Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: A perfect sales Mitch

Mitchell helped the Lions lift the Currie Cup but their Super Rugby campaign collapsed. Photo / Getty Images
Mitchell helped the Lions lift the Currie Cup but their Super Rugby campaign collapsed. Photo / Getty Images

Whatever happens with John Mitchell at the Lions, he needn't worry too much about being able to find future employment.

It's almost impossible for a coach to destroy his reputation - there is no self-destruct button on this particular career path.

Just what Mitchell or any other coach would have to do to make themselves unemployable is mind-boggling.

Normal rules do not apply when it comes to coaches - anything and everything can be forgotten and forgiven.

Mud never sticks and player revolts, out-and-out cheating and lying, terrible signings, chronically poor selections and ill-conceived game plans - none of these are terminal afflictions in a coaching career.

Stuff up one job and it doesn't matter - there will be a club or even an international side somewhere in the world willing to put all that to one side.

No coach is ever damaged goods and that will become apparent when Mitchell inevitably washes up somewhere else in the not too distant future.

It is almost guaranteed - the excited suit will be wheeled out, arm around Mitchell, claiming they have made an appointment that will lead to a better future.

The chief executive in question will either be genuinely oblivious or happy to feign all knowledge of the new coach's dubious past. Which will be quite remarkable given that Mitchell's propensity to euphemistically sail close to the wind is finely honed and well documented.

It began when he was installed as All Black coach in 2001 and allegedly set about forcing out team manager Andrew Martin. Mitchell wanted a direct reporting line from him to the New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive - yet his employer wanted Martin in there as a foil to the inexperienced coach.

The NZRU axed Martin purely because it was the only means open to maintaining a functional management group.

Both Christian Cullen and Anton Oliver portrayed Mitchell in the most unflattering light in their respective biographies - presenting a man who beneath the bluster and macho veneer was riddled with hang-ups and insecurities.

According to Oliver and Cullen, Mitchell promoted a binge drinking culture, enjoyed ritually humiliating those who hadn't performed and was generally 'old school' in thought, word and deed.

Even if the All Blacks had won the 2003 World Cup, there was a reasonable chance Mitchell may not have held his job.

"There is concern around areas of the media, the interface with the Rugby Union and some sponsor activity as well," said NZRU chief executive Chris Moller in announcing why Mitchell's job was being put up for tender.

Results had been good but Mitchell had fallen miserably short on nearly every other front - infamously riling Moller ahead of the World Cup when he pulled out of a sponsor's function.

As Moller apologised to the assembled guests at the Terrace Down Golf Resort near Methven, explaining that Mitchell had been detained by important team business, the coach could be seen jogging round the golf course.

This didn't deter Waikato, who hired Mitchell as coach the instant he lost the All Black job to Graham Henry.

And nor did it deter the Western Force, who were adamant that Mitchell was the right choice as they tried to establish a foothold in Super Rugby back in 2006.

Initially, it seemed like a smart piece of business by the Force.

Mitchell slowly drove improvements in results and was able to attract quality players to Perth.

But in late 2008, the club was forced to conduct an independent inquiry after senior players complained about Mitchell's methods.

He held on to his post - with conditions applied to how he would have to operate. It seemed that his survival was more to do with a watertight contract than any real desire to keep him and that should have red-flagged him to any other prospective employer.

Not so - the Lions pounced on him in 2010 and thought, given that they won the Currie Cup last year, they had made the steal of the century.

Last week, reality hit home and they were forced to suspend Mitchell to investigate complaints received from the players - about the coach's methods.

"I want to make it clear that the decision to suspend John was not a knee-jerk reaction but a decision that came from a well-documented list of grievances," said Lions president Kevin de Klerk.

"People forget that players are professional employees these days and, as such, have labour rights and are allowed to exercise those rights through the correct channels.

"I know it looks like John's position, regardless of the outcome of the disciplinary hearing, is untenable but I can't say that is definitely going to be the case. He needs to have his hearing, which is a legal right, and we can only go forward from there."

The chequered history of Mitchell is tame in comparison with that of former Leicester and Harlequins boss Dean Richards.

And entirely in keeping with the inverse relationship between scandal and demand, Richards remains one of the most sought-after coaches in European rugby.

He was the man at the centre of the 'Bloodgate' saga in 2009 when Harlequins were found guilty of using a fake blood capsule to allow Nick Evans back onto the field in a Heineken Cup quarter-final.

In the aftermath, Richards and some of his management team were found guilty of lying about their cheating and then trying to cover up the whole thing.

He was banned from coaching for three years for his part in what was one of the most shameful episodes in rugby history.

And yet the instant he served his punishment, there was a scramble to secure his services.

He was appointed director of rugby at Newcastle barely minutes after becoming eligible.

The club's owner, Sermone Kudri, said: "Dean needs no introduction in the world of rugby and it will be a true honour to have him at Newcastle Falcons."

Neither Kudri nor any of the other clubs that were bidding for Richards' services held any misgivings about Bloodgate or the lack of remorse or regret that has been shown by the man at the centre of it.

That's much like Tonga, who are reportedly keen to hire Pat Lam although he's driven the Blues to the Super 15 basement.

The Blues were not put off hiring David Nucifora in 2005, even though the now Australian high performance manager was effectively ousted from the Brumbies by a player revolt.

Coaching is a crazy world where different rules apply - Mitchell can sit back and watch the offers roll in.

The Teflon Men

Dean Richards

Masterminded the 'Bloodgate' incident in 2009 at Harlequins when he sent on reserve wing Tom Williams with a fake blood capsule in his sock. Williams came off to allow Nick Evans back on to try to drop a goal - Harlequins trailed Leinster 6-5 in their Heineken Cup quarter-final. When Leinster complained, Richards denied any wrongdoing. It emerged the club had tried to bribe Williams to take the blame before a second independent investigation revealed Richards as the ringleader. He was banned from coaching for three years. Numerous clubs vied to sign Richards earlier this year when he became eligible to coach again, with Newcastle securing his services as director of rugby.

John Mitchell

Had his off-field work publicly criticised by his employer the day after the All Blacks were knocked out of the 2003 World Cup. Was hired by Waikato shortly after losing the All Blacks job and took them to the NPC semifinals in 2004 before being head-hunted by the Western Force. Took them from 14th in their first season to seventh and eighth in their next two before the organisation launched an investigation after complaints from players and management about Mitchell's methods. Stayed on with conditions but didn't see out his contract - he shifted to the Lions in 2010 and steered them to the Currie Cup in 2011. But they are bottom of Super Rugby in 2012 and Mitchell has been suspended as 20 personal grievance cases have been filed by players.

David Nucifora

Was told by the Brumbies midway through the 2004 season that his contract would not be renewed amid allegations the senior players had given the executive an ultimatum. The Blues brought Nucifora to Auckland as technical director, promoting him to head coach in 2006. He steered the Blues to eighth, fourth and sixth - despite having a star-studded squad - and fell out irretrievably with All Black lock Ali Williams, who chose to shift to the Crusaders, such was the animosity. Nucifora left Auckland in 2008 to take up a post as high-performance director for the Australian Rugby Union.

- NZ Herald

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