive marketing campaign to promote the sport and support the Men’s and Women’s teams, that alone should be cause for a change of leadership.
If only you could be the director! 100% agree with all of this. The USAR fiefdom needs to go and go now. We aren’t improving, but falling behind. Look at Georgia, Romania, Japan… getting better, improving. We have to right this ship!
We have to stop using Eagles as the benchmark of success. Take care of everything below and Eagles will be successful eventually. Its not as if we haven’t tried top class managers. I remember talking to Thorburn in 2006 ish and he was frustrated with the quality of rugby here. He reckoned 3rd tier rugby in NZ would beat top teams in US and he was losing his battle to get coaches to stop playing northern hemisphere style rugby. Even today the Eagles have maybe 5 players regularly getting game time at a top club. The difference between club to pro is massive and even more so at international. I can’t wait for a pro league to start. Where players and staff get paid at least a living wage to start. Add a few top class pros from abroad and we have the potential for a decent product we can put in front of the public. Whatever it is will be better than what we have today.
Is there a problem with USAR?…hmmm… When I see an Eagle captain come off the pitch at the RWC, and they just get shellacked like they had by the Boks, and that Captain says how proud he is of his fellow players… yes, WE, the US rugby community, have a collective problem. Tell me how I am supposed to explain that comment to my HS players? to the parents of those boys? to the many coaches of other US sports I’m trying to convince that rugby is a great sport…. USA Rugby is ‘happy’ to be playing, and that’s about it. Samoa should have come off the pitch, looked in the camera, and said “I’m pissed”, “this isn’t good enough”, ” to the American rugby community, you deserve better”, period. Lastly, on a business front, I send SteveTew an email requesting a business meeting when the AB’s came to town…. I not only get a personal reply but a meeting… For the same reason, I reach out to USAR and get NO REPLY. You tell me which rugby organization I should respect more? Kind regards, JW
John, Thank-you!!! Yes, yes, and yes. I hope you are able to listen to the cast on http://www.goffrugbyreport.com. I think you will hear me echo your thoughts. How can we (as USAR) leave SO MANY PEOPLE, SO ALIENATED around the world? What organization puts up with this from their leadership? Self assessment is severely lacking at all levels. This is a leadership issue.
“Nigel Melville has been charged with turning the USA into a world force after his appointment as chief executive and president of USA Rugby. The former Wasps boss will test his mettle at the 2007 World Cup, but USA Rugby chairman Kevin Roberts is setting Melville more long-term targets. ‘I’d like to think that the USA will be in the quarter-finals at the 2011 World Cup,” Roberts told BBC Sport. ‘That is what Nigel has been signed up to deliver.’” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/6047692.stm, Friday, 13 October 2006)
Nine years, three World Cups, and one World Cup win later there is no way he should still have his job. While I appreciate the passion he may have for the game and for USA Rugby he has clearly not fulfilled expectations. Now people may argue that the Rugby has become more popular in the US and that Melville has focused on a grassroots effort to grow the game. We only need to look at US Soccer to understand that it is the national team that drives interest in the sport, and our national team delivered 1 win in three world cups under Melville. The biggest indictment of Melville has to be the hiring of Mike Tolkin as head coach. I do not mean to attack Tolkin, as I honestly believe he has put his heart and soul into coaching the Eagles, the fact remains that he was and continues to be woefully underqualified to coach an international side. I appreciate the desire to have an American coach for an American team, but the reality is that there is no American coach who would be considered a coach in the Pro 12, Premiership, Top 14, or Super Rugby let alone internationally. The biggest problem the Eagles have is not talent it is discipline, which is ultimately falls on the head coach. We should follow the blueprint that Japan has laid out, hire a top class international coach to help change the culture of rugby here. Three names I would offer up are Jamie Joseph, Wayne Smith, or Les Kiss. There are a number of promising coaches in the professional leagues and on international teams to choose from. Without a change in culture the Eagles will at best remain stagnant in the mid to low teens of the World Rugby Rankings, which will adversely affect the growth of rugby as a whole in this country.
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