Written by Joe Harvey
For his work in taking Old Glory DC from the foot of the Eastern Conference to the playoffs, Josh Syms has been named the 2023 Major League Rugby Coach of the Year.
Arriving in the DMV with an impressive CV, the New Zealander had been working wonders with the Hawke’s Bay Magpies in the Bunnings NPC and was undoubtedly the man to turn fortunes around with Old Glory.
In 2022, DC stumbled to a 4-12 record across the regular season, and just a year later, the team found themselves in the Eastern Conference Final.
“It is a huge privilege to be named Coach of the Year,” Syms said.
“Particularly up against so many quality candidates, the two coaches who were able to take teams to the Championship Final, in Danny Lee and Scott Mathie, who are fantastic coaches.
“So, a huge privilege and once I don’t take lightly. Ecstatic to receive this award in my first season.”
Ultimately finishing the regular season with a 7-1-8 record, Old Glory would finish third in the Eastern Conference.
Over 2023, all associated with Old Glory were able to experience almost the complete opposite of the season prior, as the team found themselves extremely competitive on the field.
When reflecting on the campaign, Syms is honest in saying that it was by no means perfect.
There were times when his team struggled. however, the determination of the group stands out in his eyes as the reason DC was able to enjoy a successful campaign.
“I think the resolve of the team and the organization was probably the most outstanding element,” Syms said.
“We were tested on numerous occasions, and we had a tough start with a bye in the second round, some challenging games with New York (Ironworkers, 34-8 loss) and New England (Free Jacks, 24-42 loss) early on.
“We had a three-game skid where we had NOLA (Gold, 17-20), San Diego (Legion, 48-26), and Atlanta (35-27) in a short return, and there were some tough questions asked.
“But the resolve of the side, the leadership of Jama (Jamason Fanana-Schultz) and Kyle Baillie, and the staff as a whole.
“Really, the most fond moments are those moments of resolve, as a coach, as a coaching group, and as a management group; being able to stick to our processes, and stick to the things we thought were going to make the difference.
“Those are the moments we look back on fondly. Obviously winning against New York up there, those wonderful moments, and being able to say to guys who are foundation members of Old Glory that Old Glory had made the playoffs for the first time, those are great moments.
“But, probably the fondest aspect of the whole thing is being able to look back at those moments of resolve and realize that if you stick to your processes and stick to your guns and what makes a difference, generally, it does work out.”
Following his successful campaign, Syms has set sail for new pastures. Now serving as the lineout and forwards coach for United Rugby Championship side, Zebre Parma, in Italy, the New Zealander will be helping Italian rugby’s growing dominance in world rugby.
To replace Syms, Old Glory has appointed Simon Cross to take the team forward.
Looking back, Syms has nothing but positive words about his time in MLR and does not discount a return to North America in the coming years.
“I loved my MLR experience,” he said. “I would come back, absolutely. American sports was everything I billed it to be, and I enjoyed everything about it. It is big, it is brash, it is bold. I don’t think MLR should ever leave that.
“I would love to come back. I am sure I will. The ownership of Old Glory were fantastic, and at this point, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Old Glory’s ownership and management for taking a punt on me.
“I would love to come back. I hope that I have left the league and Old Glory in a better position.”
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