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Mon Apr 21 04:00:50 SAST 2014

Mitch still has a role to play

Simnikiwe Xabanisa | 05 July, 2012 07:180 Comments

IN HIS book on leadership, Vince Lombardi jnr tells a story which goes some way towards encapsulating the kind of man his father, the legendary US football coach, was.

Lombardi jnr was an injured university player in Minnesota when his father's famous Green Bay Packers rolled into town.

When he went to see his father at the hotel, he got a bear hug and a consultation arranged with the team doctor.

The doctor told him that, apart from having a loose joint, there was nothing wrong with his knee.

Lombardi snr apparently switched from doting dad to a raging maniac, who yelled at his son to stop being a crybaby and get back to training.

He admitted that the legendary coach was right to read him the riot act because he was back playing two weeks later.

Given the recent mutiny at the Lions, one has to ask if a coach can be that cutting with his own son, how much more unsympathetic can he get with his players?

It's tempting to say all that suspended Lions coach John Mitchell was trying to do with the team was toughen them up.

But the more one digs the more instances emerge of a coach whose calling card was alienating his players by being demeaning.

I was only kidding a few months ago when I said Mitchell looked like the guy whose job it was to enforce the no-touching rule at strip joints, but it looks like all his players have had to endure some heavy metal from him.

An e-mail Down Under dug up that Mitchell's stint at Sale Sharks in the UK was also alleged to have ended in a player revolt against him, while we all know about the mutiny at Western Force.

Much as we all would like to say they don't make rugby players like they used to, UK, Australian and South African players are not in the habit of agreeing on anything.

So, when they all reckon Mitchell is a prickly character with a poor management style, you suspect they are right. Also, South African players are so popular with the rest of the world because they do whatever the coach says without asking. If they say he has crossed the line, he must have.

At a distance, Mitchell looks like one of those coaches who are very good at coaching youngsters, only to struggle when his protégés become grown men.

It's nothing to be ashamed of, because Jake White seems to be another one who thrives under similar circumstances.

The e-mail from Down Under paints a picture of a paranoid coach, who played the role of a tough guy but was ultimately insecure - a coach who lived off plagiarising others' ideas.

But any of us who witnessed the Lions go from a ramshackle mob to deserving Currie Cup winners struggle to believe that, especially looking at the style the Lions played to win.

They moved from typical South African rugby, which can be a bit brain-dead at times, and the players credited Mitchell with that mind shift.

They disagreed with his insistence that they should always start playing from inside their 22, but by and large they felt they were learning from him.

Which is why I think the right thing for Mitchell to do when the dust settles is to move upstairs, where he can tinker with game plans in the dark instead of dealing with players, administrators and the media on a daily basis.

The one thing you can't say is he doesn't have a role to play, especially in providing a different coaching viewpoint in South Africa.

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Mitch still has a role to play

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Mon Apr 21 04:00:50 SAST 2014 ::