In leading University of Central Florida to the DI-AA National Championship in the spring, Jason Granich did something unique – he told his American rugby players to be the best stereotypically American rugby players they were capable of being, and to shut out criticisms about their style of play.
Granich, a Kiwi, found himself in charge of a team full of hard-running, hard-tackling, physically large and fit athletes who grew up playing everything but rugby. Instead of lamenting about the lack of kicking acumen or trying to get his players playing an “open style” or progressive form of rugby, he told them to do what they do well.
“We don’t kick the ball, so I asked them not to kick the ball and they didn’t,” Granich told RUGBYMag back in May. “The game plan was simple - stick to what we do. We’re great defenders, and our forwards just get go-forward ball, and they just run hard and straight all day.”
There’s a stigma to playing rugby that way nowadays. If you don’t emphasize quick ball, off loads, tactical kicking from hand, and an overall open style of play, you’re considered to be playing antiquated, caveman, American-football rugby.
The Knights, like recent DII National Champions Minnesota Duluth, didn’t apologize for being who they were, and Granich made sure they stuck to their guns, resulting in a Cinderella run to a National Championship.
Every other head coach at the DI-AA Final Four – Lindenwood’s Ron Laszewski, Western Washington’s Paul Horne and Dartmouth’s Gavin Hickie – is paid a significant salary and enjoys university and/or alumni support well above the norm in American college rugby. Granich doesn’t. UCF wasn't even allowed to practice on campus in the lead-up to the playoff run. Every other team at the Final Four relied heavily on foreign-born and trained players. UCF did not.
For overcoming the obstacles, expectations and the stigma of playing straight-forward, ball-in-hand rugby, UCF’s Jason Granich is RUGBYMag’s 2013 Coach of the Year.