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The United States Men’s National Team is less than two months ahead of its first match with Argentina since 2003, and it’s without a coach. USA Rugby announced five weeks ago that Mike Tolkin’s contract was not renewed and an application process would open for his replacement.
“We had about 110-plus applicants from all over the place, from all walks of life, really, so we’ve whittled it down to a small number of about 10,” USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville told Rugby Today. “We’ve been doing interviews with the 10, so that’s where we’re at, really.”
The November announcement by USA Rugby said a coach would be hired in December, but that deadline has apparently softened.
“We want to have somebody in place by the end of the year, obviously, but it’s not that easy,” said Melville.
“We’re looking at World Cup 2019. We’re not looking at who’s in charge in February. It’s less important than where we’re going to be for 2019. You’ve got to get the right person. There’s no point in getting the wrong person because of a timeline. The critical point is getting the right person.”
Stuart Lancaster stepped down from the England head coaching position Nov. 11. Nine days later it was announced Eddie Jones would be his replacement. England, though, never went through the application process. Rather, it seems, the RFU had a short list of targets and went after its top choices.
“We do both. You put it out just in case someone you haven’t thought of wants it, and then you go out and look. It’s a bit of both, and it’s what we did with 7s,” Melville said of the application process.
Tolkin also never stepped down. Nor was he fired. His contract was allowed to run out, leaving him to reapply for the position if he hoped to continue on. He made it clear to the hiring committee of Melville, Alex Magleby and Dan Payne that he wanted to just that.
“We wanted to look and see what’s out there. We did our review with the World Cup, and from that review we decided we would open it up,” said Melville.
“We felt that we need to look at where we’re going for 2019, what our team’s going to look like, were there any other coaches domestically who wanted to apply for that job, was Mike still interested in carrying on, and he’s indicated he probably would be, so we thought it was the right thing to do considering the results. We didn’t think the results were where we wanted them to be, and we’ve got to be better.”
More changes are likely coming to USA Rugby’s staff. Rumblings have surfaced about possibly adding a technical director to the high performance side, like the role in which Magleby serves at Dartmouth, and perhaps an executive director to take the reins at Boulder when Melville’s time is pulled more toward RIM.
One rumor has even tied Wayne Smith, the former All Blacks assistant coach and Waikato Chiefs head man, to the technical director role. Melville said he hasn’t spoken with Smith and the potential new positions within USA Rugby’s hierarchy haven’t been defined.
“We are looking at changing our staffing in Boulder in the New Year on the operations side. We’re looking at different ways of staffing, but we haven’t firmed up exactly what those roles are, so that will be done in the next month, and then we’ll be hiring some new staff in the New Year,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pieces to it as we grow. You have to have a good staff, and we’ve recognized some roles we think could continue to take things forward and make sure everyone’s focused on how we’re growing and where we’re growing. If we can bring higher level people in and keep moving it forward, that’s a good thing.”