Matt Williams: Who would be a coach? You would have to be mad

As we say in Australia, you have to have a few roos loose in the top paddock take on job

In every professional coaches contract, there is a Catch-22 clause. The clause empowers the club to terminate the coach in the event, and I quote, “the coach is declared insane.”

The “gone crazy” clause is one of a maze in the termination section of the contract, that are all unjustly weighted against the coach. The final and all encompassing big daddy termination clause states: “That for any reason, without explanation and without notice this contract can be terminated...”

The Catch-22 is that only a truly, madly, deeply, gone loco individual would sign such a biased contract. As we say in Australia, you have to have a few roos loose in the top paddock to be a coach.

It is the most demanding, uplifting, exhilarating, infuriating, frustrating, exhausting, addictive and heartbreaking of occupations

So why do coaches across the globe sign these unfair contracts? You see, coaching is not a job, it is a vocation. It is a calling of the true believers who personify the joke that winning games of rugby is not life and death. It is much more important than that.

It is the most demanding, uplifting, exhilarating, infuriating, frustrating, exhausting, addictive and heartbreaking of occupations.

It is only the true zealots, the compulsively obsessed, who survive. In preparing for an away game, children’s birthday parties are missed and anniversaries are forgotten. Lonely hotel rooms, in cold unfamiliar cities, replace the warmth of the family dinner table.

Statistically only a minuscule percentage of professional coaches ever experience the thrill of leading their team to the final of a major competition. The coach’s reward for reaching the final is the weight of understanding that the match will either produce one of the greatest days of their life or slam them with one of their worst.

As Hunter S Thompson so beautifully put it: "You buy the ticket, you take the ride."

On a great day, when your team has the grit to lift a trophy, those precious moments after the final whistle are as beautiful as life can produce. Counterintuitively, the first wave of emotion after winning is always relief. Victory means you have dodged the shattering pain of defeat.

After a few moments, as the stars begin to align, the euphoria flows and lasts for days.

On a bad day, if your team is defeated, you are hit with a gut punch of unfathomable pain. A seemingly endless assault of helplessness descends. You are begging for the hurt to end, but it seemingly never does.

You simply have to live with the knowledge that you gave it all you had but in the end, you came up short. Which is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle

For a coach, the days after a major defeat are a public humiliation as Monday morning quarterbacks use their 20/20 hindsight to dissect and judge their leadership and ability. While this is a horrid experience for any coach, the real agony is in understanding that the opportunity to lift a major trophy may never come again.

You simply have to live with the knowledge that you gave it all you had but in the end, you came up short. Which is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

The pain can only be healed by the mischief of the rugby gods. If by their divine intervention, they gift the coach with another team that can win and there is a shot at redemption, the addictive competitor in every coach, steps up to the plate without a second thought for the consequences. The coach can only see that the possible rewards have skyrocketed and ignores the fact that the risks have also multiplied.

Defeat in one Champions Cup final is painful, but to be defeated in two is just too devastating to even imagine.

Over the past two decades, as the rugby tide has washed in wave after wave of foreign coaches onto Ireland’s green shores, I was often asked why Irish rugby, which has produced so many great homegrown players has produced so few high quality, indigenous coaches?

I would glibly answer that the Irish are far too intelligent to get involved with coaching. I try to dodge the long and complex conversation around the reality that indigenous Irish coaches have not been provided with enough opportunities in their native country.

Astonishingly, Conor O'Shea's brilliance has never coached in Ireland. Mark McCall has had a glittering career as Saracens coach and Jeremy Davidson has done great work in keeping Brive afloat in the Top 14 on a minimum budget.

Bernard Jackman, Mike Prendergast and Donnacha Ryan have all been forced to start their coaching lives in France.

Ronan O’Gara left Ireland and commenced his own personal development as a coach, much like he used to approach a rugby ball sitting on a kicking tee before a crucial shot at goal. He has been methodical, technically excellent and rhythmically successful.

As an assistant at Racing 92 in Paris, then at Canterbury on the southern of New Zealand's shaky isles and now on the Atlantic shores of La Rochelle, Rog has plotted a highly thoughtful course.

In his initial year as a head coach, O’Gara did the impossible and took the lowly La Rochelle club to the final of both the Champions Cup and the Top 14. A truly remarkable achievement. To back that success up by reaching a second Champions Cup final this season is proof of O’Gara’s huge coaching potential.

But pro rugby is not a fairy tale and O’Gara has no trophy on the mantelpiece to reward all the hard work. That could all change next weekend.

The exception to the rule that all Irish coaches must be exiled was when Leo Cullen was appointed at Leinster. I am sure the appointments committee did not realise they had just installed a leader who would oversee the creation of a new Leinster dynasty.

Under Cullen’s coaching, Leinster have won their domestic league four seasons in a row and are on track for a fifth. A sixth and seventh are not unimaginable.

In the Champions Cup, Cullen has experienced the euphoria of lifting the cherished trophy at Bilbao in 2018 and then the searing disappointment of watching Mark McCall lift the Cup as Saracens defeated Leinster in the final the following season.

Since then Leinster have fallen just short of returning to the arena of redemption. Until now.

By nature Leo is understated. He keeps his profile low and avoids the media spotlight. He is quick to hand off the praise for Leinster’s success to his assistant coaches. In reality, it is his detailed planning and leadership that has turned Leinster into compulsive winners. He is the brains that has assembled the coaching and playing talent that has led Leinster on the path to its staggering success.

Next Saturday at the Champions Cup final at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille one excellent young Irish coach will find redemption and the other will double the pain of defeat in a second final.

Seriously, who would be a coach? You would have to be mad.