Michele Hewitson interview: Matt Elliott

By Michele Hewitson

The Warriors' straight-talking head coach is an optimist in a precarious job, who takes inspiration from the Dalai Lama — and refuses to read this article

Aussie Matt Elliott is charming and fortnight but doesn't like people "jumping to conclusions" about him. Photo / Greg Bowker
Aussie Matt Elliott is charming and fortnight but doesn't like people "jumping to conclusions" about him. Photo / Greg Bowker

Matt Elliott, the head coach of the Warriors, said: "You can write what you want." What an obliging fellow he is. Also, what a very coachy thing to say.

But he really wasn't being a bossy-boots coach - or at least he wasn't at that precise moment.

He said: "So, if you say ... I found Matt Elliott nervous and withdrawn and all that sort of stuff, I'm not going to take that personally."

He had joked that I was making him nervous - I don't think much makes him nervous - by looking at what he has on the walls of his office: A Richard Branson quote; some Dalai Lama nonsense.

He said: "I haven't heard him say too much stuff that's rubbish." I've never heard him say anything that makes any sense, I said. He long ago learned to be disappointed by journalists. He said: "You and I will have to beg to differ on that one."

He said, about my failure to read a book called Blink, by an author I'd never heard of, Malcolm Gladwell: "Christ! You should read it."

The subtitle of this book is: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, so I think we'll have to agree to disagree on that as well.

I was very interested in what he reads because he's obviously clever and I'd guess that he holds some interesting beliefs. I'd also read that he uses New Age coaching methods. That is quite wrong. He uses science. But as to what he does believe, I'll never know. He doesn't want people "jumping to conclusions" about him, so he doesn't provide them with any platform from which to jump.

He used to read hundreds of books about things from quantum physics to God-knows-what, but he made himself stop. "I asked myself: 'What are you doing with what you already know? How much more do you want to learn? How much of what you already know are you using'?"

If that makes you jump to the conclusion that he can sound a bit guru-ish, there is something of the guru in most great coaches. All I managed to ascertain is that he doesn't believe in God because he doesn't know what that means.

It might have been a bit rude to ask the head coach of the Warriors if they believe in God because: Who would want the job?

He said I wasn't the first to ask and the short answer is that it is about potential. And also: "It's fun!"

You can see why he might not want to over-analyse his desire for the job. It's hard enough being a Warriors fan; imagine being the coach. I jumped to the easy conclusion that he must be tough and a ruthless bastard. He is an Australian. He says he'd struggle with being ruthless or a bastard. He doesn't expect to be on his players' Christmas card lists but he says telling players they haven't made the side, or that they haven't got a career with the club, is "a tough thing to do but it's nothing to do with toughness. It's more to do with understanding".

He meant that I could write whatever I want because he won't be reading it. He never reads what is written about him. This is not sticking his head in the sand; it's not toughness either; it's about knowing his limitations. "I don't know if ambivalence is a great state to be in, but I'm not strong enough not to get pissed off by it."

As he won't be reading this I can write that he really has the sweetest face when he smiles, which is actually quite often. He has lovely, crinkly, smiley eyes. And, for a knob, he has considerable, genuine charm - not the smarmy, put-on sort that is always the opposite of charming.

I didn't call him that terribly rude thing. It was all his own work.

I'd said: "Were you cranky?" And he said, "Oh, yeah. The word knob springs to mind." We were talking about that press conference. Any Warriors fan will know what "that press conference" refers to, and I had approached the topic with some trepidation. He could have gone cranky on me the way he did with the journalist at the press conference who'd queried the minimal team changes for the game after that game: The 62-6 loss, the biggest in the Warriors' history, to his old side, the Penrith Panthers. He said, then: "It's a dumb question. Who are you going to bring in? You don't know because you haven't put any research into it." I most certainly wasn't going to ask any such dumb question but if I had: "I think the point behind what I had to say was valid, but I don't think I made it very well." He could have handled it with a bit more humour, say. "Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. It just proves we're all human."

I wondered whether he had a complicated relationship with the media but he gave me one of his long, cool looks and said: "I don't find it complicated." He is supposed to be good with the media. "I don't know. I don't think I'm in a position to assess that. There was a moment last week when I would have said I didn't sound so good at it."

He was "a little bit defensive ... I could have been a little more gracious".

