The USA U20 men's team has been a source of intense questioning through American rugby this fall.
The normal - or at least most successful - cycle in previous years has been for a head coach to be named and confirmed in the summer, allowing the staff to set up schedules and team philosophy and recruit players. Given that players have to give up time and money, as well as (often) classroom time or time with their existing teams, to play, it is vitally important that the U20 program have an organized face and plan before the fall.
This didn't happen in 2013, as questions remained as to whether Jason Kelly would return as head coach after the USA finished last in the Junior World Championships and were relegated back to the Junior World Rugby Trophy (a roller coast ride that teams such as Samoa, Canada, and Italy are also all to familiar with).
In fact, the early preparation didn't happen in 2012, either, as Kelly was named relatively late in the process and stated later that he was under a time crunch to plan the buildup and communicate with players. Most observers woulds agree that the continuity and planning of the 2011-2012 season under Scott Lawrence was the ideal.
USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville said there will be a winter camp around the Christmas holiday, as is usual. That camp will be run by a group of coaches who have been involved in age grade rugby before, and could include Kelly, as well. However, Kelly will not return as head coach. Melville is looking at two candidates to run the team in the spring at the JWRT in Hong Kong.
So this is a different approach - with the camp and tryout process being handled by one group, and the actual game coaching handled by someone else. This despite the fact that many observers equate USA age-grade success not with a change in on-field tactics or game plan, and more with organization and continuity starting in July.
Already the U20s are up against it, as the JWRT will be held in April, right in the middle of the college and high school seasons, and right in the middle of classes. Melville said he has tried in vain to explain to the IRB that schools, and parents, don't just smile and say "have a nice time" when players say they have to take most of a month off to play in a rugby tournament.
"Education is important, college are important, and college trumps playing for the USA U20s," said Melville - outlining what he is trying to tell the IRB. "Players could mess up their grades if they take that time off. So we're looking at more non-college players who are more flexible and accessible. We're looking at the moment how to do that."
When the USA held the JWRT in 2012, they held it in July, and the USA won. It remains an option for the USA to drop out of the JWRT entirely, but that won't sit well with the IRB.
"It's a difficult age for us," said Melville.
Still, Melville said there is a plan for a winter break camp, and a plan to have someone run the program starting in January.
Still, any new coach will have an enormous amount of work to do in a short period of time to get a team on the field for April in Hong Kong.