As was the case with the player upheavals, the Golden Lions Rugby Union went through some rough times before finding the right coaching combination.
In the past week the hard work of the last two years were rewarded with a number of titles and decorations.
The Lions scooped three categories at the South African Rugby Union's annual awards ceremony this week, after ending 12 years of heartache when they beat the Sharks (42-16) in the Currie Cup Final last week.
They were named Team of the Year, their coach, John Mitchell, was awarded the Coach of the Year title and their captain, Josh Strauss, was named Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year.
Not surprising then that GLRU President Kevin de Klerk will jealously guard his union's winning combination - especially their coaching staff.
De Klerk, in Part Two of his exclusive and all-encompassing interview with Rugby Rugby, spoke about the backroom staff that helped turn a near bankrupt entity into one of the country's most popular outfits.
De Klerk has made no secret of the fact that he will not easily release the head coach, Mitchell from the remainder of his contract.
The same goes for the rest of the backroom staff.
"Carlos [Spencer, the backline coach] has been signed on for the same period as [John ] Mitchell [head coach], as well as Wayne Taylor [conditioning coach] ... they are with us till the end of 2013, with options to renew," De Klerk told this website, adding: "Johan Ackermann is also there [as forwards coach]."
Although Mitchell has repeatedly been linked to a Bok coaching shortlist for 2012, the Lions mentor told this website that he is not available.
"I will not apply," was Mitchell's forthright answer when we spoke to him about a position to be vacated by Peter de Villiers in December. When asked for a reason, he simply said: "I'm not prepared to share that."
Asked about the unbelievable energy created by the coaching team, De Klerk waxed lyrical about his backroom boys.
"That energy has been building, and you could see that flowing over into the spectators last weekend [at the Currie Cup Final].
"It has been a while since we have seen the stadium [Ellis Park] so enthusiastic."
De Klerk believes the real value of Mitchell is in his management style.
"Plaudits to John [Mitchell], he also surrounded himself with the right people," the Lions President said.
"Wayne Taylor, the team's conditioning is from the top shelve.
"I also think here of Carlos Spencer, a quiet, unassuming guy, but he does his job with the minimum of fuss. His [Spencer's] experience helped a lot," De Klerk said of the 35-Test All Black.
"Our medical team, and Johan Ackermann with the forwards, who all did unbelievable work - it was certainly a collective effort."
But it was not always smooth sailing, certainly not in the first year.
Back in mid-2009, just before De Klerk arrived at GLRU headquarters, then coach Eugene Eloff was forcefully removed from the position.
His successor, Hans Coetzee, saw the team suffer a record 10-74 loss to the B&I Lions in his first match and managed to win just seven of their 14 Currie Cup matches, finishing a lowly sixth on the eight-team tournament.
De Klerk admitted that they had to go through the pains of getting the right coaching structures, making a few mistakes along the line - with Hans Coetzee, Dick Muir and finally Mitchell all taking charge of the team between June 2009 and July the next year.
Mitchell, in less than 18 months, has completely transformed the team.
"We used Jake White's winning ways," he said of a costly short-term exercise that yielded very little results.
"Then we used Hans Coetzee, who achieved some success," De Klerk said, adding that Coetzee was thrown in at the deep end and may have lacked the experience required at the time.
"Given, his first game was against the B&I Lions, where we suffered a huge hammering.
"After that I was brought in.
"He [Hans Coetzee] made progress, but with all respect to Hans, he did not have experience at that level and his strength has always been the juniors, where he is back now, and achieving success again," he said of the Lions team that won the SA Under-19 title last week.
"We realised [back in 2009] we needed the experience of a coach that has been at Super Rugby level ... which is where John Mitchell came in.
"However, it was a process that we had to go through."
De Klerk felt it is worth pausing and recognising the role Coetzee still plays within the union's structures - having ensured the Lions won two of the three most important provincial titles in South Africa, the Currie Cup and U19 competitions.
"Credit to those junior coaches and the value they add to the union," De Klerk said, adding: "Hans Coetzee's talent identification over the years has always been outstanding.
"He was involved in schools rugby for years, he knows and understands young players and knows what he must look for.
"Look at the young locks he fetched [from other provinces - Ettienne Oosthuizen, Leopards age-group teams since 2003, and Ruan Botha, Falcons age-group teams - both who were members of the SA U18 High Performance squad in 2010].
"In that regard he has done a great job for us. In fact I believe that Under-19 team will develop into a great team one day."
The 'talent spotting' doesn't end there.
The Cronje brothers, the Sharks halfback pair Guy and Ross, will also move to Johannesburg for the 3013 season. The Lions have also recruited a second set of brothers in scrumhalf Whestley and centre Bradley Moolman, who represented the Leopards and Bulls U21 teams respectively this year. Other signings include more senior players like Maties duo lock Stephan Greeff and hooker Callie Visagie, while lock Hendrik Roodt also joins after spending the year with Griquas.
While the Lions' Under-21 team did not win anything, or reach the Final, De Klerk believes they can be proud of the progress they made in 2011.
"The Under-21 did not do too badly, losing in the semifinal, which is something [reaching the play-offs] which hasn't happened in years.
"The Bulls had the better of us [in the U21 semifinal], with the six Currie Cup players they brought back in.
"You have to keep in mind that our Currie Cup-winning team had players like Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute, who still qualify to play Under-21 ... imagine what a difference they could have made to that [junior] team."
By Jan de Koning
* In Part Three of our interview we talk with De Klerk about administrative issues - including some 'right-sizing' currently underway.
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