Update: At the end of 2018 Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle hired Scott Johnson to rein in Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Now Rugby Australia’s new CEO Andy Marinos, who was coached by Johnson at Wales, must decide whether or not to keep the well-travelled figure as director of rugby.
It can be revealed that Johnson’s contract with RA runs out at year’s end.
Johnson wants to continue in the role.
Get all the latest rugby news, highlights and analysis delivered straight to your inbox with Fox Sports Sportmail. Sign up now!!!
But it comes at a price.
RA, in a desperate attempt to rein in Cheika ahead of the last World Cup, paid Scotland Rugby up to $150,000 in compensation to get their man out of the final months of his contract.
One source described it as a ludicrous decision to pay Scotland out for Johnson’s services.
On top of that, Johnson is getting paid an estimated $400,000.
Various sources had indicated the DOR was on a contract worth as much as $700k, but it’s understood that figure was too high.
Both Johnson and Wallabies coach Dave Rennie are believed to be in contracts that add up to Cheika’s $1.2 million contract, which was signed following Australia’s 2015 World Cup final result by then CEO Bill Pulver.
Even still, Johnson’s price is a hefty price for a cash-strapped union.
But, according to one former Wallabies coach, the role of director of rugby, a “conduit” between the Wallabies and the states, as well as the pathways to the club system and under-20s, is important.
The issue is RA has a number of figures within their organisation which overlap.
Under Johnson sits Rennie, but in the operation side of the business is Adrian Thompson (national head of talent management), Nick Taylor (contracting manager), Ben Whitaker (high performance, professional services), James Selby (community) and Chris Webb (Wallabies manager).
All the while, Marinos, unlike his predecessor, has experience in a number of those positions having served in roles for the South African Rugby Union where he worked as GM for Commercial and Marketing as well as Springboks team manager, manager of South Africa National Teams and Acting Managing Director and Board Member.
Johnson is a mysterious figure.
Everywhere he’s gone his legacy has been tarnished by the fact his record as an interim head coach is a poor one.
When a void needed to be filled at Wales, he stepped up for a short time.
Ditto in Scotland.
But his role as DOR has gone well beyond head coaching.
Yet, the 58-year-old has found a niche role where he does very little hands on coaching and so the issue of accountability inevitably arises.
Johnson is considered a good, though odd guy, and a big thinker.
He throws up contrary views around tactics.
It’s understood former Wallabies coach John Connolly thought of him as a capable assistant coach having been thrust into the job following Eddie Jones’ sacking.
He watches training sessions at national and provincial level from the sidelines, rarely getting hands on with anyone.
Nor has the fact the vast majority of the Wallabies coaching structure, including Johnson and Rennie, living almost 1,000 kilometres north of Rugby Australia’s headquarters at Moore Park gone down well with anyone.
Since moving on as Wallabies coach, Cheika has said he should have resigned as soon as Johnson was appointed.
But it’s understood he was so desperate to coach the Wallabies through to the World Cup that he agreed for Johnson to come on board.
Varying sources say Johnson tried to keep at arm’s length from Cheika, acknowledging the Wallabies was his team and ultimately, as his selections against Wales showed in their crucial World Cup pool match, he got his way.
While Johnson’s appointment was a patch job to try and rein Cheika in, his role goes beyond the Wallabies and selection.
Asked whether he wants to remain in the role beyond 2021, Johnson said he did.
“My preference is [to stay],” Johnson told foxsports.com.au.
“I travel around the world but I stay at places for a long time too. I just leave when I can’t add to it.
“Australian rugby’s been good to me. It’s giving me great opportunities in life for a young bloke from Parramatta that’s lived around the world. It’s been an honour to be in my job. And if people want me to stay, I would look at it favourably because the job’s not finished.
“My view is the job’s not finished that I came back to do. The job’s not finished and I’d like to finish the job.”
Pressed on when he thinks the job will be complete, Johnson didn’t mince his words.
“When we’re number one in the world and we’ve got winning teams. It’s pretty simple,” he said.
At the heart of his job is getting the alignment of the pathways through.
As he says, “when we’ve got alignment from top to bottom, that’s when we’re at our best place.”
Johnson has seen the Queensland Reds as his baby since returning to Australia.
He swooped in on Tim Walsh’s efforts to bring James O’Connor back to Australia with the Olympics, which were scheduled for 2020, as the avenue for his return.
Walsh got Cheika on board too, which would see him eligible for selection at the 2019 World Cup. But Johnson believed if O’Connor was to play for the Wallabies he had to play Super Rugby.
O’Connor has been a revelation for the Reds since.
Johnson also believes he’s played a crucial role in securing Australia’s best young talent from the relatively successful Junior Wallabies side that lost in the under-20s World Cup final.
In truth, Reds General Manager Sam Cordingley deserves much of the credit.
But the re-emergence of the Reds after almost a decade of inept results might show Johnson’s influence rubbing off.
Ensuring the Waratahs don’t take as long in their rebuild will be, if he’s given the time, Johnson’s true test.
After all, Australian rugby needs wins and they don’t have any loose change to waste.