I feel the time is right to pursue new challenges
Queensland Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie is set to launch a serious challenge to replace Robbie Deans as the Wallaby coach next year.
This follows the announcement that McKenzie has decided to pursue new coaching challenges "beyond Super Rugby" next season.
It was confirmed that he will leave Queensland at the end of the 2013 Super Rugby competition.
McKenzie is committed to completing his fourth season with the Reds, before bringing to an end his highly successful tenure - which delivered Queensland Rugby its first Super Rugby championship in the professional era and back-to-back Australian conference titles in 2011 and 2012.
However, with Deans' contract with the Australian Rugby Union coming to an end this year, the timing of McKenzie's announcement makes it clear that he is one of the front-runners to replace Deans as Wallaby coach.
McKenzie has made no secret of his desire to step up to the next level.
With Deans constantly under the spotlight as a result of the New Zealander's patchy record in charge of the Wallabies since 2008, there appears to be a viable local alternative for the Australians.
Deans has one last chance to prove his detractors wrong, when Australia take on the British and Irish Lions in three Tests as well as the usual tussles with the All Blacks, Springboks and Pumas.
However, McKenzie will now be an even bigger threat looming in the background, following the revelation that he is to quit the Reds to coach at Test level.
After amassing 119 Super Rugby coaching caps over a nine-season career with the NSW Waratahs and the Reds, McKenzie will become the most capped coach in Super Rugby history when the Reds play the Highlanders in two weeks' time in Dunedin on March 29.
McKenzie admits his long association with Super Rugby has played a role in his decision to pursue further challenges, but said the timing of the announcement was also important to provide clarity to the organisation, staff and players about the future.
"My experience at the Reds and with Queensland Rugby will be something I'll always treasure but I feel the time is right to pursue new coaching challenges outside of Super Rugby," McKenzie said.
"Anyone who knows me understands I have strong coaching ambitions and, after spending nine years coaching at a Super Rugby level, I'm excited about pursuing a different role either here or overseas.
"It was an extremely tough decision to make as I'll leave here at the end of the season with many great memories. But, I also feel the organisation is in a strong position to move forward and continue its success in future seasons.
"Knowing that the Rugby program is in a position of strength for the future does make the decision slightly easier as you know the culture and structures are in the right place.
"Having clarity for the future is also a positive for the organisation, the staff and the team and we can now move forward and focus on winning another championship this year."
Queensland Rugby Chairman Rod McCall was responsible for the appointment of McKenzie at the end of 2009 with McCall targeting a coach capable of turning around on field performance as well as the team's culture.
The decision paid immediate dividends and McKenzie took a side who had won just eight games during the previous three seasons to a fifth place finish in 2010, the team's best result since 2002.
McKenzie also created a winning culture in the young playing group and in 2011 the Queensland Reds produced one of sport's great fairytale stories by finishing on top of the Super Rugby ladder before going on to win their maiden Super Rugby championship in the professional era.
While falling short of their ultimate goal in 2012 of a second title triumph, the Reds continued to play at a high level and went on to secure back-to-back Australian Conference titles following an 11-win, five-loss regular season campaign.
Following the implementation of pre-emptive strategies designed to safe-guard the organisation Richard Graham joined QRU in 2012 as part of a new European-style coaching structure which saw him appointed as Head Coach for the Reds for the 2013 season and beyond while McKenzie assumed the role of Director of Coaching.
In the new role, McKenzie has continued to lead the Rugby program and has guided the Reds to three wins from their opening five games this season.
McCall praised the contribution McKenzie has made to Queensland Rugby.
"When Ewen joined us in late 2009 the Reds and Queensland Rugby were at a very low point," McCall said.
"Over the past four years, Ewen has not only been responsible for turning around the on field performances and attitude of the Queensland Reds, but he has also played an integral role in bringing success back into our organisation and to our wider code in Queensland.
"While it is always difficult to farewell a championship-winning coach, we have always known that Ewen had aspirations to coach at the next level. With that in mind we set about implementing a succession plan with the introduction of Richard Graham that enabled us to move through any transition smoothly.
"To be honest I thought we may have faced this transition a lot earlier but luckily we have had the benefit of Ewen leading our program for what will be four seasons.
"While everyone doesn't always cherish change, it is inevitable in professional sport that players and coaches will move on. It is how you deal with the changes that count.
"This season still represents plenty of challenges as evidenced on the weekend, and we expect the group to respond accordingly. Knowing Ewen as I do, I expect that he will want his time with the Reds to end on a high.
"We all wish Ewen every success for the rest of the season and also in his next coaching role next season."
Queensland Rugby CEO Jim Carmichael echoed McCall's sentiments.
"Ewen has built a wonderful legacy for Rugby in Queensland during his time with us and while we were planning for him to take on a broader Rugby role next year in managing major Rugby strategy for Queensland, outside of the daily activity of the Reds, we understand and support his ambitions to secure a new coaching role at the next level at the end of the Super Rugby season," Carmichael said.
"We believe by the end of this year's competition that Richard will have had the opportunity to learn our structures and processes and will be in a strong position to achieve future success after inheriting a talented list and culture, however there is still much to achieve in 2013."
McKenzie will this week equal Wallabies coach Robbie Deans's record of 120 Super Rugby games as coach.