Did Nathan Brown leave Newcastle in a better place? I’m not so sure

This article was first written for and published by the Roar.

I’m really disappointed that my dad didn’t get the opportunity to apply for the Newcastle Knights head coach role.

From what I’ve seen over the last week I’m confident he could do this role, because it looks like the measures of success for the club and its fans are as follows:

1) don’t finish with the wooden spoon;
2) win more games than the previous coach (even if it’s just one or two more); and
3) make sure you recruit some great players (even if those players are on big money and put you in salary cap drama for future years).

The biggest question I had for Knights fans following the departure of Nathan Brown and after some of their recent performances is when did a town as proud of its rugby league team as Newcastle come to so readily accept and defend mediocrity?

While Brown may have been tolerated for far too long, supporters voted with their feet on the weekend.

Despite it being Old Boys Day, the biggest day on the club’s calendar, just 8274 people showed up. That’s the club’s lowest crowd since July 1997 and the smallest ever for an Old Boys Day.

I’m glad fans have finally said ‘enough’.

But back to Brown – what were his achievements?

Signing David Klemmer and Kalyn Ponga? Sure, two excellent players, but give me a million dollars and I’m sure I could get players across the line too – particularly if for the first three years I am not held accountable for results on the field and therefore have plenty of time to focus on recruitment.

Despite attracting some big names, Newcastle will likely to have to offload some players ahead of next year. Names being bandied about are Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Hymel Hunt.

Thank goodness Paul Gallen didn’t end up in the Hunter for 2018, where apparently he was offered the same money for one season that he had received from the Sharks for two seasons. Imagine the financial issues that would have caused.

Paul Gallen Sharks

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Still on recruitment, when has that been a key measure of success for a coach? Brown is not solely in charge of recruitment. His KPIs are performance-based. Coaches should be judged first on their results and secondly on their ability to get the best out of his players.

For so long, the narrative was that Brown just needed to make the squad his own. Few other coaches get this opportunity (Justin Holbrook has only has two years with the Gold Coast Titans) and even when Brown got the squad he wanted, he couldn’t get the best out of them as a team.

It’s astounding that anyone reaches the conclusion Brown left Newcastle in a better position than when he started.

Newcastle coach Nathan Brown

AAP Image/Darren Pateman

The one thing Brown has proved himself to be exceptional at is controlling the media narrative.

Consider the events that immediately followed the announcement he was resigning.

Heading into one of the biggest games of the year, against the Wests Tigers – who the Knights were competing against for a potential spot in the top eight – rather than focusing on the job at hand, Brown fronted the media on several occasions to talk about… well, himself.

How well he had done at building the club from the ground up. How much of a change he had made. How if another club needed a coach to help them rebuild, he would be the one they would call.

Is it any surprise his players reacted negatively? The effort was abhorrent, but how can a coach expect his players to make performance their number one priority when Brown wasn’t making that game his?

But at least he’s a good bloke.

As a Parramatta fan, I know it’s easy to make excuses and to take any minor improvement as a sign that things are heading in the right direction.

This should be a lesson to everyone involved at the Knights not to accept mediocrity. In the years where Newcaslte took out the wooden spoon, the players looked like they believed it was happening long before the season was over. It’s no surprise this bred a culture of giving up when things get hard.

Compare their second-half performances this year with those of the Canterbury Bulldogs who, despite an inferior squad, have never given up.

The biggest lesson in this whole saga is to demand better, because your club can always be better.

Hopefully ‘demanding better’ started on the weekend.