INCOMING Leeds Carnegie executive chairman Sir Ian McGeechan admits his biggest challenge at the club will be making it financially viable.
The legendary former British Lions coach was introduced to a select crowd at Headingley Carnegie yesterday as Leeds unveiled an exciting appointment they hope will help finally establish it as a power in the sport.
While quickly returning to the Premiership is clearly high on their agenda after failing to win promotion last season, driving the business forward to attract new investment and support is paramount for a club which has no benevolent owner to write sizeable cheques.
Although McGeechan made his name, first as a talented centre for Headingley, Yorkshire and Scotland before earning recognition as one of the greatest managers ever with Wasps and the Lions, he will now tread into new territory back at his former stomping ground.
He will oversee the football operation, including director of rugby Chris Gibson and head coach Diccon Edwards, but will delve into the business side of the club too.
There are few more respected and recognisable figures in northern hemisphere rugby than McGeechan so this is perhaps Leeds’s best chance yet to make the necessary crucial breakthrough in building their business and fan base.
“It will challenge me in a different way,” admitted the 65-year-old. “Working with John Bentley to establish the club on the commercial front is obviously going to be important while we all know there is playing talent around Leeds and Yorkshire.
“But (chief executive) Gary Hetherington and I have talked about needing to make it a business that works with that as well and that’s probably the biggest challenge.
“It is still probably the biggest challenge to professional rugby union as a whole – 10 out of 12 Premiership clubs don’t make money.
“We have to establish it and take it forward here. It’s a new challenge to me but I’m excited by it.”
McGeechan is eagerly anticipating linking up with Leeds Rhinos chief Brian McDermott after utilising plenty of advice from rugby league over the last three decades – he also met schoolboy hero Lewis Jones yesterday – but insists his coaching days are over.
“I’m going to be a sounding board,” he said. “I’m not going to be hands on and don’t want people thinking they should be getting out of the way.
“I’ve a font of knowledge though, boxes and boxes of notes, which the coaches here will be welcome to and if they need any advice I will be there.
“Some people might not know that I was a rugby league fan before rugby union.
“I played league at school at Kirkstall until I was 11 so it was great to see Lewis Jones here this morning, talk to him and just go through that 1957 cup final at Wembley when I was there and we beat Barrow.”
Making sure the club’s revered Academy continues to thrive is high in his objectives but also creating an environment which encourages the region’s top talent to remain in Leeds.
Alumni such as England internationals Tom Palmer, Danny Care and Jordan Care have all moved on due to the club’s tooing and froing between the Premiership and Championship over the last 11 years.
“We have definitely got the talent around Yorkshire,” he said. “We have to make sure we not only recognise it but give it the best advice and opportunity to come forward before being so good they don’t want to go anywhere else.
“I know how important (rugby) is here.
“I was born a stone’s throw from the ground at Kirkstall.
“I’ve already been down there to remind myself of what it looks like and seen the great training facility we have.
“When I went to Headingley as a youngster I was still at school but got a lot of help from a lot of people and ended up going to places that I never dreamed about.
“That was because all the time somebody was just guiding me or giving a bit of advice to keep doing things.
“If I can help now in any little way, so that someone else has the opportunities that I’ve had, then I’ll be hugely delighted.”
McGeechan, head coach on a record four Lions tours, enjoyed success at Northampton and Wasps where he won the Heineken Cup but, after leaving Bath last year, admits the White Rose had been calling.
“Yorkshire was never too far away,” he said, with Leeds’s opening Championship game at Nottingham on September 1.
“People always say that, with Scottish parents and born in Yorkshire, they’re still waiting for a drink from me!
“At the back of my mind, though, ultimately, this was always something that I wanted to do,” he added.
Paul Caddick has stood down as chairman to allow McGeechan’s arrival.
He said: “I’ve been chairman here for 16 years since Gary (Hetherington) and I came in together to join the rugby league and union clubs at Headingley.
“During the course of that time, clearly we’ve made some great decisions and some not so great.
“Today, this is a great one. To hand over to Sir Ian McGeechan is a dream from my perspective as I know the club is in the safest of hands given all his expertise, knowledge and background.”
Indeed, if ‘Geech’ cannot see Leeds Carnegie fulfil their potential, then seemingly no one will.