John Mitchell needs to bring back Blue Bulls glory days

Mitchell's mission is to arrest the decline and start a new era of dominance with Bulls

30 July 2017 - 00:00 By CRAIG RAY

"I prefer to let them [players] know outright where they stand instead of bullshitting them," John Mitchell wrote in his 2014 autobiography. The philosophy has made him both a successful coach and a divisive figure.
"Mitch" doesn't do fake; he doesn't mollycoddle and he doesn't always do nice; but he does honest. Warts and all, players and administrators know where they stand with Mitchell. And in rugby, with its old boys network and culture of appeasement, his approach has led to problems.
Mitchell has fallen out with the All Blacks, Western Force and the Golden Lions and by his own admission he could have done things differently at times.
Mitchell's returns were impressive
But every mistake has been made with the best intentions for the team and organisation. At each team he has been successful, and his next task is to turn the Bulls around.The All Blacks had an 82% winning ratio under Mitchell [they have an all-time 77% winning record] and the Force didn't exist when he was appointed to build a franchise. After a tough first season they won six of 13 matches in 2007 and seven of 13 in 2008.Those might sound like modest returns, but for essentially Australia's fourth franchise, with few quality players, they were impressive.
He recently guided the US through their most successful World Cup qualifying campaign before taking the Bulls position. His methods, his famous temper and sometimes merciless training regimes led to a fallout at the Force and similarly at the Lions after he won the 2011 Currie Cup.
In 2012, Mitchell was accused of belittling Lions players and was hauled in front of a disciplinary hearing on 20 charges of misconduct. The proceedings lasted five months and Mitchell was cleared on every count, which cost the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) substantially. They needed SA Rugby to assist in funding their settlement.That experience left some administrators skittish, most notably former SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins. When Western Province director of rugby Gert Smal nominated Mitchell for the Stormers' coaching job in late 2015, Hoskins and GLRU president Kevin de Klerk stepped in to stop it.
This time there was no interference when the Bulls approached Mitchell.
There will be collateral damage along the way and players who don't measure up to Mitchell's exacting demands will be unflinchingly chased out of the Bulls corral.
The Blue Bulls Company (BBCo) knew the time had come to employ someone who would shake Loftus's foundations after another Super Rugby failure under the very pleasant Nollis Marais.
A change of culture
Mitchell has been appointed, with the rather grand title "executive of rugby" to not only bring success, but a change of culture. The Bulls, once the most feared South African team with Loftus the most impenetrable fortress, have been reduced to rubble.
There are many theories about why the Bulls have fallen off a cliff after winning three Super Rugby titles in four seasons between 2007-2010.
At first it was a gentle slide but in recent years the skid has become a cascade.
Marais, saddled with an inexperienced backroom coaching staff, was not ready for the job at a time when poor recruitment and player retention policies and deepening financial strain added to the burden.Mitchell, 53, has dealt with all of those factors and more in his colourful career and is perfectly placed to arrest the decline and begin a new era of Bulls dominance.
Whether he sees it through to the end though, will depend on how well his employers on the BBCo board, and his players respond to what will be tough love.
"It is important to ask everyone to be patient, and this is only a step in our turnaround strategy," Bulls chief executive Barend van Graan said.
"I believe that John [Mitchell] is not a Messiah or a prophet who will turn the Bulls into a winning side from day one. Please be patient with him too."

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