There can be but one explanation for yesterday’s
extraordinary revelation that the Parramatta Eels Coach, Brian Smith, is to be
sacked – but not until the 2007 season. And that explanation must have something to do with a
soccer match played last night, the result of which gave the round ball game its
greatest ever media coverage at the expense of every other sport.

But if the Eels CEO, Denis Fitzgerald, had a strategy to
announce Smith’s future demise on a day when it would receive zero or minimum
publicity then it is a failed strategy. The announcement has been extensively covered in the
Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian and no doubt 2GB’s Ray Hadley
will have something to say about it today.

It is an extraordinary announcement that is only matched by the
Queensland Rugby Union’s recent statement that the less-than-successful
Reds Coach, Jeff Miller, is to get the “coke and sars” but not until
the 2007 season. That statement was treated with derision, and an
upheaval in the administration of the QRU may result. Surely the media
savvy Denis Fitzgerald saw how the QRU announcement was received?

The Eels statement probably won’t cause an upheaval in
the Club’s administration, where Fitzgerald is the unchallenged boss, but
it must raise serious questions about how rugby league, and
other codes, are treating coaches today. It is now a case of blame the coaches, and not the
pampered – and often overpaid – players.

Take the Wallabies for example. Having lost seven
matches in the row, the calls for the head of coach, Eddie Jones, can be heard
back of Bourke. Or the Australian cricket team. Having lost the Ashes series,
instead of demands for wholesale team changes, the coach, John Buchanan,
narrowly missed losing his head as well.

And if the Socceroos had lost last night, then the
recently appointed coach would have been given a one way plane ticket today too.

Now the case for Brian Smith to move on may be a
reasonably strong one, but to tell him that he is getting the chop, but not
until after next season, is just plain dumb! Or is “our Denis” smarter than we all
think? Having telegraphed the club’s intentions, he has put Smith
between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s turn the clock back to the start of this season.
The Eels got off to an ordinary start, and the calls for Smith’s head came from
Eels fans and enemies alike. And I was in the chorus. But Fitzgerald resolutely
stood by him and the Eels ended up minor premiers, only to fall at the last
hurdle and miss out on a grand final appearance (again).

Now suppose the Eels get off to a bad start in 2006? The
pressure will be on Smith again and Fitzgerald will have a ready answer – he is
going at the end of the season. Or will he abandon a decade of defending his coach and
give him the chop then and there?

Either way, I actually feel a little sorry for Brian
Smith today. Even if he takes the Eels to a premiership victory he will still be
gone at the end of the season. Once again, all the blame is being put on the coaches,
and nowhere near enough on highly paid, and often underperforming,
players.

The coach must share some of the responsibility, but
surely not the total blame all the time? Who would want to be a high profile football coach today?