Stabbed in the back, but coach will live to fight another day By Phil Gould May 16, 2006 LATE last year Parramatta sacked coach Brian Smith despite the fact he still had a year to run on his contract. That's not a rarity in football. But rather than pay him his due and allow him to leave with dignity, Smith was told he would be expected to continue his duties for the following 12 months. The Eels then announced Newcastle's Michael Hagan as Smith's replacement and indicated the incoming coach would be advising Parramatta on player retention and recruitment. Smith had been effectively estranged from the club to which he had devoted so much. The timing of the decision was a disgrace and designed only to portray Smith as the man responsible for Parramatta's embarrassing loss to the Cowboys in the 2005 preliminary final. Few people in football clubs like to be associated with failure. Someone else has to be blamed. To have management so bluntly and publicly signal its lack of support for the coach destroyed whatever control or authority he had within the club. I wrote at the time that Smith's sacking would destroy Parramatta's chances of a successful 2006 season. Check out the competition table. Once rugby league players are offered ready-made excuses for failure, they generally accept them. So far this season Parramatta have performed without unity, emotion or desire. Perhaps management was naive enough to think it would be business as usual. Maybe the club hoped Smith would quit in disgust and forgo his contract monies thereby saving it a year's wages. Whatever the intentions, it ranks as one of the worst examples of disloyalty and disrespect I've witnessed in rugby league. Coach Smith deserved better. At the time he took over the club, it was a laughing stock. The halcyon days of the early 1980s had been replaced by years of disappointment. Parramatta had failed to make the semi-finals in nine seasons between 1987 and 1996. In the next nine seasons under Smith, the Eels reached the play-offs seven times, the preliminary final four times and the grand final in 2001. Smith gave Parramatta renewed professionalism, respect and success. I know many players who have been coached by Smith over the years. They remain fiercely loyal to him. His coaching structure, methods and programs have been copied by many other clubs. His guidance has helped many players become better footballers and more importantly better people. But the book is not closed on coach Brian Smith just yet. He's off to Newcastle next year. Believe me, they are the big winners in all this.