SCOTT Johnson has struck a deal to take over as the Scottish Rugby Union’s new director of rugby and will relinquish the national team’s head coach role once a successor is found.
It is believed that the SRU already have a new head coach in mind but are not yet able to tie down a contract or reveal his identity, possibly because of
existing commitments elsewhere.
But after being pushed into announcing that Welshman Jonathan Humphreys as the new Scotland forwards coach this week, by the Ospreys’ decision to reveal his departure, the SRU have moved swiftly to end speculation over Johnson’s new position.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson said: “It’s imperative that we get the right candidate as head coach of the national team to take us to the 2015 Rugby World Cup and Scott and I are working together on this and have thought long and hard about the best solution and people for Scottish Rugby [the SRU] to continue to head in the right direction. Johnno has been a popular coach with the players, as underlined by our third-place finish in the most recent RBS Six Nations Championship.
“As he’s said, he enjoys hands-on coaching and his reputation in that role has been enhanced by his work with the Scotland team, but he also has other qualities in abundance that we wish to utilise and it was a decision that was made by both parties to get the best structures and systems in place to take Scottish rugby forward.”
The director of rugby role in Scotland has been a problem one since Jim Telfer left the chair in 2003.
Ian McGeechan replaced him, but struggled to effect any meaningful change and quit in the wake of the general committee’s governance revolution in 2005. Former chief executive Gordon McKie did not see the need for one in his time in charge and it largely fell to the national coaches, Frank Hadden and then Andy Robinson, and other department heads to advise the top man on rugby matters.
Johnson was brought to Scotland last summer by Robinson in a new role mentoring coaches in Scotland and looking at player and skills development within the game in Scotland. He was handed a salary of around £200,000 a year, which is more than the SRU paid previous directors of rugby and national coaches, but quickly found himself in the head coach position after Robinson quit in November.
Johnson managed to steer Scotland to wins over Italy and Ireland in the RBS Six Nations Championship but, at its conclusion, the SRU was left with three major positions unfilled – Johnson’s unspecified role, Scotland head coach and SRU director of rugby.
Johnson’s original role was always unclear but, through the past six weeks, that has effectively become redundant and Johnson has returned to a similar kind of job to that he initially came to Scotland to do, but with the director of rugby title. There was always a sense that he would make that move as it appeals to Johnson to have a more widespread influence, but from the background, rather than be head coach, and it is eminently more secure.
Dodson explained: “This appointment is about laying the foundations as we prepare our teams for the key tests of their status that occur along the way to milestones like the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England and 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
“Scott will lead on player acquisition and contracting. He’ll be responsible for driving a new academy structure and for heading up our coach development, which includes our priority of nurturing the next generation of Scottish coaches.
“Scotland 7s and Scotland Women will also be significant parts of his remit, while strength and conditioning and medical will report into him too, along with a significant involvement with the national team.”
It is, effectively a dream job and it is no surprise that Johnson was delighted to land it. He said: “The director of rugby job excites me. It’s about making a really positive contribution that will stand Scottish rugby in good stead for years to come and I am looking forward to the challenge of the new role as well as continuing with the Scotland team.
“There are some big areas such as coach development, player development, sevens and player acquisition, where, working with colleagues, I want to do my bit to ensure we make best use of the talents we have to take the game in this country forward.”
Dodson insisted that it was not simply a case of handing over the job to Johnson, that he had faced competition from across the world, but that his impact in the past year in various aspects of the game had proven persuasive. What may be questionable, however, is the anticipated closeness of Johnson to the national team and Johnson will have to work swiftly to prove that he is not merely focused on the elite end of Scottish rugby, at a time when the biggest concern lies with the lack of development of young players, professionals and the club game.
Johnson will remain in charge for the summer tour to South Africa, where Scotland will play in a tournament involving 2015 World Cup opponents Samoa and the Springboks, as well as Italy, with Humphreys alongside. Massimo Cuttitta remains as scrum coach, working with Scottish teams at all levels.