Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Long after his storied NBA career had come to an end, Michael Jordan was asked whether he would move into coaching.
Considered by many to be the most gifted player to step on a court, who combined relentless work ethic, athletic ability and intelligence, Jordan’s knowledge would surely be prized by any team. The man himself disagreed.
“I don’t think I would have the patience for it,” Jordan said.
“In essence, coaching is something that I’ve never really felt I could do from an emotional standpoint.”
Jordan understood that his genius as a player would not automatically translate to the coach’s whiteboard, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to teach players what he did automatically. He also knew the players under his care wouldn’t be able to match the intensity that he once had on the court.
Justin Langer could perhaps relate after his experience coaching Australia in cricket.
Stephen Larkham in action for the Brumbies.Credit: Ben McMahon
On the rugby field, former Wallaby and current Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham often showed moments of genius that were difficult to explain or comprehend.
He took the spirit of Mark Ella to the Wallabies’ No.10 jumper with his adventurous running game and an otherworldly vision that could prise open the sternest defences.
After finishing his playing career in 2007, Larkham started working as an assistant with the Brumbies in 2011.
Larkham was promoted to head coach in Canberra in 2014, while also adding the role of Wallabies attack coach to his CV in 2015. In 2017, he elected to devote himself solely to the national side.
Tim Lane was assistant coach of the World Cup-winning Wallabies in 1999 and believes that Larkham’s calmness as a player translated well to coaching.
“He always felt at ease on the field, I don’t think he was ever ruffled,” Lane said.
“I think he would have the same attributes as a coach, I think he would be very calm and collected.
“There are different types of coaches, there are ones who make a lot of noise and (are) full of wind and bluster, some players respect that, whereas other players respect a quieter, no nonsense sort of bloke. Bernie (Larkham) would be that sort of coach I think.”
The former Brumbies playmaker was unceremoniously sacked by then-Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika in early 2019. Cheika and Larkham disagreed on Australia’s attacking strategy, after enduring nine losses in 13 Tests, the worst run in 60 years.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham during his time with Munster in Ireland.Credit: Getty
Larkham was badly bruised by the experience. He had left the comforts of Canberra and the Brumbies to fulfil his ambitions with the national set-up. It was a failure that encouraged him to seek inspiration elsewhere.
Apart from three seasons with the Ricoh Black Rams in Japan, Larkham spent his whole career as a player and a coach in Australia, giving him a relatively myopic view of the game.
After the chastening experience coaching with Cheika, Larkham was keen to expand his knowledge as a coach abroad. He took up the reins as assistant coach at Munster in Ireland, swapping the home comforts of Canberra for the slate grey skies of Limerick.
Munster are regarded as sleeping giants in European rugby, enjoying huge support in the southern province of Ireland.
‘I think you have a slightly different mindset as a great player, they’re just naturals and that doesn’t always translate into coaching.’
Larkham replaced Felix Jones, who recently won the World Cup with South Africa as an assistant, and his appointment was seen as a coup for Munster.
From his first day, Munster fans and Irish media were unable to separate the memory of Larkham the player from the man in the coaching box. On rare visits to Ireland as a player, he had thrilled them with his running game, and they wanted to see this manifest through his coaching in Munster.
Unfortunately, Larkham had to work with the cards that he had been dealt as a coach, also working with a team that were often playing on heavy fields filled with rain.
Under Larkham’s attack strategy, Munster failed to progress beyond the last-16 stage of the European Champions Cup and lost in the final in the United Rugby Championship against fierce rivals Leinster.
Stephen Larkham breaking the line for the Wallabies with current Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh in pursuitCredit: Getty
Larkham was regularly questioned by the Irish media why Munster were not playing more enterprising rugby with the ball in hand, instead, generally opting to kick as a first option.
When Munster won, fans and media referred to his attacking nous as a player that had inspired his team. When they lost, however, the opinion swiftly turned. Why couldn’t he inspire his charges to play like he used to?
It almost appeared as if Larkham’s reputation as a player had become a millstone around his neck as a coach.
Irish fans had a clear idea of how a Larkham-coached team should play, regardless of the conditions or the players he had under his charge.
Unlike rugby league or Aussie Rules, where outstanding players like Ricky Stuart and Ron Barrassi transformed into highly successful coaches, rugby union rarely offers the same path.
Fabien Galthie was a gifted halfback who has gained plaudits coaching France, but beyond him, it is difficult to find an international coach in the modern game who was considered world-class as a player.
Think about some of the greatest Wallabies in the professional era: John Eales, Tim Horan, George Gregan, George Smith, David Pocock and Matt Burke. None of them have worked as head coaches in Super Rugby nor internationally. Larkham is the only one among their decorated number who did.
Former Wallabies coach John Connolly coached Larkham at the end of his international career and described him as “a genius” on the field.
He has a theory of why so few truly world-class players make the move into coaching.
“It’s a very good question, actually,” Connolly said. “I’ve seen some of these players go into coaching and they’ll say ‘do this, this and this’ and when a player can’t do it, they’ll get frustrated.
“I think it’s because they could do it (as a player), they were so good.
“I’ve thought about it quite often, but very few have jumped the bridge into coaching. I think you have a slightly different mindset as a great player, they’re just naturals and that doesn’t always translate into coaching.”
South Africa’s Rassie Erasmus has won two World Cups from the coaching box. Before donning the tracksuit, he was a solid and industrious breakaway for the Springboks, while never being considered truly elite in his position.
South Africa’s now-dual World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus was solid but never considered among the greats in his playing days.Credit: AP
When Erasmus began his coaching career with the Cheetahs in South Africa, he was free to shape the team’s play as he saw fit. A lot of his work as a player had taken place away from the television cameras, buried at the bottom of rucks and wedged in mauls. He had a completely clean slate as a coach.
Larkham’s ability as an outstanding international five-eighth demanded attention, he called the plays and often decided to be their focal point. The ball and the camera were always focused on him. In a largely golden era of Wallabies rugby, Larkham stood out from a talented crowd.
Larkham returned from Ireland a more rounded coach after working in a different rugby culture. He dealt with pressure from local fans and media who are absolutely obsessive about the fortunes of their club.
He is now back home in Canberra and has settled back into life at a stadium where his name is on a grandstand alongside his former Brumbies teammate George Gregan.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham talking to Nic White.Credit: Getty
Last season he led his team to a close semi-final defeat to the Chiefs in Super Rugby Pacific, by far the pick of an arid Australian club crop.
He has the prized opportunity to hone his craft as a coach with talented players in an environment he knows implicitly, near family and friends who have known him since he was a boy.
He could be left with a difficult decision. Does he stay and work to build the Brumbies into the powerful franchise that Australian fans remember from his time as a player? Or does he push himself to lead his country?
Larkham and the Brumbies work seamlessly. It worked when he was a player and it is working now he is a coach. The next step in leading the Wallabies is a far greater and riskier step.
Larkham could judge minute gaps on the field as a player, understanding exactly when to go into space and when to avoid it, in case he was smashed by a thunderous tackle. He understood risk against reward in rugby implicitly.
He may well face a similar decision as a coach, does he push himself forward to coach the Wallabies? The opportunity is great, but equally, he may not want to get needlessly bruised if he can avoid it.
Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article