Jack Gibson: 'Greatest ever' rugby league coach

Jack Gibson was arguably the greatest rugby league coach in the history of the game. The innovations he brought to the code during his long career with various Australian clubs made him indisputably the most influential mentor of his generation.

Although he is most often associated with Parramatta's hat-trick of Australian titles – the Winfield Cup (as it was then) from 1981 to 1983 – he had begun to demonstrate his ability to transform teams and individuals long before that.

A rugged front-rower with Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs and Newtown, Gibson played once for New South Wales and was considered unlucky not to have been selected by Australia. It was when his playing career ended, however, that he became a pivotal figure in the development of the game.

His first coaching appointment was at Easts in 1967 and his first season there marked him out as something special. The previous season, the Roosters had set an unwanted record by failing to win a single match; in their first year under Gibson, the same group of players reached the play-offs. They did the same the following year, as did St George, two years running, when he took the reins there. Even humble Newtown, a club long past its peak, became contenders under his tutelage and reached the semi-finals at the end of his season in charge.

The legend of Jack Gibson, the master coach who could coax hitherto unseen qualities out of players, was taking shape, but it took a return to Eastern Suburbs, the club he always regarded as home, to add substance to the myth.

In 1974 and again in 1975, the Roosters won back-to-back Premierships, the first time they had achieved that in 40 years. By this time, the extra elements that made Gibson uniquely successful were firmly in place. He was the first to look outside the game and outside the rugby league-playing nations for new ideas on how it should be approached.

From the late Sixties onwards, he was making trips to the United States to study training techniques in American football. It was in the States that he found out the advantages that could be gained from video analysis and the intensive use of match statistics. Wayne Bennett, his only rival for the title of the master coach in the code, put it like this when he heard of Gibson's death: "He changed the face of our game. That's his greatest legacy – he brought it out of the Dark Ages."

Gibson put a new emphasis on the importance of meticulous preparation, of identifying mistakes and working to eliminate them; the antithesis of the old school approach, under which the coach saw his main function as ranting and raving on match-day. His philosophy was best summed up by the title of his 1989 book, Winning Starts on Monday.

The one place where his approach failed to work was at South Sydney, during a two-year stint at the end of the Seventies, but his great era was just around the corner.

Parramatta was a club of unfulfilled potential when he took over, never having won a Premiership; in Gibson's three years, they won it three times. The side he inherited was considered at the time an uncomfortable mix of grizzled veterans, like Bob "The Bear" O'Reilly and Kevin "Stumpy" Stevens, and unproven young players.

In three years under Gibson's influence, those novices – players like Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Steve Ella and Eric Grothe – became household names. Not only did they make Parramatta the best club side since the all-conquering St George of the Fifties and Sixties, they were also the backbone of the Australian team that was unbeatable for most of the Eighties.

Underneath a gruff, sometimes intimidating, exterior, Gibson was a caring, concerned individual. That was particularly the case after the death of his son, Luke, from a drugs overdose. Luke was a schizophrenic and his father was a tireless worker for mental health and drug abuse charities. He was also the master of the pithy, sometimes enigmatic one-liner. When the Eels won their first title, for instance, his speech to their jubilant fans consisted of six words: "Ding dong, the witch is dead."

He could be a controversial figure, implacable if he felt his team was being treated unfairly, as he frequently felt it was by the game's highest-profile referee, Greg "Hollywood" Hartley. Equally, he was hard on players who let their team-mates down for want of discipline.

Despite his success, Gibson left Parramatta after the 1983 triumph. He was not a believer in staying anywhere for too long and three years was just about his limit when it came to dealing with any club committee. He had only modest success with his last club side, Cronulla, and a mixed record as coach of New South Wales, losing his first State of Origin series but winning his second.

By then, his legend was completely secure, not least because of the way that coaches he had nurtured, like Wigan's John Monie, had carried on his legacy and his methods. On the day he died, the Australian Rugby League fêted the team voted the best in their positions over the last hundred years. The coach of the century was Jack Gibson.

Dave Hadfield

Jack Gibson, rugby league player and coach: born Kiama, New South Wales 27 February 1929; married (three sons, three daughters, and one son deceased); died Waterfall, New South Wales 9 May 2008.

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager required, S...

Bookkeeper -South West London - £25k - £30k

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering