New Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team backs coach Mark Ozich described it as a "bitter-sweet" appointment.
While "hugely" excited to be given the opportunity at Mitre 10 Cup level following the departure of former All Blacks' halfback Danny Lee to a head coach role with Honda Heat in Japan last month, Ozich, 39, will leave unfinished business behind in his current role as Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV head coach. The team, which won 17 games on the trot before being pipped 14-13 by Mount Albert Grammar School in last year's national secondary schools final, is unbeaten to date again this year, already No 1 on the national rankings, stronger than last year and well placed to go one step better at the business end of the season.
"I talked to the boys after training tonight. I thanked them for letting me coach them and I told them they were a big part of getting me into this space. I told them I have coaching aspirations just like they have aims for the future ... they were good about it," Ozich said last night.
Ozich will leave the school at the end of the second term to take up his fulltime role with the Magpies. His assistant, former New Zealand Sevens player and former Magpie Tafai Ioasa, will step up to the head coach role and his assistant will be appointed within a week.
The HBHS 1st XV won the junior team award at the Hawke's Bay Sports Awards function on Saturday night. When HBHS beat former world champions Hamilton Boys' High School in last year's Super 8 final it was the first time Hastings had won that silverware since 2004.
The 2004 team included two future All Blacks in hooker Hika Elliot and halfback Alby Mathewson, future Maori All Blacks' flanker Karl Lowe and future Samoa loosie Tivaini Fomai.
The New Zealand Secondary Schools team coach in 2014 and '15, Ozich arrived in the Bay last year. He has coached the Southland Boys' High School and Kelston Boys' High School 1st XVs and has also been involved with the Southland Stags Mitre 10 Cup team.
Last summer Ozich assisted Ioasa with the Hawke's Bay Sevens team and last year he also coached the Hawke's Bay Development XV. The father of three has scored a two-season contract with the Magpies.
"Hopefully there is some longevity there. But such is the nature of the coaching game, we have got to get results and hopefully we will get some."
A former Waitemata club player in Auckland who made 105 premier appearances, Ozich, said it had been a goal of his for several years to coach at a professional level.
"I'm really looking forward to working alongside Craig [Philpott] and the management group with a Magpies squad which is full of experience and talent. I firmly believe the Magpies can have strong success over the next few seasons and I'm looking forward to being part of it". Ozich added.
"We had a strong list of applicants and Mark was the stand out, his record of excellence with the teams he has coached speaks for itself and we believe he is more than ready to take the step to coaching at Mitre 10 Cup level," Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union CEO Mike Bishop said when announcing the appointment yesterday.
"Mark has enjoyed outstanding success with Hastings Boys High over the last two seasons and has them in strong contention to be the No 1 First XV in New Zealand for 2017 having been runner up in 2016 under his tutelage," Bishop added.
While Bishop and his union's board chairman Brendan Mahony have copped some flak in the wake of the recent resignations of four of their board members, Kevin Atkinson, Dan Druzianic, Taine Randell and Simon Tremain, they should be congratulated on Ozich's appointment.
There's no doubt many of the 2016 and '17 HBHS 1st XV players will attract offers from provinces throughout New Zealand. With Ozich in the Magpies environment this should prove a decent carrot for them to seriously consider remaining in the Bay when they leave school.