The story of the head coach search

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It was 27th September 2017 that the news became public of Danny Wilson’s decision not to take up the final year of his contract at Cardiff Blues.

A full 175 days later and an almost six month search has finally come to an end with the appointment of Australian John Mulvihill to the post, but what has taken so long? Here is the full story as I understand it…

September

We start back in the first month of the season when Cardiff Blues officially announced that Danny Wilson would be moving on come the summer of 2018.

It was of course disappointing to hear, as Danny was getting the club going in the right direction, as the season we’ve had so far has proved. However, he could easily have gone last summer, such was the off-field financial turmoil facing Cardiff at some points.

danny-wilson-llanelli
Danny Wilson announced his intention to move on back in September

With budgets not improving in line with how Wilson had hoped, as well as the job changing to more of a Director of Rugby role, and Danny himself preferring to return to a more hands-on coaching position, the head coach search began.

Danny Wilson subsequently announced he will join Wasps as forwards coach under Dai Young next season.

October

As the first full month of the search came to a close the air was full of cautious optimism. Despite Sean Holley’s BBC Wales colleagues linking him to the role, Richard Holland had informed Cardiff Blues fans there were 28 applicants for the job, and they were actively recruiting others to talk to.

The end of November was mentioned as a target, so just four weeks to wait!

November

Well, maybe just a few weeks more…

BBC Wales reported on the 5th November that Cardiff Blues had whittled it down to a shortlist of three. The rumours were that one candidate had turned us down, while the other wasn’t seen as a good fit, leaving just the one candidate.

December

That man was named as Geordan Murphy by WalesOnline in the run up to Christmas, with the former Ireland full-back, and current Leicester assistant coach, looking to take his first step into a full-time head coach position.

Geordan Murphy Leicester
Geordan Murphy was the first serious contender we knew of

Generally well received by Cardiff Blues fans, CEO Holland was believed to be happy with the choice, and Murphy was keen to come on board, but a risk had been taken by leaking to WalesOnline before the board, and crucially the Welsh Rugby Union, had been consulted.

This is where a WRU fund containing £200,000 comes into play.

January

As 2017 became 2018 there was still no sign of Murphy, or indeed anybody, set to become the head coach.

The story unfolded that WRU Head of Rugby Performance Geraint John was not keen on appointing the man described as ‘the George Best of rugby’, and wished to interview him further.

You may be thinking ‘why does it matter what the WRU think?’. Well, it matters because the incentive for any region appointing a Union approved Head Coach or Director of Rugby is £200,000. A decent amount of money in the Welsh rugby arena.

So with Murphy cast aside, the search broadened with the likes of Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd and Sunwolves coach Filo Tiatia amongst names rumoured to be in the mix for the job.

Chris Boyd Hurricanes
Hurricanes Director of Rugby Chris Boyd was linked to the job

February

Unfortunately the fifth month of the search started with the news that Boyd had agreed to take over at Northampton Saints in the summer, before Cardiff Blues had even spoken to him, but there were new names thrown into the mix.

On the back of a trip to South Africa taken by Richard Holland, Stormers coaches Gert Smal and Paul Feeney were linked in separate publications as potential candidates to take over at the Arms Park, although Smal denied even knowing what our CEO looked like!

Swift denials were sent out by the club over both names, although both were believed to have been spoken to, before WalesOnline thought they had hit the nail on the head when Jim Mallinder, the man removed by Northampton and thus allowing them to appoint Boyd, was named as the lead candidate to bring the search to a close.

A name that took many supporters by surprise, but a pleasant surprise after a successful decade at Franklin’s Gardens and being seen as a safe pair of hands to take over at the Arms Park. It seemed the end was in sight…

March

Just kidding! ‘Jim Mallinder pulls out of Cardiff Blues talks’ was the headline in The Times as Steve James revealed that the head coach search would extend into a sixth month.

Mallinder was reportedly not happy with the budget on offer to improve the squad, but the club were quick to point out that Mallinder had never been offered the job officially, and stressed that he was just one name on a final shortlist of two.

Jim Mallinder Northampton
Jim Mallinder was believed to be in advanced talks over taking the job

Who was the second name? A certain Mr John Mulvihill, and on the same day that the news broke of Mallinder dropping out of the race, Richard Holland was headed off to Dubai to meet with the Australian recommended by Alex Evans and, crucially, who had the stamp of £200,000 approval from Geraint John and the WRU.

It is at this point the story catches up with us, where John Mulvihill has been officially announced as Cardiff Blues head coach, and a nearly six month long search has been brought to an end.

Taking time to ensure the right man for the job is found is admirable, but no doubt there are lessons to be learned for both the WRU and Cardiff Blues board over their handling of this job vacancy.

Here’s hoping that we are not in the market for a new head coach any time again soon though!

John Mulvihill Western Force
Australian John Mulvihill will take over in the summer

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