WHAT’S next? That question was how West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin helped move his fictional President Josiah Bartlet onto a new topic.
His ‘what’s next?’ indicated he was ready for the next challenge, the next step, the next topic of conversation.
Yesterday was a good start for Rob Penny.
As introductions go the presentation of the new head coach along with the fresh additions to Munster’s backroom staff was impressive.
Niall O’Donovan, former forwards coach with Munster and Ireland, slots seamlessly into the wizened role of team manager – in fact given his credentials and background he is a far more comfortable and impressive fit than his predecessor was.
He’s also been with the next generation of player – British & Irish Cup squad – for the last two seasons and while he was quick to distance himself from any hands-on coaching role it’s a fair assumption he’ll have some input along this journey.
Simon Mannix has the background of playing and coaching in this hemisphere since 1996, has buckets of experience and, on first impression, has that gruff no-nonsense personality that will ingratiate him with the ambitious cadre of backs he’ll be in charge of.
By all accounts he’s so far been the quieter of the two Kiwi’s since taking up the reins on Monday but you get the sense that he feels he has finally reached the Promised Land – “since 1996 I’ve been watching Munster and the comings and goings religiously”.
As for the man himself, Rob Penney? To the manor born so far.
He uttered all the right soundbites – “I was a teenager then but vividly remember when Munster beat the All-Blacks” – and touched all the right nerves – “Munster’s profile and image radiates around the globe and should never be underestimated”.
Penney has arrived with a fantastic reputation as a coach of men and as a conduit between raw development recruit and effective professional first-team player.
In Canterbury he managed an academy that perfectly honed the skills of, among a generation of others, no less a fledgling than Dan Carter (Richie McCaw also came up through that academy).
And as head coach his four ITM Cup titles with teams fused together by a mix of youth and grizzled veteran make him (so far) seem a perfect fit for Munster.
And, impressively, he’s hit the ground running, already immersing and familiarising himself with how things work in Ireland.
“I’m used to adapting to having players come and go.
“The New Zealand model is very similar to the Irish model, so it is about building relationships. We had a great meeting yesterday and had a very open and robust discussion with Declan (Kidney) which was a great start for me personally.
“It is often when you get surprises that anxiety occurs or friction. I couldn’t speak highly enough about what the Irish boys said yesterday, to allow us an insight into what they are thinking.”
An impressive week’s work already sandwiched in for a man who only flew into Ireland on Saturday.
So, what’s next?
Tomorrow he has to sell his vision for Munster’s future to the senior players. Tomorrow is when he outlines how he wants the team to play, how he sees them contributing to his overall plan and gets an early indication of whether or not they’ll buy into his vision.
To be fair the process of convincing that most influential cadre is already in motion. It started when he met with Paul O’Connell in Limerick and then Ronan O’Gara and Doug Howlett in Cork during his visit for interview.
He outlined a rough blueprint during those meetings, and the word back then was that the players were impressed by Penney.
Now the next step is to sell it to the group as a whole.
“In terms of style I certainly have a way I want us to play. And it encompasses all 15 players on the pitch so you can gauge what that entails yourself really.
“But it is not only up to me. I will present it to the wider group of senior players on Friday and get their buy in and get the adjustments that they would like to make and have them involved in it.
“These things are only successful is everyone buys into it and we want everyone on board.”
Penney was assured, forthright and supremely confident in yesterday’s briefing. He’s been the same with the players since overseeing his first session in Limerick on Monday, putting them at ease and being inclusive in his plans.
He’s also clever enough to know that he can tap into the brains’ trust that operates within Munster, highlighting the experience and knowledge the likes of his captain Paul O’Connell will bring to line-out plays and forward moves.
Penney, Mannix and Anthony Foley will naturally be the ones steering the ship but, as Penney is clearly aware, those in the trenches can positively supplement plans formulated by management.
What’s next after Friday’s meet for Penney and his staff is the return of the Ireland internationals (senior and U20) to the squad on Monday ahead of their three game series (La Rochelle, Bristol & London Irish in August.
The two questions left unasked (and therefore unanswered) yesterday were what are his goals for next season?
And has he been set minimum targets?
Chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald has already highlighted that the Heineken Cup final is in the Aviva Stadium in 2013…the rest is unsaid.
No pressure then Rob?
Even though he wasn’t asked, it’s clear that Penney isn’t one fazed by pressure, implied or otherwise.
“Every coach is under a degree of pressure to get results,” he said.
“I’ve been in the game a long time now and philosophically if you spend the time growing and nurturing the group then can only do as well as they can do. If it is good enough it is good enough, if it’s not it’s not.
“From that perspective I don’t feel under any undue pressure, it is just a matter of me doing the best I can do by the group of players here and try and maximise their potential and try and grow the young ones and get the best out of the mature leaders that are fantastic contributors to this environment.
“If we can do that then hopefully the rest will take care of its self,”
A good start. Now, what’s next?