Richard Graham must produce instant success at the Queensland Reds next year or he will face the sack that he somehow avoided on Tuesday.
Graham has signed a one-year contract extension to stay at the helm of the Reds, a decision that has trigged a furious backlash from supporters, who have flooded social media to express their anger.
Despite just a 28 per cent winning record in his time as a Super Rugby head coach, Graham has retained the faith of the Queensland Rugby Union board and management, who all believe that under a new structure he is capable of turning the Reds into a force once again.
But the fact he has been kept on for just one more season is a clear sign of how little time he has to work with.
The highly rated Nick Stiles was promoted to senior assistant coach earlier this year and stands as the likely beneficiary should the Reds start badly under Graham in 2016, along with Brad Thorn, who will shortly begin his tenure as a forwards development coach.
Still, it appears the QRU’s patience runs for much, much longer than that of their fanbase.
Supporters almost immediately began making their dissatisfaction clear on social media following the announcement on Tuesday, with many vowing not to renew their memberships for next season.
But QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael told Fairfax Media it would have shown “weakness” as an organisation to bow to external pressure.
“Of course there is going to be expectation from the fan that looks from a passionate position and wants to see their team do well. They would think ‘why don’t you just move the coach’ without understanding all of the complexities,” Carmichael said.
“What I know is fans, during the course of the next number of months, will still love their team.”
Players also won’t be pleased. It’s understood a group of them have been petitioning the QRU for a change of coach for weeks.
But the only change at the top is the instalment of former Reds and Wallabies centre Daniel Herbert as executive general manager – a new role recommended by the Queensland Rugby Union’s long-running high-performance review.
Graham will report directly to Herbert, who, together with new head of pathways and list management Sam Cordingley, will look after almost every aspect of the Reds operation so that the coach can focus on winning games.
John Connolly appears to be the only real victim of the QRU’s review. The former Wallabies coach was brought in by the QRU as a coaching advisor to Graham in May on a contract that ran to the end of 2016 but there is no room for him in the new structure.
Graham is being shielded by the QRU, with media told no press conference will be held to discuss his re-appointment and that the coach will not be available for comment.
But in a brief statement, Graham said: “I am humbled by the opportunity to coach this team again in 2016. As a squad we will not tolerate any excuses that compromise our preparations or performance in order to achieve success in 2016.”