AG Coaches Touch Down In Austin
The AGs 2021 coaches, Sam Harris and Mark Gerrard, have officially landed in Austin; turned in negative COVID tests, and cleared quarantine protocol. After two lengthy isolation periods and 20 hours in the air, the coaching tandem has their feet under them and jet lag in the rearview mirror. Over the next two weeks, Sam and Mark will set long laid plans in motion for a season unlike any before, and quite possibly, unlike any they’ll face again.
Both men have a two-week head start on their families’ flights from Sydney to Austin and a laundry list of to-do’s to sort through from a personal and professional matter to set the foundation for a successful start to their tenures in Austin. For what could have been a lonely and daunting mission to a new environment, both men have a distinct comfortability amidst their challenging new circumstances. Most importantly they have each other.
Sam and Mark have known each other for over half their lifetimes and followed very similar playing and coaching career paths. From the men’s club ranks on Sydney’s northern beaches to the professional club ranks with the Waratahs and on to assistant coaching positions with rival clubs in Japan, these guys have been in lockstep. “Sammy and I have done this before – moved into a new country and a new house with new staff and all, but in Japan – with a different language, no translators, and no Wi-Fi,” laughs Mark Gerrard. “This is better, and we have each other to problem-solve together. Sam’s like an older brother, I’ve used him as a sounding board my entire playing career and entire coaching career, so he’s been a huge asset to me on and off the rugby park.”
Landing In Austin
“It was a special moment flying over Austin and getting to see the city in all its glory and then we stepped off the plane to this 70 degrees Fahrenheit windless, beautiful winter’s day,” says a grinning Sam Harris. “I was like ‘really this is winter?’”
Sam and Mark gathered up their six suitcases each; second-guessing the winter they had packed for. The duo climbed into the pickup truck of General Manager Mike Ablett, a man they had shared hundreds of hours of Zoom conferences with, but only for the first time shaken hands.
“In a normal situation, a coach stepping off the plane wouldn’t know so much about what they’re stepping into,” says Harris. “But in the world we’re living in at the moment with Zoom meetings and constant communication in the lead up to the season, I feel like I’ve had so many conversations and begun building as intimate relationships as you can remotely.”
The men swung through the drive-thru and hurried off to their new homes. Only a quick rest to shake a bit of jet lag before furniture deliveries began setting off the doorbell like clockwork. The men worked through their to-do lists: get COVID PCR test (check), set up Wi-Fi (check), set up a family mobile plan (check). A few days’ quarantine and a negative COVID tests allowed the coaches their freedom and it was off to the AGs Headquarters straight away. “Today was the first time in the office, in the gym, and then down at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex,” says Harris. “I was really pleasantly surprised by the facilities, the gym was a lot bigger than I had expected, and we’ve got most of the big rocks to run a quality high-performance program here.”
The coaching duo is certainly off to a smooth start, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Sam and Mark are forecasting plenty of challenges. “We want to get our plans tight, and our training schedules and periodizations scripted, and booking times sorted, but it’s those roadblocks that we can’t plan for that keep me up at night,” says Harris. “So right now it’s Mark and I asking as many questions we can to get a sense for all the resources we can leverage for those ‘just in case’ moments that come in any season, but potentially more so in this unique season in particular.”
Family, Trust & Comfortability
In every Zoom conference with the team to date, Sam and Mark have made mention of team unity and ‘gelling like a family’, but potentially more important might be that Sam’s own family feel united and welcome to the Austin community.
A week before making the journey across the world from Sydney, Australia to Austin, TX Sam Harris’ wife, Hannah posted an introductory message in a community Facebook group she stumbled upon. Curious about what to expect in her new neighborhood she was delighted by the welcoming response from the group. “Within an hour she had 92 responses, the hospitality and generosity the community showed us off the bat was amazing,” Harris smiles. “So we kind’ve feel like we already know these people even though we haven’t gotten the chance to shake hands with them, but yea the introduction has been really good.” The family men have spoken at length about their desire to immerse themselves in the local community and Austin culture. And now, despite a certain level of Travis County COVID restrictions, the men will have their opportunity to do just that.
And so it begins for Sam Harris, Mark Gerrard, and the 2021 AGs.
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