I think it is rather gracious, actually, of him to admit this. At that press conference he looked like a man who had just walked away from a car crash - which in a way he had. He looked, I said, utterly stunned. "I was stunned. I could deny it, but I was stunned. I certainly didn't see it coming and I was, oh, the word furious springs to mind. I was furious at what had occurred, not at any individual."

It was worse, of course, because it was Penrith. "Yeah. I could go: 'Look, it had nothing to do with that', but I'd be lying in your face and you'd have worked that out pretty quickly. Yeah. Definitely."

He was sacked from Penrith in 2011, according to me; he prefers to say that his contract wasn't renewed, which is the only time in 17 years of head-coaching that he's been given the heave-ho, I mean, not had his contract renewed. Which is "not bad", he reckons. "I would have preferred that didn't happen, but that was a good lesson."

He's an optimist in a precarious job. "I could get stressed about it. I could choose to be that way, if you like. There are two possibilities: One is that this is going to work out ... and there is the other possibility. They're both possibilities. So I might as well work off this one. And apparently you get a lot of what you expect in life." Does he really believe that? "I believe everyone, whether they believe that or not, knows that to be fairly true." I may have looked as though I thought that sounded suspiciously like something the Dalai Lama would say because he gave me a look and said, pointedly: "You know, if you're looking for shit things to happen, I'm pretty sure you'll be satisfied."

Did I mention he was Australian? He was born on Thursday Island, and grew up in Townsville. His father was a ship pilot and his mother was a nurse. His dad died, of a heart attack, not long after having been named "the fittest man in North Queensland over 50. So it was a bit confusing. It took me a long time to come to terms with that". His dad was a clever and quiet man, a footy coach, who liked a bit of DIY. His son doesn't. "I'm not a handyman. I grew up having to fix lawn mowers and putting my hands in greasy things and dad was into all that sort of stuff. I think I got over it as a kid."

He's a domestic creature who does the vacuuming and cleans the loo and loves cooking. What did he cook last night? "Nothing last night." The night before then. "Slow-cooked lamb shanks and a bit of kumara. My thing will be cooking when I finish doing this. I'll have a vege patch, I reckon."

He has four daughters, the eldest is 23, the youngest 15 (daughter number two works on the front desk at the Warriors. He told me she was messy; she told me he was "a bit anal"; I know who I believe).

Does he have a wife? "Aah. No." How long is it since he had a wife? "Ten years." Was it an amicable parting? "We've been apart for 10 years."

Does he have a girlfriend? "Umm. Yes." I said I bet she was a leaguey and he said: "As we discussed earlier, there's some things that remain in the private domain. I'm happy to leave that there." We discussed! He means he discussed this with himself by telling me that some things were in the private domain and that's where they were going to stay, and that was the end of it. Of course I couldn't care less whether or not he has a girlfriend, let alone whether she's a league fan (but I'd be amazed if I was wrong). I was just teasing him, but you might as well poke a rock with a stick as tease him when he's being what he calls "guarded".

Most people who are being guarded deny it, they certainly don't volunteer the information, but he's a straight-talking sort of guarded bloke. I asked if he drank and he said not much, but that: "I've done all that. I've got the T-shirt, the postcards ..." Had he been a bit of a wild boy? "Well, as I say, that falls into that other domain where we don't need to discuss that." Right, so he was a bit of a wild boy. "As I say, we don't need to discuss that."

He has a two-year contract. That car crash of a game was in my mind, if not in his - he moves on, he has to or that way lies madness, surely. Anyway, there was a win against Newcastle last weekend so he must be feeling less cranky. "Yeah, of course. I mean, if my mood was defined by winning or losing games, I'd have to be on medication."

Does he shout? "Not often." Does he swear? "Often." But not at me, no matter what I write, because he won't be reading this. "You're right. You're a hundred per cent right!"

By the time I'd got my coat on, he'd gone. He doesn't do backward glances or suck-uppy last words about how nice it all was. He just ... goes. This says about all you need to know about him. Except this: The reason he doesn't read about himself is that, "that's about a fragility that I'm aware of, you see. So I don't do it".

So he is a fragile, swearing, sweet-faced, occasionally cranky sort of coach. And not that he'll ever know, but I enjoyed every minute of his complicated company.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 28 Dec 2014 10:31:32 Processing Time: 457ms