MIKE BLAIR says his rugby horizons do not currently extend beyond helping Edinburgh get their URC campaign back on track while continuing their good form in the European Champions Cup – despite uncertainty surrounding his job status after the end of the current season.
The 41-year-old former Scotland international announced last Friday morning that he would step down as the capital’s head coach in the summer, and while he naturally has some trepidation about what the future holds, Blair stressed he felt completely comfortable making the right move. a decision for the right reasons that will ultimately benefit him and the club.
“I enjoy playing the role that I play in terms of what I’ve learned from it and how I’ve tried to improve, but I’ve found that the coaching part of it is the part that you really enjoy,” he explained.
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“When I thought about all the other things that I had to do, whether it was recruiting, the budget, the academies or releasing players, I realized that I had to make a decision whether I was going to be the head coach or the attack coach that I would stop, because I didn’t feel like I could do a really good job in both areas.
“The things on the pitch are the things I get a buzz from – thinking about what we can do differently to make the team better – and that’s where I decided I wanted to focus.
“I’m really happy with the decision – it’s a really positive thing for me.
“The first task now is to settle the role of head coach, then we will look at me,” he replied when asked if he would like to stay at Edinburgh working under a new head coach. “You could say I took a bit of a risk by doing what I did because I’ve effectively given my notice and I’m out of a job, but I’ll wait and see what happens.
“I played at the club for eleven years and those two as head coach, and loved every minute of it. I feel like I have a really good affinity with the players, but ultimately this decision [about whether he can stay on in assistant role] don’t rest with me
“Of course a lot of it depends on what’s best for me individually, but I want the club to be as strong as possible and I’ve worked under some outstanding head coaches – Dave Rennie and Gregor Townsend are two. that particularly stand out, I loved working under – so it’s not about me and how I would feel. We’ll wait and see what happens when that bridge comes.
Blair took the job in Edinburgh when Richard Cockerill left suddenly in the summer of 2021. As a hometown boy and club legend who has a very close relationship with national team head coach Gregor Townsend, he was the perfect fit in many ways.
His first season went fairly well, with the players clearly feeling liberated by his attacking game plan and more consensual approach to coaching. The team produced some excellent performances on their way to qualifying for the United Rugby Championship play-offs and the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.
Although this season hasn’t had the same success so far – with six defeats in Edinburgh’s last seven URC games leaving them 11th in the table – he had plenty of credit in the bank and the team’s performance in Europe for reaching the last 16 from the Champions Cup were encouraging.
“I don’t think it happened too quickly, but I think I could have been better prepared for it,” Blair said when asked if he regretted taking the job when it was offered. “It was a brilliant opportunity. The perfect moment will never come, so it’s about making the most of the situation.
“I’ve hit guys like Steve Tandy, Gregor Townsend, Andy Friend in Connacht and Brad Muir [the former New Zealand assistant coach and Scarlets head coach] before he came here [to join the Scotland coach team], I ask about their experience, what they went through, how it can help me. So I feel like I’ve been proactive on that side of things.
“I believe I’m adapting, I believe I’m improving, but there’s also the overarching nature of it,” he added. “When I come home, I’m home, but I’m not really home. I think about selections, I think about recruitment, I think about planning, all these different parts and it probably takes away from things like:How do we want to best attack? What can we do in training to improve it? Can I watch the Super Rugby games and keep up with that side of things?’
“It’s just the ability to get your head out of the job — because I care so much. I read a great book by a guy called Cody Royle Named “The Tough Stuff” in which he interviews head coaches from a variety of sports including rugby union, American football, rugby league. And he talks about the workload, looking after 45 players, other coaches and the rest of the support staff.
“I genuinely care about our guys. As I told them on Friday, I feel like a father to some of them, I feel like a brother to others, and it weighs on you a little. Right now I want to put a real focus on what my passion is and that is around hands-on coaching.
“This is not a case of: “I will never do it [be a head coach] again’. I’ve had a few years of that and at some stage I’m going to have a period of reflection. It was a roller coaster ride and I really didn’t have time to sit back and say: ‘From here to where?’ and: “If I had it to do over again, what would I do differently?”.
“This experience will definitely benefit me. Being able to walk away and reflect and think about what I could have done differently will put me in a better position for the future.”
Prior to taking over in Edinburgh, Blair was part of Scotland’s coaching staff and was asked if a return to that national role might appeal to him ahead of this autumn’s World Cup.
“I don’t know how to answer that without making a sound,” he said. “Of course it’s possible, but it hasn’t been discussed at all. I’m glad I made the decision because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few months. Now I’m taking a deep breath and putting all my focus on a really good end to the season with Edinburgh.”
He also played a direct hit when asked if there could be a move from Scotland (where there are limited professional coaching opportunities) to somewhere like France.
“I’m going to be out of a job after this season is over, so I’m going to be looking for a job, but I don’t want to get involved in that,” he said. “I’m pleased that Scottish Rugby and Edinburgh Rugby have time to put a good plan forward to put us in a really good position for next year – and then I’ll deal with myself.”
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