Bay of Plenty Steamers head coach Kevin Schuler is on the verge of quitting the Air New Zealand Cup side and returning to Japan fulltime - a shock move that would leave the province needing its third head coach in four seasons.
Schuler today confirmed he was considering a move back to Japanese side Yamaha, the team where he had been a technical consultant for two seasons and also previous head coach.
Schuler said after last season's quarterfinal exit to Southland that he was keen to stay on for another year at least, but was approached by Yamaha late last year about a fulltime return.
Details of the offer have only been confirmed this week, with the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union giving the former All Black flanker a deadline of next Thursday to confirm his future.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive officer Jeremy Curragh said they were already well advanced in building on last season's quarterfinal finish.
"The loss of a coach at this late stage is not ideal [but] we have a strong support team with the assistant coach, manager and trainer active in the pre-season and things will continue in the short term with minimal disruption."
Schuler came to Bay of Plenty as a technical adviser to Vern Cotter in 2003 and his forwards coaching role became official in 2005. He assisted former Otago and Bay of Plenty representative Andre Bell in 2006 and took over as head coach in 2007 after Bell's departure. Schuler was head coach in 2007 and 2008 with Steve Miln as assistant.
Schuler said he was genuinely torn between staying with Bay of Plenty or taking up the role back at Yamaha.
"It's a tough one because these two sides [Yamaha and the Steamers] are the only two I've been involved with since 1996 [when he finished with the All Blacks].
"I've been upfront with Bay, but ultimately I have to do what's best commercially and for the family. I'd say it's a 50:50 call right now but the fact I broached it with Bay obviously means I'm seriously considering a move.
"Yamaha came to me at the end of last year. Their head coach, a young Japanese guy, stepped down and they're facing a lot of [financial] constraints up there too and wanted to fill the job internally. With my background there and ongoing advisory work I'm someone they saw as an opportunity for leadership."
Schuler spent much of last night and today phoning the Steamers squad to tell them of his possible departure.
If Schuler headed to Japan, Curragh said the union would immediately begin recruiting a replacement, although the options weren't limitless.
Milton Haig, former New Zealand Maori assistant now back living in Tauranga, signed two weeks ago as director of rugby/head coach of Counties-Manukau, although former Counties player Errol Brain, who coached Tauranga Sports to last year's Baywide title, could be a contender.
Schuler wouldn't be drawn on possible replacements. "It's not appropriate for me to comment on that, but I will say the group that was working with the Steamers last year was a great team and there's guys in there more than capable of stepping up."