Deans’ resignation brought an end to a reign mired in controversies ranging from selection strategies to what one player described as the “toxic” environment in the camp.
While the Wallabies had some stirring wins during his tenure, including the 2011 Tri-Nations title and the World Cup quarter-final win over the then world champion Springboks, it was the losses that counted heavily against him and polarized support for his Wallabies.
The 48-year-old McKenzie and ACT Brumbies coach Jake White, who guided South Africa to the 2007 World Cup title, were long considered the leading contenders to replace Deans.
White said he had no doubt McKenzie got the job because he is Australian.
“It’s not a perception, it’s a fact,” White told Australian Associated Press. “You fired the cricket coach, put an Aussie in, fired the rugby coach and put an Aussie in. They’ve tried foreigners and I appreciate that. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree or disagree with it. That’s the nature of the game we’re in.”
McKenzie essentially gave the ARU an ultimatum in March when he announced his intention to leave the Reds to pursue a national coach assignment. His backers point to McKenzie’s ability to adapt a game plan to suit the talents of a team, rather than impose a rigid playing structure, as a key coaching attribute that the Wallabies need.
His appointment could see the return of former Test and Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper, whose Wallabies career appeared to be over after he complained about the “toxic environment” of the squad under Deans last year. He was later heavily fined for the comments.
Deans did not select Cooper for the three-Test Lions series, experimenting instead with the untried James O’Connor in the pivotal flyhalf position. The move backfired, with O’Connor struggling to consistently direct the Australian backline and getting himself into trouble off the field.
“When I was a coach and a player, I was there when the team was successful,” McKenzie said. “So I think I understand what it takes and the sacrifices you need to make to be able to be successful at that level.”