Shane Logan interview in full: I won't step down, I will help Ulster move on
In his first in-depth interview with the Belfast Telegraph since the decision to revoke the contracts of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, Ulster CEO Shane Logan has claimed he is not fighting to remain in his job at Kingspan Stadium - despite an online fans' petition encouraging his dismissal receiving 1,000 signatures over the weekend.
Jackson and Olding were acquitted of raping the same woman by a Belfast court last month but in the course of the trial, an unsavoury WhatsApp exchange between the rugby stars and their friends became public. A third player, Craig Gilroy, has been suspended until later this month for sending an explicit message to Olding.
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Pressure from sponsors has been widely credited as a driving force behind the decision to revoke the contracts, although that too has been denied by Logan, who last spoke publicly to Ulster's in-house media channels in March and did not meet season ticket holders at a briefing.
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He refuted questioning of his accountability by saying he has met "tens of thousands" of fans in his role.
Recent controversies aside, on the field results have left the side in a battle just to qualify for next season's Champions Cup and still without a coach in place for next season.
Q How difficult have the past three months been for everyone connected to Ulster Rugby?
A. It's been traumatic. There have been a huge number of views expressed, different views expressed. People taking the same set of facts and coming to very different, very entrenched positions, legitimate positions. There have been no winners and real sadness I would say. It's been very difficult in terms of morale. It's been difficult for everyone across rugby more broadly. What we have to do now is try and take the decision and plot the course for the future.
Q. Were you and Ulster Rugby happy with the outcome of the review and the process?
A. Listen, I don't think happy is a word you can use here in the circumstances. The trial, during that time we were sub judice, nothing could be done or said that would have influenced the jury. After the trial, the review was set up and that group's job was to look at all the circumstances and produce a report for the IRFU management committee. That committee decided unanimously last week on the course of action which was to revoke the players' contracts. I think the way to look at that is to take the words of the two players when they quite bravely came out and made clear that their behaviour had fallen well short of that which was expected of them as role models.
Q. There were different sanctions placed upon Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding than to Craig Gilroy. Therefore would it be fair to say that contracts weren't revoked on the basis solely of the messages used in evidence?
A. The facts of the cases were not the same. In relation to Craig, as the press release says, on the facts of his case, he went through a disciplinary process and a sanction was reached. It would not be right of me to comment more on what is a private matter between employer and employee.
Q. Was there any consideration given to the fact that if this occurred in other areas within the IRFU's reach (Leinster, Munster and Connacht) it would not have been public knowledge?
A. I can't comment on that as I'm not familiar with the law in other jurisdictions.
Q. Have you spoken to Paddy or Stuart since their contracts were revoked?
A. No, I haven't.
Q. There have been calls to clean house, and it has been said that there has never been a greater disconnect between the fans and province than there is today. How can this ever be bridged?
A. I will say that the particular disconnects that have occurred around this latest case have cast a dark cloud for at least a season. Those people that are very unhappy with the decision are absolutely entitled to hold that view. Had the decision gone the other way, you would similarly have had a large swathe of support disconnected. I think that we all drew great heart from the atmosphere in the ground, and the connection between team and supporters. I thought the atmosphere was tremendous. I thought the boys put their bodies on the line, fought hard and it was total commitment as we would expect. There was total commitment in the ground towards them despite the very difficult circumstances off the pitch. I think that we have to understand people's firmly held views, but if we remain disunited it won't do anybody any good. It won't do the players any good, it won't do rugby any good. What we have to do is do our best to accept radically different points of view. We've got to do our best to finish off the season as well as we can, we accept it hasn't been a good one, and we've got to prepare as best we can for next season. There have been some good things this season, foremost among those the academy performance where we have by a factor of five multiplied the investment in the academy compared to seven/eight years ago. We've had a record number of caps at age grade level, we're in the national talent squad, we have 35% representation. Our representation coming through the ranks is bearing fruit on that investment. It's been very tough, and it's been overshadowed by the trial. We have to back ourselves, back our academy and do our best to finish this season well, get a really good pre-season and start the next one on the front foot.
Q. Despite what you're citing as success, there is still a large amount of unrest directed specifically at you. Has anything changed in relation to your position since you said in March you wouldn't be resigning?
A. No. My role is not in question. A CEO, in both good times and in difficult times, is to find the way to move forward. In my eight years, we've had six and a half years and we've had a very tough last year. What we have to do is keep moving on towards positive territory. No organisation goes through universally good times, it's how we respond to the bad times that defines us.
Q. But regardless, in the way that a football manager who has lost the dressing room finds his position untenable, a CEO who has lost the fanbase must find his position untenable?
A. No, I repeat my role is to keep us moving on to the best possible territory. We will back our academy, we will back our investment. If we look at recruitment, we'll have Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and Will Addison, we might potentially have more and if we take Marcell Coetzee hopefully back next season, I think there is considerable reason for optimism. It won't be easy but I think we'll do the best that we possibly can.
Q. This is the first time we've had access to you since your YouTube statement, a lack of accountability given that it was conducted by in-house media channels. Can you offer any explanation as to why that was done rather than doing as you are now and talking to the media?
A. I don't think I've ever hidden away from talking in public. I talk in public more than many others. I would appear in front of thousands, maybe tens of thousands. I've done Q&As regularly. Still do. What we tried to do was get the hardest possible questions and try to front them up as much as possible. It has been frustrating. This is the first time I've been able to come out, because of the trial, and the inability to express freely has been constrained by the trial. That's gone now.
Q. In that sense, are you saying that different constraints were placed upon you than on others in the organisation, say Bryn Cunningham?
A. Because of the nature of the trial, I wasn't free to discuss the effect on morale of the divisiveness. Bryn is responsible for the performance of the professional game. I'm responsible for the whole of rugby in Ulster, together with the committees and a number of volunteers. Because of the divisiveness of the issue, it was more difficult.
Q. Avoidable or not, do you accept that YouTube interviews conducted by Ulster Rugby gives the impression of a lack of accountability from the public figure of this organisation?
A. No, sorry Jonathan I don't. In that period I did many speeches to many supporters, to many groups. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Q. Moving forward then, there'll be another coach in next season. Will the recruitment process differ this time? Will you look at this process with an acknowledgement that the processes before haven't returned the right man?
A. The process is that it's a joint search between the IRFU and ourselves. At this stage you have David Nucifora and Bryn and others including Joe Schmidt scanning across the world. We always keep a list of where the coaches' contracts are right across the world. We are moving from the longlist towards a shortlist and it'll be a joint IRFU and Ulster decision and it'll be ratified by the Professional Game Board. It's the same process that has been used previously but you don't always get it right.
Q. When can we expect that process to conclude?
A. We would all love it to be sooner but it's better to get it right than to get it quick.