Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Ulster Rugby shock exit: David Humphreys was not pushed

Former Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys
Former Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys

Ulster had known there was always a possibility that Director of Rugby David Humphreys might be tempted to leave.

But by their own admission, the timing of his decision to move on caught them unawares, having learned of the development last Monday.

"The speed at the end was certainly a surprise," Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Officer Shane Logan revealed to a hand-picked band of rugby journalists, themselves astonished to be summoned to the newly renamed Kingspan stadium on a close season Saturday afternoon.

News of Humphreys' departure to Glouchester was the last thing they expected to hear.

Was Logan equally taken aback, he was asked?

"Yes and no," he replied. "The speed at the end was certainly a surprise. However, we have been discussing David's options and his career plan ever since he and I started working together four and a half years ago.

"What we set out to do was move Ulster forward on all fronts – that we win much more, that we're highly competitive at the top end, that we create a legacy, that we have players coming through, that we have world-class facilities, coaches, strength and conditioning and medical.

"Now we're quite a way on to achieving that plan and what that means is like with any organisation that is being successful your people will be attractive to other organisations; it's the same in any business, any organisation.

"I certainly know that David has been approached by others in the past, so we knew this time would come. It's maybe come a little bit more quickly than we thought."

Further Reading

David Humphreys: In a ruthless business always sensed the crucial need to stay one step ahead 

David Humphreys: Gloucester chief delighted over landing his man

David Humphreys' shock move is big risk, warns Willie Anderson 

Humphreys did not attend Saturday's media briefing as to his exit. Instead he issued a brief 114-word statement which began: "This was a really difficult decision for me personally but having received a direct approach from Gloucester, I have now chosen to accept an offer to become their Director of Rugby.

"It is, I believe, the right move for me at this stage of my career."

Having thanked the fans and those at Ulster Rugby for their "support, encouragement and wisdom" for more than two decades, Humphreys' parting words were: "There is no doubt that the Province will continue to move forward.

"It has a fantastic stadium, the best supporters and a wealth of great talent coming through. Ulster Rugby will be a force within rugby for many years to come."

Now the search is on for a man capable of delivering what Humphreys never quite managed in his time at the helm – silverware. Given his publicity-shy nature, could the timing of the announcement, in the middle of a busy sporting Saturday afternoon, have been orchestrated to minimise the airtime and column inches given to the story? If so, it was an under estimation of the magnitude of the story and the way in which Humphreys is viewed by fans, media and rugby insiders as the power behind the throne at Ulster

He most certainly wasn't pushed, having clearly been head-hunted by Gloucester. But a distinct impression has been left of no great effort being made to change his mind.

There is also the question of how this affects current coach Mark Anscombe, a Humphreys appointee. The New Zealander has a year of his present contract to run and will now require a major trophy win to secure another renewal and maybe not even then in an era of change and new thinking at the old Ravenhill.

Although Ulster will replace Humphreys as director of rugby, they are in no rush to appoint his successor.

Shane Logan made it plain that before deciding on a replacement, Ulster want to have a clearly defined plan and role for the newcomer. It is not imperative that he is in place when the new season gets underway.

"We're going to take our three-to-five-years strategic plan, we're going to look and see where maybe there are some gaps and use this as an opportunity to do our plan better," Logan said.

"So we will go into the market as soon as we have a well-defined, clear idea of what it's going to take to deliver the plan."

Asked if Ulster might look within for a replacement, Logan replied: "The first thing is to identify the qualities and the functions that we want. The second thing then is to conduct a search and the search will be (for) whatever is best in the world.

"Now, there is a lot of very good talent locally – emerging quality of talent in coaching and leadership – there's very good talent in one or two players who have retired recently and there's good talent out there in the world. So we will take our time and get the right fit and the best person."

What Ulster supporters certainly will want to know is if the in-coming DoR's role will be the same as when Humphreys had the job – in overall control of rugby but in a much more off-stage capacity than is the case at other clubs.

When it was put to him that Humphreys' role as Ulster's director of rugby had been very different to that of Mark McCall or Geordan Murphy who have the same job title with Saracens and Harlequins respectively, Logan replied: "It has."

When asked if that may now change, the CEO's response was: "I can't answer that. We will certainly look at what's best going forward. You're quite right – David has been a bit more back of house rather than front of house, but that was because we needed – between all of us – to get some of the back of house foundations in place.

"So we needed to get our production line of players – 250 boys now between 15 and 19 on really good quality programmes whereas three years ago, four years ago we had fewer than 30. So that's been in place.

"The recruitment of players has been part of it, the development of coaches, the development of a world-class gym and other medical and S&C facilities. So now that we've got those things moving and in many cases in place, we need to look and see what it is we want for the next three to five years to allow us to keep moving forward."

Logan hinted that the situation between the director of rugby and head coach Anscombe may well be re-defined before a new DoR is appointed.

"I think it's the model (DoR and head coach) that has been used in many clubs. Where the line lies we have to look at and decide if we're perhaps going to change it in some way," Logan said.

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