Greg Growden August 01, 2012
Adding to the tension was dissent in the player ranks. Photo: Getty Images
MICHAEL FOLEY wanted to continue as Waratahs coach, but in the end it became too hard. Too many barriers had been placed in front of him, forcing him to stand down yesterday and head to the Western Force.
Apart from being unable to stop the Waratahs from suffering an embarrassing eight-match losing streak, Foley had major problems with the province's administrators, who at crucial times failed to provide the required support.
Adding to the tension was dissent in the player ranks. While having the backing of numerous players in the squad, Foley had lost the support of some key senior performers, to the extent several were saying he ''had lost the dressing room''.
This had become such an issue that a few days ago senior players were calling for assistant coach Alan Gaffney to take over, or for Michael Cheika from Paris to be the head coach in 2013.
In the end, several about-turns by Waratahs directors in recent days gave Foley, after just one season, little choice but to resign, and look seriously at a three-year offer from the Western Force to take over as director of rugby.
Even before the Waratahs suffered their losing stretch, the relationship between Foley and the province's head office was strained. When the Tahs were in South Africa, Foley and his team manager Chris Webb, a close ally of the coach, had been alerted by Waratahs officials that it was up to them to sack one of their staff members, because of a clash of roles.
Foley and Webb were naturally unimpressed with this directive, believing that responsibility should instead be taken by a Waratahs director. Twenty four hours later they were told not to worry about sacking the staff member.
This issue did nothing to heal the growing rift between the team and the provincial administrators at Moore Park. Players and team officials were suspicious of various Waratahs administrators, and vice versa.
The Waratahs were then astounded to discover that a season review was required weeks before the season end. Foley had to front the Waratahs board of directors in early July, to present a report on the season and provide recommendations for 2013, even though his team still had to play their biggest rivals, the Brumbies and Reds.
Around the same time, Foley lost a key supporter. Webb, who had his own frustrations with head office including being blamed for player contracting issues where it is understood he had been following instructions, opted to leave the Waratahs after five years as team manager. His sudden departure last month, more than a week before his official farewell date, also caused alarm.
Despite being endorsed by the Waratahs board, Foley was still eager for changes to be made, including a restructure of the team staff to overcome the confusion caused by the
side having two backs coaches - Gaffney and Scott Bowen. The players were also confused by this doubling up. While Bowen was the more vocal at training, the Herald has been told the players had more respect for Gaffney, the former Ireland attack coach.
Even after the season ended in turmoil with their collapse from 2011 finalists to 11th on the ladder, Foley remained committed to the Waratahs. However, senior Force players kept contacting him, pushing Foley to go for the head coaching position in Perth.
He began to show interest in the Force, especially the director of rugby role, which would involve him appointing the head coach. But if the Waratahs hierarchy were supportive of him, Foley was eager to institute a stable coaching structure he believed would work, and stay.
One suggestion, understood to be formulated by Foley last Thursday, was for him to work under Gaffney, who would become director of rugby. This would enable Foley to concentrate on coaching. For a few days, several Waratahs officials appeared keen on the proposal but it is understood that last Sunday there was a change of mind. That left Foley feeling exhausted, even demoralised.
The longer the uncertainty continued, the more attractive the Force offer looked. Foley could depart from an intense pressure cooker atmosphere, where his every move was under scrutiny by the Sydney media, to a far friendlier environment in Perth.
The expectations are far lower. While the demands on the Waratahs are enormous, it is not the same with the Force, who have a good forward pack but lack prominent backs. After losing their skipper David Pocock and senior Wallaby Nathan Sharpe, not much is expected from the Force, and that gives Foley breathing space. Foley's expertise is forwards coaching, and as the Force's prime asset is their pack, this combination could work wonders in a struggling province.
Now the Waratahs, who this week also saw chairman Edwin Zemancheff suddenly resign, need a new coach. The push from several NSW rugby identities will be for Cheika, but some at the Waratahs are concerned about his headstrong nature. The Waratahs could easily go for a lower profile coach at a far cheaper price.