Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: How the Warriors iced Iro

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The fact that Iro has quit without a job to go to speaks volumes. Photo / Getty
The fact that Iro has quit without a job to go to speaks volumes. Photo / Getty

It's not over-stating matters to call Tony Iro's decision to leave the Warriors 'The Tragedy Of Tony'.

The fact that Iro has quit without a job to go to speaks volumes - and underlines again the task ahead of the Warriors management and new coach Matt Elliott. It also speaks to the way the club handles such matters.

Much of what happened with Iro is covered by the dense layer of privacy which blankets employer-employee relationships. But Iro is said to be leaving the club not because he has been wooed away by a job elsewhere or the enhanced salary and prospects that go with being a head coach.

It's understood he is leaving because he is unhappy with how the club has treated him in the process of finding a new coach to replace Brian McClennan, sacked with two games to go last season.

It's further understood that Iro, for family reasons, is tending towards staying in New Zealand and may win a role with the New Zealand Rugby League to go along with his position as assistant coach of the Kiwis.

Offers from Australian NRL clubs and UK clubs remain on the table but no deal has been struck.

That rachets matters right back to the Warriors and their handling of the succession of McClennan. Consider the following, gained from sources close to the action:

• The Warriors nailed their colours to the mast early on, proclaiming that they would be bringing a "marquee coach" to the club. Iro, though good judges of horse flesh rate him an outstanding coach in the making, respected and liked by the Warriors players, was not publicly rated as such. So, from the outset, the club made it clear that he was not foremost in their thoughts.

• Iro was interviewed for the head coach job early in the process but then it is believed he existed in an information-free zone for weeks afterwards. Speculation was rife about possible "marquee" coaches but Iro's name was rarely mentioned and he had no contact from the club. It was another signal.

• So was Iro being handed the coaching reins for the Warriors' last two games of the season after McClennan had gone - when a disaffected, underperforming squad in disarray and under highly critical public pressure went down 38-6 to the Dragons and 42-22 to the Raiders. Few coaches could prosper in such circumstances but the club appeared to use that as justification for Iro's non-selection.

• It is understood Iro found out about Elliott's appointment from the media. Attempts were made to get hold of Iro hours before the press conference to announce Eliott's appointment but Iro was then in Queensland with the Kiwis, preparing for the one-off test match against the Kangaroos on October 13.


All of this tends to suggest to the person in question that he might not be as desired as he had hoped. In fact, you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see that the club was effectively holding up a large, metaphorical sign saying: "Not valued". The Warriors apparently tried to make a late bid to keep Iro but, allegedly disillusioned by his treatment and the process, he decided to go. One report - could it have been leaked by the Warriors? - made it sound like Iro had rejected an improved offer from the club early in the piece, rather than only after all the above had taken place.

If the Warriors wanted to keep Iro, here's how they could have handled matters so everything and everybody was up front: "Hi Tony, we wanted to talk to you about the coaching job. We've decided to go elsewhere but we want you to know how highly we value your services and how much we want you to stay on as assistant to the new coach - and here's a bonus and/or a renegotiated contract to demonstrate how much we think you can offer and the job we want you to do with the players and in helping to coach ... ".

If Iro had demurred, he could have been managed out at that point. Instead, he got handed a poisoned chalice and then a long period of silence after he drank from it.

If a coaching clean-out was required - not unknown in such circumstances so a new coach can get his own people in - then do it quickly and up front. Keeping Iro in limbo for so long appears to have cemented his feeling he wasn't wanted.

Professional sport is a harsh master. Success can be elusive and the door to the car park can be opened quickly and ruthlessly. Ask Craig Walker, the high performance manager at the club who appears to have been made a partial scapegoat for the players' lack of performance and fitness under McClennan. He's since been picked up by the Roosters - not normally known for their ability to appoint lemons.

But if the players wanted Iro, the club wanted Iro and Elliott wanted Iro, why is he leaving?

It's not known what his relationship with Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah is like, though Scurrah has been saying publicly how much he and the club wanted Iro to stay.

Under his watch, the club has appointed Dean Bell as GM of football operations and Elliott as head coach, neither of whom can be described as "marquee"appointments, no matter how much gloss is applied to what might be called a "Matt" finish.

The contention that Elliott was the man they'd always wanted is interesting when balanced against the Warriors' undoubted pursuit of Melbourne super-coach Craig Bellamy and reports they also romanced Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan. There were suggestions they offered twice his current salary before Flanagan ruled himself out for contractural and other reasons.

In the Ivan Cleary regime, the power base of the club was Cleary, director of football John Hart, Scurrah, Iro, Bell, juniors coach John Ackland and Walker - a tight bunch who worked well together.

With Iro's departure, the survivors are Bell - in an enhanced capacity - and Ackland. Scurrah clearly sits at the head of that new structure.

- Herald on Sunday

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