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Eddie O’Sullivan coached the USA through 19 test matches, winning eight and losing 11, six non-test internationals, losing all of them, and one match with a professional club, losing that one, too.
That is, depending on how you measure it, a record of 8-11 or 8-18 (we at RUGBYMag, in comparing coaches, count capped tests and Churchill Cup non-tests, but not games against clubs).
Few actually would complain too much about the results. The USA could have beaten Canada a few more times, and Japan in August, but for the most part, those who weren’t happy with O’Sullivan didn’t say too much about his record.
What they did have a problem with, was how much that record cost. Paid in the neighborhood of $250,000 a year, O’Sullivan cost about $93,750 per victory (that’s just about the same cost-per-win as Peter Thorburn and Scott Johnson). And when USA Rugby still struggled to pay for things, it seemed excessive.
Couldn’t someone else have been paid half that and produced the same results?
One USA player put it well. When asked if he felt the head coach’s salary was hard to take when players were getting only $75 a day per diem, he shook his head.
“It’s not that. We don’t worry about that. What we think of is how the U20s or the women’s team or the 7s team can’t do things they need to do, and $10,000 or $20,000 would help them do it. That’s what bugs us.”
O’Sullivan shouldn’t be blamed for how much he was paid. He was offered it and took it. He said as much to this writer. But there is blame. For the USA Rugby Board of Directors to think that $250,000 is an appropriate salary for the Head Coach of the 15s team – a team that played nine games a year – when that is more than three times what the other three head coaches get, combined, is hard to fathom.
It wasn’t O’Sullivan’s fault, but it is everyone’s fault if we don’t expose the truth – more money for a coach doesn’t mean more success. When he stepped down, Tom Billups was paid $70,000 to coach the Eagles. He also received a bonus to oversee the 7s program – hiring the coach, running player development, and running the budget. For that job, he was paid $10,000 a year.
For $80,000 we got a Head Coach, and a director of elite player development, and a general manager of the 7s team. During his four years at the helm, Billups was paid about $300,000 and posted a record of 12-21, with a record v. Tier II nations of 9-7.
In the six years after he stepped down, we've spent about $1.1 million on 15s head coach salaries (an increase of 144%), and finished 12-29, with a record against Tier II nations of 10-14.
That’s the lesson. It’s not whether Eddie O’Sullivan was good or bad. It’s how misguided the idea is that someone can fly in on a winged horses, teach our national team a few new moves and a few new training ground drills, and start winning.
The message is clear to the Board. Throwing a large amount of money at a high profile coach (and there’s lots of talk that USA Rugby should do that again) doesn’t get you where you need to be. I personally urge the members of the USA Rugby Board of Directors, and the Congress, to reject the notion that a name coach from overseas will help USA Rugby at the elite level. It won’t. We’ve tried it.