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 win percentage.

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)
11/12 14 35
28% 11 Argentina, Kenya Cook Islands, Portugal 1-3 (Includes '12 NACRA)
10/11 17 26
39% 12 Argentina, Kenya Russia, Zimbabwe 1-3 (Includes '11 Pan-Ams)
09/10 18 25
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 Europe?

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 tournaments.

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 needed haircuts?

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 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.