USA Rugby – Changing leadership presents huge opportunity! 1

Anyone reading this blog would be aware of Nigel Melville’s resignation from the newly formed (and majority owned by USA Rugby) Rugby International Marketing, LLC aka “RIM”.  I was fairly outspoken about Nigel after the RWC2015 campaign, and it was our failures there (compared to expectations) that energized me to work so hard re-learning the rugby landscape in the USA.  Regardless, there are many positives to take away from the Melville era, which is why we can all be excited about USAR’s future at all levels.

Congratulations, Nigel Melville

Melville has arguably landed one of the most coveted rugby jobs globally.  He is the Performance Director of the wealthiest rugby union in the world.  He has control over the destiny of England Rugby. It’s a massive job. He will be in the spotlight every day in the largest rugby market.  Congratulations to Nigel for landing it. He is right back where he should be.   England Rugby will be better for having him, and USA Rugby can be grateful for being in a better place in specific areas than when he arrived.

We should thank Nigel for his service to rugby in America and also ensure he knows we expect him to bring the full England Women’s and Men’s team over to play here (not the Saxon’s, but the full-on England XV’s), and we will return the visits with invitations to Twickenham for the Autumn test season.  We need to earn those fixtures but we now have a person in England that we can call a friend.

What Now? 

Regardless of your thoughts on Melville, the rugby community he has left has every reason to be optimistic about the future.  However, ‘succession planning’ seems to have been blown out of the water by Melville’s announcement.

This is the perfect time for the USA Rugby Board and Congress to step back and re-evaluate the future of American Rugby.  It is time for us to move out of the ‘amateur professional era’, and into the ‘professional professional era’.  There is a strategic plan being developed now by USAR, clearly a move in the right direction.

Calling on Congress

The Congress has been described as ‘ineffective’ and ‘too large and fractured to have an impact’.  By its 40+ member nature, without an appointed/delegated/elected leader, it is very challenging to have the kind of impact it is capable of.  It is now time for this Congress to really engage in the strategic plan, new Board appointments, and the CEO process.  The Congress serves as stewards of our game in the USA, and should be the oversight for both the Board and USA Rugby.  This role is as important as it has ever been.

The selections of the incoming CEO’s (USAR and RIM) and to a similar degree the two open Board seats are critical.  One of these seats will be awarded to an incumbent.  I have described in an earlier blog the concept that “USA Rugby is a 40 year old startup”.  This is not a criticism.  It’s a business analogy of where we stand.  I haven’t heard anyone disagree.   We now have an opportunity to select professional, committed, experienced leadership to take advantage of the imminent explosion of rugby here.

Increased Board Size

From my personal interaction in the Board seat selection process, we should consider an expanded Board from 9 seats to at least 11.  We are forced now to take into account the Olympic mandate (i.e. at least one person on the board must have no experience in the particular sport).  We also have an  immediate need to have women fairly represented – a must in my opinion. I am not just saying this because it is politically correct. My impression of the women’s game here is very strong (thank-you Seattle Saracens Women) and must be equitably represented at all levels.

It appears to me in this process that we are really boxed in with 2 of the spots taken by athlete reps, and now we have some  USAR Board Members serving as RIM Board members (three). This doesn’t appear to leave much wiggle room for seats.

Independent Stakeholders Group

It is the perfect time for our Board to create the independent stakeholders group; it’s been so often talked about but never implemented.  Now is the time.  We need ‘all hands on deck’ and we need leadership at the front.  This is the “all in moment” for our rugby community. Such a stakeholders group could streamline some of the many obstacles that will need to be overcome prior to Melville’s departure.  This could include vetting candidates for the CEO jobs (assisting the ‘search firms’ with some reality checks), and act as an arm of the Board to be utilized at the Board’s discretion.  It could certainly help be an independent review of the soon to come Strategic Plan. The business potential alone from creating such a group is reason to implement immediately.  Note, this group should be independent of any official relationship with USAR or any entities.   The leader of this group should have the following skill sets:

  • Knowledge of the sport at all levels, a history of our past, and a vision for our future.
  • Ability to connect the US rugby community to the global community
  • Extensive knowledge of the business of American sport (not just rugby)
  • Relationships w/ media people, money people, and the ability to bring such people together to foster growth at a level different from an NGB or Congress.
  • He or she must be respected globally for their rugby IQ (on and off the field)
  • Communicate honestly and effectively for the group to USAR Board, CEO, or RIM as needed.
  • He/she should be the ultimate team player


I’ve always had contention with having a CEO that has the confirmed reputation of looking for the ‘next, best thing’.  It is no secret that Melville has looked for a job in the UK for years.  In the selection process for the next CEO, the committee should choose a person that is first and foremost committed to this job being ‘the final destination’ and that his/her personal mission ‘make the USA Tier 1 in every aspect of rugby’. My assessment is this goal is achievable but its still an 8-12 year job if executed to near perfection.  Let’s do it.  I don’t think we should ever use the term ‘Tier 2’ again. It shoehorns us into that dubious distinction.

Our new CEO should have Rugby IQ, Leadership IQ, Executive IQ, and must have the underlying passion to do whatever it might take to create success for USA Rugby.  With the fractured state of Club Rugby (throw in Pro Rugby as well now), the College game, and perhaps worst culprit of all the Women’s game, we need a leader who has the networking skills, and more importantly ‘coalition building’ skills to bring all the talented rugby people in this country together and moving in an aligned direction.

Bob Latham has recently said, “the CEO search must now be accelerated”.  We need a professional who can identify with the specific challenges in the USA, understands professional rugby, can help us to learn the lessons from the developed professional markets, and can take us into the “professional, professional” era.

Is anyone aware that there is an American who has held leadership positions with top European professional clubs? Nathan Bombrys, is the Managing Director of the Glasgow Warriors, and is AMERICAN. Who knew?   There are some amazing candidates out there.

What this means?

The Road to Rio is getting ever so shorter.  We owe it to the men and women who will be representing the USA in Rio to do everything possible to support them. This holds true for so many upcoming events, Americas Rugby Championship 2017.  Women’s RWC in Ireland 2017, and the Sevens World Cup 2018.  We have opportunities to win championships and achieve real success.  We need to get onside and get to work.   Not work like we have in the past, but work like we are Tier 1 in all areas of our sport, accept nothing but the highest standards in everything we do, on and more importantly off the field.

One team; On and off the pitch.

In summary, by the fall USA Rugby will have a new CEO, it’s subsidiary (RIM) will have a new CEO, there will be one new USAR Board member, and a new ‘Chairman of the Board’.  We have an opportunity to get this right.

I’ve been nominated for one of the open Board seats. These are my thoughts.  I’ll be making some specific recommendations in the next posts.


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