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Monday, December 7, 2015

A Look At Some PRO Rugby Coaching Candidates

We've already looked at who might be some of the players that fill out PRO Rugby (and we'll look at some more later) but now we're going to turn our attention to who might fill in as coaches. Paul Keeler has already been named the head coach of the San Francisco team and his hiring has all the hallmarks what what we should likely expect from PRO Rugby coaches, at least in the first year. 1) He's local. That means there is not major relocation and Keeler knows the players and the market. That's going to be key in getting people to the matches and finding the right players. 2) He has high-level coaching experience. He has coached club rugby but he's also gone a step above to the national team level. You can expect whoever steps in to take the reigns of one of these teams is going to have similar experience.

With Keeler's hiring that leaves five vacancies for the first year. Even though Sacramento is the only other team officially announced from what we understand and have reported on in the past is that Denver and Philadelphia are in line to get teams. Two more teams should also be ready for the first season. With that in mind, let's take a look at who we think might make good fits.

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Andre Snyman: The Glendale Raptors coach has proven himself a coach on the rise the last few seasons. He's guided the Raptors to back to back PRP finals, winning the latest. He hasn't been afraid to challenge his team with tough matches (they will be playing Seattle in a few months) and he's built a lot of depth. Having been a professional in South Africa and around the world he knows what it's like to be in a professional environment and can take his team to the next level. The question becomes whether it can work with his duties at Glendale.

Jason Kelly: He was the backs coach with the Denver Barbarians this last season and has had success in 7s at at other levels. His players love playing for him.  He's also been involved with Denver select sides in the past so he knows how to deal with club politics.

Mike Tolkin: There is still a chance that Tolkin could return to the Eagles but that seems unlikely. As much as he took the blame for the Eagles winless trip to the World Cup it would be a grave mistake to over look all that Tolkin did for the program. Remember, back in 2012 this was a team with a group of domestic players that lost to Uruguay in the ARC. From their the Eagles domestic pool increased to the point where players were hitting the right strides and could make an impact on the Eagles World Cup team.

Additionally, over the last year the Eagles played well. Yes, they had their hiccups against New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia (although they were in that match at halftime) but they also saw plenty of successes. The U.S. played well at the World Cup, not enough to win, but well enough that anyone suggesting otherwise should really take a step back and see the big picture. As far as Northeastern candidates go, Tolkin would make plenty of sense. He has a large player network, he has a style of play, and he's proven.

Justin Fitzpatrick: The Seattle Saracens head coach is another candidate with a lot going for him. He's built Seattle into a powerhouse and as the Eagles forwards coach he took what was frankly a pathetic scrum into something that at times was an asset for the team. If PRO Rugby were putting a team in Seattle (not happening this year from what we understand) he would be the easy and automatic choice. Still, it's hard not to see him as a candidate for a place like Sacramento where he could have Lou Stanfill as an assistant.

Nate Osborne: Here is another Eagles assistant coach that could be thrown into the mix. Osborne has taken a lot of young talent up in Minnesota with Metropolis and turned them into a solid side. Our guess is that many of those players make their way into PRO Rugby and would love to play for Osborne. One difficulty with Osborne, like Fitzpatrick, is that there isn't a team in their hometown. They would have to move and that could impact local relations with clubs.

Josh Smith: In our opinion, Smith is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. He's had 7s success and he's had 15s success. If there is a team in Boston, he would make an ideal candidate. Plus, he has connections through the Northeast Academy with Steve Lewis.

Marty Veale: Veale not only has experience at Old Blue where he has the club on the rise, but he's been a professional with London Wasps and in his native New Zealand. As a local he could coach a New York team and draw on players from the region.

Dan Payne: Having just landed the athletic director job at Life it might be hard for Payne to give that up and move to coach a team away from Atlanta. However, he's young, has a lot of connections in American rugby, and has been an assistant with the Eagles. It might be useful also to look at some of the men's club players as potential coaches. Dave Gannon and Shaun Davies are two potentials.

Mike MacDonald: As a Jesuit alum (okay, not a Jesuit alum but from NorCal) MacDonald has plenty of ties to the Sacramento region. He's also got loads of professional experience and experience with the Eagles. Simply put, the U.S. has not produced a better prop. After retiring, MacDonald has spent the last several years at Cal as an assistant. With PRO Rugby playing mostly in the summertime this might be an opportunity for him to stretch his wings a bit.

Tom Billups: He's pretty entrenched at Cal (and for good reason) but he's a former Eagles coach and knows the landscape very well. Like MacDonald, he might be able to take a hiatus from Cal to coach a Sacramento team.

Mike Friday: Okay, let's just say that this one will probably never happen. However, he has experience as a coach and administrator with London Scottish and if there were a team in San Diego it might be possible to do PRO Rugby and 7s given the right support staff. That said, the Olympics looming large in the middle of the PRO Rugby season suggests that his attention will be elsewhere.

Nese Malifa: Malifa is another former player that has moved into the coaching ranks. He's learned the trade the last little while and if PRO Rugby put a team in Southern California (most likely San Diego if they did so) he would fit the mold as someone who could grow in the position. A lack of coaching international rugby would hurt his chances.

There are plenty of people that we've missed. There are plenty of great coaches in this country and to have competition for spots, even if it's coaching spots, is an excellent thing. Only time will tell who makes the cut but you can bet someone from this list gets a job.


  1. I'd kind of like to see some more teams announced … with a league kick off of April 17 one has to assume that players need to be in training camp by March 1 or so. A lot to do between now and then yet we don't even know all the teams. It's one thing to bring out the names of teams slowly .. it's another for things to come to a standstill. Time to get off the dime and get the info out there!

    1. I agree. The timeline to accomplish all PRO Rugby has laid out appears too aggressive. Every day that goes by without announcing further steps makes me doubt more and more their ability to pull it off by this spring.

  2. Mike MacDonald a Jesuit Alum? He went to Miramonte HS and played for Lamorinda RFC before attending Cal.