Dumped Panthers coach Anthony Griffin says he would go a “month or six weeks” without speaking to club General Manager Phil Gould, who denied there was ever a rift between the pair.
In a comprehensive and frank interview on Fox League’s NRL 360, Griffin conceded he and Gould “don’t get on” as he broke his silence on the Panthers’ decision to axe him as coach four weeks out from the NRL finals.
“I’m telling my side of the story because I think I have done an exceptional job with that club. And unless I set the record straight I will get no credit for it,” Griffin said.
“You can spin it as much as you want, but our relationship broke down on coaching philosophy. I’m a strong personality, he’s a strong personality.
“Gus hasn’t coached for 20 years. If anyone’s old school, he’s in that conversation.”
Confident in the job he’d achieved at the club, Griffin said he was warned by Gould before he joined that there was plenty of work to be done. And the ex-Broncos coach said the Panthers GM was “on the money”, with the first grade side “struggling, both physically and mentally”.
Overhauling the junior program — something he “enjoys as a coach” — Griffin said he took a holistic approach to the project, fine tuning the vast junior base into a quality operation.
“I was brought there to do that (develop) … I did that. There’s no question about that. We’ve had 16 debutants over three years. You’ve got to have the courage to play them. If they’re just going to sit on the shelf … again that doesn’t promote a real good culture within the place. When you start playing them and they start to play well it feeds on itself.
“To be in the position we are now … a genuine premiership contender this year. It’s a credit to everyone at the club and the players themselves. We got there quicker than what I thought.”
Criticised by Gould for being “old school” in his ways, Griffin was said to not involve other staff in coaching decisions, supposedly taking on too much of the burden himself. But Griffin defended his ways, citing his record.
“I’ve got my own methods. Part of coaching you’ve got to have a belief in yourself and your strengths. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I didn’t know what I was doing.
“The suggestion I didn’t involve staff is totally untrue. But the biggest issue we had … we had a difference in philosophy on how the team should be coached. Not the structure or the use of staff, or anything like that.
“To go from playing off for a wooden spoon, to finishing sixth, sixth and now genuine premiership contenders … If that’s old school, I’ll take that any day.”
The relationship show signs of strain during the pre-season. Rumours swirled that Griffin’s days at the club were numbered, and a public confrontation during half-time of a trial against a second-string Bulldogs outfit hinted that all was not well.
“Yeah, the blue in the tunnel … my whole focus of that game was getting my forwards to play 40 minutes. I couldn’t have given a f..k about the attack.
“Gus came in and listened to my speech at half-time. I walked past him in the tunnel on the way up to the coach’s box and said ‘how you going?’”
“He says to me: ‘You didn’t even f..king address the attack.’ I thought he was joking. I thought, he can’t be serious.
“The next thing I know I’m getting texts from a journalist about a fight at Belmore with Gus. I went to him to ask what he wanted to do about the story and he says ‘it never happened’.”
“I said ‘yeah, but it did happen’. That’s Gus. He wants to call me old school but I was never going to be subservient to him.”
Griffin continued to clear the air on his relationship with his former players, revealing a number had been in contact with him to show their support in the days following his removal from the job at the foot of the mountains.
“If you have that care for them, they come through for you. I know I’ve got the respect of the players and that’s what’s needed,” Griffin said.
“I’ve been in football a long time like Gus has, and I know when a dressing room’s been lost. I’m not saying every player out there is jumping out of his skin and happy to see me but I know I’ve got the respect of the players.
“If your goal’s to be popular every day in this business, you’re going to be terribly disappointed.”
Having finished at his second NRL club, Griffin said he’d been “wronged” and would like Gould to explain the real motivation behind his decision.
“He needs a reason to justify why he would sack a coach four weeks from the finals when the team is in a successful position,” Griffin said.
“I have been wronged by a club that I have done so much good for.”
“I did a good job. I have done a lot of hard yards and now I have got to go and find another job.”