The Steve McCormack Interview

Current Scotland coach Steve McCormack is one of the game’s good guys. He is held in a very high regard within the game with current and ex-players, ex employers and friends all speaking about the gentleman Steve is on and off the field.

He began his coaching career early on in his life as he became Salford coach in 2001. Steve aged only 28 became the youngest coach in Super League. A record I still believes he holds to this day. His time at Salford ended after 10 months.

He then took over as Whitehaven coach for the 2003 season as Paul Cullen left the club to take over as Warrington Wolves coach. He took the club to its first league title and two successive grand final appearances.

Spells at Widnes, Barrow, Swinton and Gloucester have followed as well as now being in the Scotland job for over a decade. Steve now works for Wigan in the development section for the Warriors as he helps the stars of the future with their progress.

I had the pleasure of talking to Steve about his career, talking a part time club to two successive grand finals and the upcoming 4 nations preparations and more.

JW: Your first job came at Salford at just 28, becoming Super League’s youngest coach in the process. How did that job came about?

SMC: I was a health and fitness manager at Robin Park Stadium in Wigan, Andy Gregory used to come to the stadium every week to train. Greg asked me to do some sessions with the first team squad in 1995. Greg was a big hero of mine whilst growing up watching the Wigan teams he was a part of. The sessions went well and he offered me a full time position as skills coach and academy head coach. Fortunately we had a good couple of seasons both in the academy and first team and I progressed up the coaching ladder at Salford. Greg left and John Harvey came in as Head coach and I was made assistant. When John left I was offered the opportunity to become head coach and it was opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

JW: You left Salford not entirely on good terms, despite that do you remember your time at the Willows fondly?

SMC: To be honest I left Salford on really good terms. I had 7 good years at the club, I had some success with the academy and players coming through. It was a tough period during that time and I always knew if the club didn’t start winning straight away I could end up losing my job. I could have stayed at the club for a number of years but chose to step up to the first team. Looking back that period of time definitely helped me be a better coach both on and off the field. Steve Simms came into the club, recruited the players and decided to bring his own coach in. I loved my time at Salford and the supporters where always excellent with me. I always enjoy going back to the club. A few coaches have been and gone from the club since I left so hopefully now with Tim Sheens on board the club will have some stability.

JW: Your next coaching job came up in West Cumbria at Whitehaven. Your three seasons at the club was the most successful in its history. Only good memories?

SMC: My time at Whitehaven is something I will always be proud of. I met Barry Richardson and the board at Penrith and as soon as I came away from the meeting I was excited about the job. Whitehaven is not only a tremendous rugby club but a town full of hardworking, honest people. I can look back at my time at Whitehaven and say only good things about the area. The team I inherited had the potential to do really well and it was important to add a bit more quality to the squad and also spend time in the local community. The work ethic, culture and support we had from the whole community was second to none and this is something we had to keep improving every year. By the time 2005 came everybody was working together to put West Cumbria back on the rugby league map. It was a fantastic time for the club and one that my family and I will always be thankful of. I’ve obviously got some disappointing memories in the Grand finals but if I looking at the starting point in 2002 to where I finished in 2005 it was a fantastic journey to be part of.

JW: The final two seasons saw you have two grand final appearances and a league title. You beat full time Castleford to the league title in 2005. What was the key to the success in 2004/05?

SMC: Hard work and everybody being valued was the key to success in 2004/05. We were up against teams with a far bigger budget than us so we had to work harder than anybody else to have any success. The 2004 season was a turning point for the club. Whitehaven’s form had always been good at home but if we were to improve we needed to be better away from the Recreation Ground. We recruited some quality players such as Sam Obst and Mick Nanyn and they really bought into what the town and club wanted to achieve. It was a great season with Leigh and ourselves having some top games including an outstanding Grand final which Leigh won in extra time. The challenge for 2005 was to improve on 2004. Castleford were massive favourites to go back up to Super League. Similar to 2004 we had an outstanding league campaign. This enabled us to win the league championship and get Whitehaven’s first ever trophy. This was a massive achievement to be consistently the best team in the league considering the quality of opposition we faced. Castleford deservedly won the Grand Final with a convincing display against us, but the clubs achievements that year was fantastic.

JW: You always speak fondly of your time up in West Cumbria and how you and your family were treated, even returning to Whitehaven recently for an anniversary dinner. You’re held in a high regard. It must have been with a heavy heart to leave for Widnes?

SMC: As mentioned before, I loved my time in West Cumbria. Not only did we do well on the pitch, my family and I were really looked after. I have a lot to thank the Whitehaven club for. They gave me an opportunity to get back into coaching after I left Salford, created a great environment to coach at and also a great town to live and work. I still have many good friends at Whitehaven and always love going back when I can. Last month my wife and I attended the 10 year anniversary dinner and it was great to see everybody again. I couldn’t believe it was 10 years!! Going into the dinner it was still clear as to why we had some success. All the players, wives, backwoods staff, board and supporters were still exactly the same. Humble, friendly and very proud of our achievements.

It was a difficult choice to leave Whitehaven. I had a young family and I hadn’t spent a lot of time with them for 3 years. I felt it was time to move closer to home and when Widnes asked me to talk to them I was also aware that they were an outstanding club with great history and ambition. I remember walking around an empty Recreation Ground on the day I left. The place had given us some tremendous memories and I loved every minute of it.

