AUSTIN GILGRONIS ANNOUNCE NEW COACHING HIRES: SAM HARRIS & MARK GERRARD
AUSTIN, TX (June 25, 2020): The Austin Gilgronis is excited to announce the hiring of head coach Sam Harris and assistant coach Mark Gerrard to pursue the AG’s next championship title; carrying the momentum the club’s 2020 MLR Virtual Championship into the 2021 campaign. This coaching tandem brings a wealth of rugby knowledge to Austin from their playing and coaching careers in the Japanese Top League, Super Rugby, Wallabies, and the NRL.
“The opportunity to coach in the biggest sports market in the world is a childhood dream realized, says Harris. “My singular focus now is leading the AG’s and their loyal fans to glory,” says Harris.
Harris’ first hire as AG’s head coach is the club’s newest assistant coach, Mark Gerrard. As lifelong friends and accomplished Australian footballers, Gerrard and Harris have followed similar career paths from youth teammates to illustrious ‘code-hopping’ professional careers. Today, the two are ecstatic to reunite in the coaching ranks of Major League Rugby.
“Mark was at the top of my priority list. His talent and hunger to develop into a high-level coach is undeniable,” says Harris. “Mark has played at the pinnacle of rugby and has been coached by some of the best rugby minds in history. Within a coaching group trust is a major component of successful environments, I know I can count on Mark.”
Loyals Rugby’s CEO Matt Burgess speaks highly of the AG’s newest coaching team. “We have found an incredible leadership team in Sam and Mark,” says Burgess. “Their energy is infectious and I know they’ll craft a special legacy for themselves in Austin, MLR, and contribute toward an already impressive growth trajectory of rugby in Texas.”
Burgess looks forward to the new team carrying the torch and building on the momentum of the 2020 season staff. “Sam and Mark will have the freedom to build their own Championship-winning squad, and they benefit from a lot of hard work by the 2020 coaching staff,” says Burgess. “We are very grateful for the contribution of those individuals during a very dynamic introduction of our ownership to the franchise.”
Sam Harris: A Man of Many Trades
Harris was raised in the beautiful northern beaches of Sydney. He grew up loving all things sport; and while he made his professional breakthrough in both rugby league and union, it was a childhood dream to play American sports in the NBA or MLB. He once dreamed of hitting home runs like David Justice, and to this day idolizes Michael Jordan.
In 2000, Harris found himself on the radar of several Super Rugby teams after being awarded the Ken Catchpole medal (Sydney Club Rugby MVP) with his junior team the Warringah Rats. A year later, he signed his first professional contract with the Waratahs.
The star-studded Waratahs roster and coaching staff was a great initiation into professionalism. After a successful two year campaign and two caps with the Australian A team (coached by Eddie Jones), Harris was courted by the NRL and found a new home with the Manly Sea Eagles.
Three years with Manly and one season with the West Tigers earned Harris selection to the City Origin team in 2004.
After four sensational years playing league, Harris was yet again itching for the next challenge which he found back at the NSW Waratahs. At the Waratahs he was given license to use his attacking flair, mainly playing center or filling in at fly-half.
Then Japan’s Honda Heat came calling, and Harris opted to broaden his cultural and playing horizons again. Harris helped the Heat to a successful season as the shot-caller flyhalf, a campaign that saw the Heat win the top east competition and promotion to the top league. In Japan, Harris grew an appreciation for the Japanese culture and the rugby landscape; but realized he still had unfinished business in Super Rugby. Harris shipped off to Perth with the Western Force where chronic knee pain forced him into early retirement.
Wasting no time, Harris jumped straight into a head coaching position with the club that provided him so much, the Warringah Rats. “It was a baptism by fire as the club was at the initial stages of a rebuild,” says Harris.
Returning to familiar places started to become a habit. Honda Heat once again saw potential in Harris’ coaching ability and brought him back to kick start his professional coaching career in helping an underachieving team. Instant success followed, with Honda’s ascension to the Top league. “Suzuka will always have a special place in my family’s heart,” says Harris.
Staying in Japan Harris moved to the blue-collar Ricoh Black Rams. There he designed a tough and uncompromising defense system. He then transitioned to attack coach and enjoyed the exposure to both big roles within the club. Living in Tokyo was great to explore during his 3-year posting. Ricoh is such a family-oriented and loyal club filled with great personalities.
Harris also had the fortune of working with the Wallabies for a week a year in the lead up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. “Japan taught me the values and virtues that will stay with me for the entirety of his coaching career,” says Harris.
“‘The next challenge’ is always something that excites me, but finding that challenge in a place that feels home to me is the common thread of all my stops,” says Harris. “I’ve found that in Austin, and I couldn’t be more excited about the group we’re putting together to face the challenge ahead.”
Mark Gerrard: Energy Unmatched
Gerrard sits atop the list of the best young coaching commodities in the world and brings with him to Austin a breadth of playing and coaching acumen.
With the AG’s, Gerrard will work side-by-side with the club’s new head coach and lifelong friend, Sam Harris. The two followed similar playing and coaching career paths and speak fondly of their opportunity to reunite in the budding American league.
“I fully believe that my colleague and close friend Sam and we own similar philosophies and coaching systems on and off the field,” says Gerrard. “We’re both totally driven to deliver a winning team to Austin,” says Gerrard.
As a player, Gerrard tallied 523 points in 158 professional rugby appearances in Super Rugby and Japan’s Top League. Gerrard represented Australia at the international level 24 times and wore the Australian jersey many more times as a standout in the under 19 and under 21 international tours.
In 2018, Gerrard retired from an illustrious 17-year professional rugby career and immediately found a role coaching in Japan. In 2019, Gerrard returned to his home club in Warringah as the club’s head coach. Gerrard earned praise amongst coaches, players, and pundits alike for injecting fun and optimism into the semi-professional setup which prides itself on developing club players into professionals.
Gerrard carried on the winning ways for Warringah after the club’s meteoric rise to title contention under now LA Giltinis coach, Darren Coleman. In 2019, Gerrard exceeded expectations in leading the Warringah side to the Shute Shield final; earning himself coach of the year honors at the Ken Catchpole awards banquet.
Gerrard was at one point linked to the Waratahs coaching shortlist, but will instead follow the path of former Warringah head coaches (Darren Coleman, Giltinis) & (Sam Harris, Gilgronis) to the MLR.
“What a great opportunity for my family and I to live and experience one of the greatest cities in the world,” says Gerrard.
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