Mark Dodson must get Edinburgh appointment right

Bryan Redpath has had a difficult year at Sale but is a leading contender to succeed Michael Bradley. Picture: Getty
Bryan Redpath has had a difficult year at Sale but is a leading contender to succeed Michael Bradley. Picture: Getty
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EDINBURGH supporters will be delighted to witness the return of the RBS Six Nations to the rugby calendar this weekend, and some might even wish to forget that their team is in action in Wales on Friday night, but the Irish match on Sunday will provide a fleeting respite for the decision-makers within Murrayfield.

The departure of Edinburgh’s head coach Michael Bradley at the end of the season now official, the pressure moves from the Irishman to the shoulders of chief executive Mark Dodson. Football or rugby club chairmen tend to have to get one big appointment right, that of their head coach/manager, which is often the biggest headache in the job, but Dodson is currently sitting with three key positions vacant.

Mark Dodson. Picture: TSPL

Mark Dodson. Picture: TSPL

He has already taken his first steps in rugby appointments, and while the news leak of Gregor Townsend’s succession to Sean Lineen as Glasgow head coach was a disaster, Townsend is proving the move in itself to have been a shrewd one.

Then came accepting Robinson’s resignation without fuss, and appointing Scott Johnson as Scotland’s interim head coach. The defeat to England suggested no improvement, but the win over Italy a genuine step forward, so Johnson is currently 50:50 in his pursuit of the Scotland job long-term with a month of games to play.

The director of rugby post is unlikely to be filled before the summer as Dodson watches the 2013 Super Rugby season take off with an eye on which southern hemisphere big names might be interested in a switch north at its conclusion, or at least putting themselves up against more local contenders.

But what about Edinburgh? That position may need filling quicker, as season tickets will not shift while uncertainty hovers over a team battling loss of confidence. Signing existing players, never mind new ones, will be tricky too.

The post may prove Dodson’s most difficult to get right, as he needs a strong character capable of changing not only a few faces in the squad but the culture that runs through the entire operation.

Edinburgh have always had a reputation for entertaining rugby, but it has gone hand-in-hand with a criticism that the squad ethic is not as strong, together and hard-working – in general, as opposed to individuals – as that cultivated by Lineen, skipper Al Kellock and now Townsend, along the M8.

The SRU’s system does not help. When Gordon McKie sat with Frank Hadden deciding what was best for Scottish rugby as a whole, it was incongruous. When the accountant sat with Andy Robinson and determined paths for Glasgow and Edinburgh, it was similarly wrong. A chief executive with little knowledge of the game using a national coach who had spent all his life in England as his chief rugby adviser? Surprise, surprise, more money went on the international set-up with marginal gains for the club and pro game.

Dodson changed that approach by handing over £1m to each pro side to answer long-held requests for bigger squads to compete with the best in Ireland, Wales, England and France. However, while he had a director of performance rugby, Graham Lowe, advising, Robinson remained the right-hand man on all things rugby. The club game remains full of ideas, but still struggling to tread water.

With Robinson and Lowe gone, Dodson has turned to the rugby figures in the Murrayfield governance structure, President Alan Lawson, past president Ian McLauchlan and council co-optee John Jeffrey as well as Scott Johnson, Dean Ryan and possibly Lineen. He is also a more open character than McKie, willing to take advice from deeper into the Scottish rugby community.

He has shown his agreement with the wider rugby community recently in appointing Scots, including Steve Scott, Duncan Hodge, Shade Munro, Scott Murray, Lineen, Simon Cross and John Dalziel to Scotland, ‘A’ and under-20 roles, and we know he wants to ensure there are Scots at Edinburgh and Scotland. But who does he turn to? There are a plethora of talented coaches out there but where are the head coach contenders? The feeling is that candidates must have experience of pro rugby coaching to be in the frame as for Scottish rugby to move forward the players need an experienced leader confident in what he is saying and doing.

With Lineen now happy in his new role, here’s a list of leading contenders: Bryan Redpath, Carl Hogg, Scott, Greig Oliver, George Graham, Hodge, Munro, Ian Rankin, Alan Tait, Craig Chalmers, Kenny Murray, Ally Donaldson, Peter Wright; characters who have proven themselves as good coaches either at club and/or pro level.

All should be in the frame for Edinburgh, but how many could realistically be considered for head coach? Hogg, Scott, Oliver, Graham and Hodge have all coached at pro level and/or international level, but never as the head honcho. Rankin did with Edinburgh but it did not last long or prove fruitful, while Tait believes his talents are best suited to specialist backs/defence work after a difficult spell as head coach at Newcastle. Chalmers, Murray, Donaldson and Wright are candidates who would probably benefit from working as assistants to find their way in the pro game, though Wright has some experience at Glasgow.

A leading contender for a Scot, therefore, is Redpath as he ticks so many boxes. He played for one of the most successful club teams pre-professionalism, at Melrose, spearheaded Scotland’s move into the pro game with the Borders and then Edinburgh Reivers, left his comfort zone and became a hit in France with Narbonne, then led the revival of Sale to become European Challenge Cup and English Premiership champions. He has been coaching in the pro game for nearly ten years, with Gloucester and now Sale. There is a question-mark over a lack of success in 2011-12, but there were mitigating circumstances with a major budget cut forcing a transition under his charge at Kingsholm and a lack of direction under Steve Diamond which led to a difficult relationship.

But it is what Redpath could bring to Edinburgh that excites. He is a proven coach, who has developed ideas as a head man and learned from good and bad experiences, and would want to help to develop Scottish coaches.

He knows Scottish rugby, understands the challenges and can communicate easily with club coaches and players – and is a supporter of promoting talent from within Scotland. That is crucial if Edinburgh is to connect with its real rugby community and create proper development, as opposed to trying to buy success.

There will be good candidates from across the UK keen on the post, and there may be better choices, but Dodson has to hire a coach who understands what he is working with, does not waste a year or two getting to grips with the academy and development pathways, bemoaning the limited resource, and then give him time to effect a change to the culture at Edinburgh and the performances.