THE last time Pat Lam left a high-profile rugby job, the circumstances were very different. Sacked by the Auckland Blues in 2012 after winning just four out of 16 games, the Samoan’s coaching career had hit rock-bottom.
The criticism in New Zealand was rough and he suffered “racial abuse”. Worse still, his rugby life was encroaching on his family’s private life: his four-year-old daughter one day opened the door to television cameras and a media pack thirsty for headlines.
The fact he was jobless for seven months, and had five children and his wife, Steph, to support, made it easier to lure him to the West of Ireland.
The philosophy and foundation laid by Eric Elwood at the club encouraged him to move to Galway but providing for his family was equally as important. He went from zero to hero in four years.
Now he’s leaving Connacht Rugby early after an unprecedented successful stint but motivations are the same: Bristol’s rugby ambitions chime with his values and vision; and they have the cash that will allow him to secure his family’s future.
Lam is no mercenary but, of course, the money helps. He has reportedly signed a contract with Bristol worth between €500,000 and €750,000 annually, which would make him one of the highest paid coaches in the Northern Hemisphere, even greater than most international coaches.
“I’ve never ever been about money,” insisted Lam, flanked by Connacht CEO Willie Ruane and full back Tiernan O’Halloran at Wednesday’s press conference in which he explained in detail why he has chosen to trigger the get-out clause in his five-year contract and move to the struggling Southwest of England club at the end of the 2016/2017.
“The offer allows me to look after my family, and to continue in a coaching environment very similar to Connacht and that inspires me,” he said.
Lam revealed that he had been head-hunted by another club last year but he turned down the offer because he felt he wouldn’t be able to look Elwood, and others, in the eye if he had left after just three seasons.
Much has changed in the interim. Lam guided Connacht to win its first ever trophy, and in some style, with an historic PRO 12 final victory last season. Before he arrived, the province had never finished higher than seventh in the league.
Waving a copy of Connacht’s ‘Vision and Strategy’ document, which he developed with other key figures in Connacht, Lam said he was leaving long-term structures in place that will outstay him.
On Monday, after dropping the bombshell to his management and players, Lam had a private meeting with hooker Tom McCartney, whom he worked with in Auckland and persuaded to come to Galway.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.