So the national team coach resigns, spotlighting management's failure to deliver basic resources in a World Cup qualifying year.
Even if 2009 doesn't exactly parallel 2006, Scott Johnson's forthcoming departure shows USA Rugby's leadership again has been asleep at the switch.
Three years ago, the board of directors all but ignored the union's insolvency while accepting the management committee's contention that a new strategic plan and 'governance' would change everything for the Eagles. Now, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on foreign consultants who crafted an unworkable approach premised on IRB welfare, America's flagship 'high performance' program is once more starting over.
This time America is six places lower on the international rankings than when Tom Billups departed. To paraphrase Anglo-Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke, when organizations change plans and structure but the same problems persist, it's time to evaluate the leadership.
Last week chief executive Nigel Melville all but declared USA Rugby's professionalization campaign stillborn, underlining that the board's decision to retain Peter Thorburn for the winless 2007 World Cup (indeed, the first-ever winless Eagle season) cost the union more than 18 months of time to launch a domestic pro league and get ready for 2011.
So, if you believe that a pro league is the Eagles' panacea and that the economic downturn alone has stymied its hopes, then Kevin Roberts and colleagues missed the window of opportunity for whatever potential there may have been for the North American 4 or the HP regions. Based on past practice, the IRB is not likely to soon restore past funding levels.
If, on the other hand, you think it more telling that Boulder's payroll has swollen and the union has seized on past chief executive Doug Arnot's tactic of portraying revenue from loss-making events as evidence of growing income, then the case is that Johnson's delayed hiring diverted focus and spending from the professionalization strategy. That is more serious. Both shortcomings go right to the board and executive management.
Of course Eagle spending has grown in comparison with historical standards, and must be considered in any evaluation of Johnson's (and Thorburn's) tenure. But if there is one thing Johnson's departure cannot be blamed on, it's professionalization abroad (including Canada). As vice chair Bob Latham has trumpeted, no 'tier 2' country received more IRB cash than America. USARFU's leadership has had more tools and resources than ever before, and has suffered one of the shortest coaching tenures in Eagle history.
Along with poor decision making goes lack of supervision. Johnson's increasingly frantic efforts to jumpstart a pro competition should have been a warning sign: Why isn't the coach coaching? The role of Eagle head man is of sufficient stature that the board should have been intimately involved; if it was, it failed. So too the congress, which features many of the old directors who previously mismanaged the USA 7s and Arnot's 'big events' strategy, has failed its role.
The union yesterday yesterday issued a terse release stating Johnson had submitted 90 days' notice of his intention to depart. Most of Johnson's remarks to me were confidential.
Much as then-assistant Brett Taylor declined the opportunity in 2006, some leading domestic coaches have already signaled disinterest in the open position.
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Eagle coach Billups resigns; unwilling to start season with no money, lame-duck CEO
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Under pressure, Arnot resigns; CEO's delayed exit raises questions
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