TONIGHT MARKS the start of his seventh season as Leeds Rhinos’ head coach, but Brian McDermott insists he has no plans to move out of the hot seat.
McDermott is Rhinos’ most successful and long-serving team boss, having won three Super League Grand Finals and the Challenge Cup twice as well as the World Club Challenge and league leaders’ shield.
Appointed in the autumn of 2010, after Brian McClennan’s sudden resignation, McDermott has had downs as well as ups, not least last year when Rhinos finished ninth in Super League and found themselves battling against relegation in the middle-eights Qualifiers.
But the former Royal Marine and professional heavyweight boxer says he is still loving every day at Rhinos and hasn’t set a time limit on his tenure as coach.
Asked if he could imagine reaching 10 years in charge, or more, McDermott, whose side begin their Betfred Super League campaign away to St Helens tonight, said: “I think it’s an interesting question.
“You can ask that of somebody who’s in the building trade or works in another industry and people will think ‘I don’t like doing this any more’ or ‘I’m going to have a change of company’. It’s a hard one to answer as a coach. What I can easily say is it’s a great club and great people.
“It has got fantastic people to work with, real honest people who will tell you if it’s not right.
“That’s not nice at the time, but you know where you are.
“The players are great. The players we’ve got at the moment are up for the challenge more than any squad I have ever seen.
“The staff we’ve got are all very experienced and while it is a really enjoyable place and a really enjoyable environment to come to work, my task as head coach is to keep challenging everybody and keep making sure nobody is sat there on the gravy train, just enjoying the ride.
“Because we are a big club and we’ve got a lot of corporate support and a lot of infrastructure there’s a lot of benefits come with it.
“Having spent my time as head coach at London, I know this club is exposed to a lot of benefits, but every one of them is hard-worked for and none of them is taken for granted.
“My job as head coach and certainly Gary Hetherington’s job as chief executive is to make sure we come to work and work as hard and as diligently and keep as much humility about us as if we were working at a lesser club.
“It makes me unpopular at times, whether we come in on a day off or I say as a staff what we just produced isn’t good enough, let’s stay back and turn it on its head and turn it around, that’s the task.
“I enjoy doing that and I enjoy myself improving as a coach, making my staff improve as coaches, and if you are asking me if I was here in five years’ time coaching at Leeds would you be happy, yes of course. I have no desire to leave.”
Some coaches reach a stage when they feel they have taken the club as far as they can or they are getting stale.
But McDermott said: “I don’t think you ever get comfortable at Leeds.
“I’d never get comfortable and I won’t allow anybody else to be comfortable. When we won everything in 2015, pre-season – this is before the floods, when I was blissfully unaware of what was going to happen – I thought that was a very challenging pre-season.
“I remember thinking what a crazy job we’ve got, no matter how much you win or what you do the previous year, all bets are off. It all starts again.
“At no point did I think in 2016 I would be afforded some margin for error.
“I knew as soon as we lost a game or lost two games questions would be asked.
“That’s the rollercoaster we ride. I love my job, it’s a brilliant job and I am not just saying this in hindsight, I thought at the time during 2016 there was a sub-plot going on.
“While what was going on was hard and being asked all sorts of questions isn’t easy, at the same time I just knew our group was going through something they always had to go through, which was the transition of the old brigade through to the new brigade.
“We are still going through that transition now.
“JP and Kevin [Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield] leaving us would have always been a challenge. I would always have been saying to somebody in the press ‘yes we do miss Kev and JP’.
“But then with the floods and the injury crisis it was the perfect storm.”
As for tonight, Saints will present a tough opening challenge for Rhinos, but the hosts have been rocked by the loss of newly-signed scrum-half Matty Smith, which McDermott admits could have a bearing.
“It will certainly disrupt them, absolutely,” he said. “They will have had all sorts of plans for him and playing with him, but the question is how much?
“I am sure [coach] Keiron Cunningham will tell you he’s determined for it not to disrupt them too much. Saints have got a successful history of winning Super League titles without half-backs.
“I’m sure that’s not a formula going forward and I’m sure they’re not saying it doesn’t matter, but I don’t think they are going to be any lesser team, certainly for the week they play us.”