You are here
Matt Hawkins' first World Series season as
the USA's 7s head coach is in the books. The Eagles finished 13th in the
standings and with a 14-34-2 record, marking steps backward in ranking and
The Eagles, under Alex Magleby, had a horrendous first half of the
2012/2013 season, but a remarkable turnaround saw the Eagles reach the Cup
rounds in four of the last five tournaments, twice beating South Africa and
Fiji in the process. That gave fans and onlookers a lot of hope heading
into the summer, but Magleby's stepping down as head coach put the program
back in limbo.
Enter Hawkins, who began the 2013/2014 season as a player/coach and saw the
team struggle mightily through the first half of the campaign. The Eagles
showed signs of improvement in the sixth and seventh stops on the Series,
making it to back-to-back Cup rounds in Japan and Hong Kong, but finished
poorly with Shield appearances in England and Scotland.
The season was marred by player defections, debate over Carlin Isles'
playing time and Hawkins' struggle with the decision to just coach and not
play. However, Hawkins did transform the program into his vision, expanding
the contracted player pool significantly and meshing the World Class
Athlete Program with the residency program.
|Year||W||L||T||W Pct.||Rank||Best Wins||Worst Losses||vs. Canada|
|13/14||14||34||2||30%||13||Samoa||Spain, Portugal, Japan||1 - 3|
|12/13||16||31||2||36%||11||South Africa, Fiji||Hong Kong, Portugal||1-4 (Includes '13 RWC)|
||28%||11||Argentina, Kenya||Cook Islands, Portugal||1-3 (Includes '12 NACRA)|
||39%||12||Argentina, Kenya||Russia, Zimbabwe||1-3 (Includes '11 Pan-Ams)|
||41%||10||England, Argentina||Italy, Russia||1 - 1|
Partially due to the timing of the 2013 7s World Cup, Hawkins didn't take over until later than he would have liked and had little-to-no input on player contracts until midway through the season.
And the departures of Blaine Scully and Colin Hawley left the team light on
experienced forwards, contributing to Hawkins' decision to try and play and
coach at the same time.
Though the team did struggle to beat top-tier teams, and even faltered
against lesser competition toward the end of the season, the Eagles beat
Samoa twice and tied Fiji. Those are better results against those teams
than the USA managed from 2009-2012.
The Eagles continued to be bested by Canada this season, going 1-3 against
the northeners, which took on greater significance after the Olympic
qualification process was officially announced, and it became clear the
path to Rio 2016 goes through Canada.
PC: The season didn't finish as you would have liked, despite a good
showing in Asia. From your perspective, what happened in
MH: From my side of things, we're a young group, and there were just
certain guys since coming in who had done really well and hnad't had their
bad tournament or bad game, and unfortunately those all sort of came at one
time. I think that had to do with the fact that for some of theese guys it
had been a long year. For a lot of them, they'd never been involved, so the
grind of the World Series and training day-in and day-out here at the
Olympic Training Center I think finally caught up with them.
I think overall, if you really look at it, mentally is where we fell apart.
I've talked about it all year, there are some real leadership qualities
we're still seraching for. We have a leadership group, but those elements
unfortunately you can't just teach overnight. A lot of that comes with
experience, a lot of that comes with consistency. Teams like New Zealand,
you have guys like Tim Mikkelson, DJ Forbes, Tomasi Cama, they have that
base and foundation that the rest of the team is able to build off. We
haven't had that, and that's what came to form in those last two
To be very honest, I'm very happy with the way the guys finished those last
two games [in London]. I tihnk it also proved the guys don't lack any
fitness. Fitness wise, I think we're right up there with the best in the
world, but mentally that's where we struggle. You could definitely see that
that first game in Scotland when we lost to Spain and the guys just
couldn't get back up. They just really, really struggled to get back up and
get going. And the same thing with a lot of the games in London, where we
were close, if not tied or up at halftime, and just couldn't manage to put
together a 14-minute game. In Asia we generally went behind in the first
half and in the second half is when we pulled it together and really
finished strong. For me, when you look at it, it's our mental capacity, and
our sort of mental skill and mental strength.
PC: It was a long season with peaks and valleys and lots of transition. Now that you've had a minute to breathe and reflect, what's the takeaway from the season as a whole?