JW: You spent a further three years at Widnes with a NRC victory over Whitehaven and two grand final appearances. Widnes are a big club with an extensive history. How did it feel to be a part of the set-up?

SMC: Widnes are a massive club that was definitely in transition when I took over. They had just been relegated and we’re looking to get back into Super League, to look at the previous coaches and history it was a privilege to be asked to coach the team. We needed to change the team and culture at the club. Widnes had some good professionals at the club such as Terry O’Connor and Mick Cassidy. They were great to have on board and it was clear to see why they had achieved so much in their careers. We had a slow start but improved as the season went on. By the end of the season we were playing some excellent rugby. During my three years I had two grand finals, a northern rail cup win, four different chairman and an administration. There was never a dull moment at Widnes and not many people knew what was going behind the scenes. Saying that, it was another great club to be involved in with tremendous support.

JW:You had “two spells” in charge at Widnes. After the 2007 you went to become Justin Morgan’s assistant you left nine days later to return Widnes. What went on?

SMC: Leading up to the 2007 Grand Final we had heard rumours that all wasn’t well with the finances at the club and a few players were looking to decide on their futures. Because of the uncertainty around the club a few players had decided to look elsewhere. We got beat in the Grand Final and the day after the club went into administration. The week after the game I was in camp with Scotland and Justin Morgan. We discussed an opportunity to be his assistant at Hull KR, Justin is an outstanding coach and Neil Hudgell had done a fantastic job building Hull KR into a Super League club. Steve O’Connor had taken over at Widnes and outlined his plans for the club. I accepted the Head coach position and we had to build the team up again from scratch. In October we had no players and looked at bringing some experience back into the club but also promote some of the young players at Widnes. In many ways, that season was one of the best we had at Widnes. Some of the young players really stepped up and the supporters got behind the team from the start.

JW: After a season at Barrow and then a year out of the game, you returned and had a successful speall at Swinton. Was your time at the club enjoyable as it was successful?

SMC: Yes it was again a really enjoyable club to work for. Swinton had underachieved for a few years and from the very first meeting with the players I made sure everybody knew the expectation was to win the league and not settle for mediocrity. That year the team was excellent. We had some good leaders like Ian Watson in the team and some good forwards in Phil Joseph and Dana Wilson. Similar to some of the other clubs I’ve worked at, the key was everybody working as hard as they could. The back room staff and supporters were brillaint and we achieved the league title with four games left to play. It was a privilege to coach at a club like Swinton with its history. The year after we did well in a tough Championship division and I’m glad the club are doing well now. I had a break from coaching due to looking after my dad who was very ill at the time and the support from everybody at Swinton was really appreciated.

Steve became head coach of the Scotland national side while at Whitehaven in 2004 and is still in the role to this day and is looking ahead to the 2016 four nations where Scotland will compete for the first time against Australia, England and New Zealand.

JW: The Scotland job came very early in your career and 11 years later you are still in the job. This time next year you will have completed Scotland’s inaugural four nations appearance. How has the experience been so far?

SMC: The Scotland job is something that I am immensely proud of doing and not something I take for granted. To coach an international team at any sport is a massive honour. I’ve been fortunate enough to coach in 2 World Cups and many European Championships. The good thing about working with Scotland is that unlike some of the other countries we are up against we don’t have massive resources. Considering this, the team has achievements over the last few years can’t be underestimated. The key to Scotland’s success over the last few years has been the stability of staff. Dave Rotheram is an outstanding assistant coach and the other backroom staff have made a massive impact to the team. A lot of work is done by volunteers and to be able to take part in next years four nations is testament to all the hard work that has been done over a number of years by a lot of people. Over the last two years we have got to the quarter final of the World Cup and won the European Cup. This year we made a conscious decision to pick a young team for the competition and even though the results didn’t go our way we gave many players the opportunity to play international rugby. Next year we are aware of the challenge and we can’t wait for the challenge of playing the best three countries in the world.

JW: Despite the beginning of the four nations being over 10 months away, preparations will be well underway for the competition. How are they going?

SMC: They are going well, planning started the day after we won the European Championship last year. Over the next two years we have the four nations and then the World Cup in Australia. We fully intend to put a squad together that will do well in both competitions. We have some outstanding established Super League and NRL players we can pick from and we have also had a good look at some of the younger players who are eligible. Last year myself and Dave Rotheram spent some time with the New South Wales squad in preparation for the second state of origin game in Melbourne. That gave us a great insight into what we will be up against next year. I am also lucky to work in a great environment at Wigan. Shaun Wane and his coaching staff set unbelievably high standards and expect success at every level. That’s the same culture we will be taking into the Scotland Camp.

JW: Best & Worst moment in club coaching & the Scotland Job?

SMC: Club best moment – Winning Leagues with Swinton and Whitehaven also the Northern Rail Cup success with Widnes.

Worst moment- four successive Grand Final defeats.

Best Scotland moment- Beating Wales in 2007 to qualify for 2008 World Cup. Beating Fiji at 08 World Cup. The 2013 World Cup quarter final and the European Championship 2014 success.

Worst Scotland Moment- Losing against New Zealand in the 2013 World Cup Quarter Final.


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Comments (2)

  1. Great man is Steve McCormack,never heard a bad word about him,not surprising.

  2. hes done ok for his sell but he normaly joins clubs who,s got the cash to splash at the time and he normaly does get a good team going. done good for the clubs going up the table etc, been unlucky in the GF,s.
    But a great fella on and off the pitch i must add

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