MH: From a 50,000-foot view, a large part of the season was stripping away
a lot of the program or a lot of what was going on at the training center
already and actually developing a true program, a sustainable program and a
consistent program, and that doesn't come overnight. It takes certain
steps, and a lot of those steps are things we've started to put in place by
now having 20-plus athletes down here, by having guys that compete day in
and day out, but getting in a lot of new blood and sort of assessing them,
not only here at the training center but on the circuit.
This was our year to sort of test it all out, but also really push our
resources and our players as far as we could to develop and create the
foundation that's going to launch us into this next 12-18 months, which is
the most important in our history. That's what this year was for.
It also tough the start of the year, because I got announced really, really
late, I didn't have enough time to really plan and put things in place. It
was obvisouly a transition period for the players, and for me working with
a lot of the players that I've worked with previously as a player, and then
towards the end of the season, there's just a couple of guys that
unfortunately just didn't play the games they could have played and then
struggled to sort of work their way through it. And that's not a bad thing,
but it's a learning experience to now have going into this next season. We
have a period now to review, get sort of refreshed and then get off correct
and really launch ourselves into this next season, which I'm really excited
for and I know the players really are because they've done a lot of work to
really lay the foundation.
PC: There was a lot of turnover this year. Colin Hawley and Blaine
Scully didn't return, Carlin Isles and Folau Niua took contracts overseas,
some players didn't see their contracts renewed midseason, and there was a
rash of players leaving mid-contract for unspecified reasons, like Tai
Enosa, Jack Halalilo and Shalom Suniula. Were some of those departures
MH: I think there were definite haircuts needed, but there were also some
people who saw what was going on and understood that at this point they
didn't have what it took to really raise themselves to the next level, and
there's also a lot of people that for a long time hadn't had any
competition. You've got to think about two years ago when this program
became a full-time program, 85-percent of those guys were still contracted
when I took over as coach. In any professional sports world that's not how
it works. There's an attrition rate yearly and that's just how it goes, but
we had never done that, and so we had to do things a little bit more than
you would normally like to do them, but it was needed and it was necessary.
I think it gave new life to our program and now has allowed us to really
set the bar a lot higher than it has been and push for greater goals.
PC: A lot of people thought that with full-time contracts the player
turnover would go away, but it hasn't. Full-tim contracts haven't
necessarily resulted in improved success. Will it?
MH: When we didn't have a full-time program there were probably 30-35 guys
on our radar, and 20-22 of those guys would get invited and we would train
and compete against each other for a week and then we'd be selected and go
on tour. We were able to put together some pretty decent teams through
that, but a lot of that was grown out of the competitive nature that was
put in place the week before we went on tour. But what happened was, if one
or two or three of those guys that were very consistent and competing and
winning spots was missing, you really didn't have anyone else that could
come through and replace those guys because of that experience...so that
drop off was pretty significant.
On the other end of the scale, once you get full-time guys, that becomes
another issue, because now we've got full-time guys, but we've only got 14
of them. So we're developing people, fantastic, but we're really only
developing two people. And really and truly, as far as the competition goes
throughout the Series, you've only got four guys competing for spots,
because the other 10 guys know that they have their spots, they're not
going to lose it. It creates this really awkward unbalance between both of
those, and what we have to do is find a happy medium between the two, and
that is developing a true program and a squad that is consistent and is
sustainable, so as you move pieces in and out, there is no drop off. But
also you're creating a competitive environment that we had in that week
before we were professional that is sustained and continuing to push us
forward, but then also resourcing our program with the right type of
people, the right type of players. You can go and ask anyone, a good
program and a good squad is filled with good people.
PC: As you delve head first into the scouting season with the
city-based tournament in Houston and the club season getting underway, who
is on your radar that we should keep an eye out for?
MH: It's a completely open slate. I look forward to seeing all the players
that are out there and what they have available to what we're doing. You
look at guys like Steve Tomasin, Pono, Ryan Matyas, these are all guys who,
by no way, shape or form, were ever on the radar, and they managed to come
in and do fantastic jobs. So I've made a point of never really saying,
'these are the guys that I look at'. I'm going to go to each and every
tournament and each and every opportunity that I get and have an open book.
There's definitely a couple of people I trust and rely on to also give me
their thoughts and opinions on the players that are out there, so that's
what we'll start to do.