Simmons sacked for being too brazen
In becoming the third successive West Indies head coach to be fired, Phil Simmons was arguably the most outspoken.
Described as the “right fit” by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) when he was appointed in March 2015 on a three-year contract, Simmons would eventually encounter a rough passage with his fellow selectors and the WICB Director of Cricket, Richard Pybus.
Simmons was brazen – contrasting sharply to his immediate predecessor Ottis Gibson, like Simmons a former West Indies player, and John Dyson, the former Australian batsman.
Dyson was sacked in August 2009 after 21 months of a three-year contract, while Gibson was also an August victim, in 2014.
Barbadian Gibson, a former fast bowling all-rounder, had been in the job since February 2010, and had signed a second contract, which was expected to end in February 2016.
Dyson had differences with the captain and team manager, while reports suggested that Gibson was a victim of the dressing room.
Like Simmons, Gibson was preparing for a series when he was fired.
Despite warnings about his behaviour, which included a suspension last September, Simmons did not back down. A few months ago he made it clear that he and Pybus communicated through emails. Something had to give.
Having all sides of the story will never be easy. Yet, one wonders if Simmons allowed arrogance and sentiment to get the better of him. His timing of arranging camps ahead of a major series also came under the microscope.
Following the recent four-match Test series against India in the Caribbean, which West Indies lost 2-0, there were rumours that he would be fired soon. With the WICB having a Board meeting in Dominica last weekend, it was just a matter of waiting for confirmation.
And as the West Indies Twenty20 squad prepared to leave the Caribbean on Tuesday evening to play against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, the WICB announced his firing just after 4:30 p.m.
Let’s look at the background to Simmons’ appointment and how events unfolded.
Six months into the job, he was suspended for comments in the media, which appeared to question the legitimacy of the selection process of the One-Day International squad for a tour to Sri Lanka.
He was reinstated two months later for the Test tour to Australia but matters again came to a head during the Test series against India.
For Simmons, September is not a month to remember as it relates to punishment from the WICB. His suspension, announced last September 28, stemmed from a media conference at the 3Ws Oval as West Indies were wrapping up a one-week camp.
Clearly unhappy with the exclusion of the experienced all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard – both from his native Trinidad & Tobago – for the ODI tour to Sri Lanka, Simmons said there was “interference from outside”.
He later apologised and described his actions as “a schoolboy error in a moment of madness”.
At that time, Simmons said Bravo and Pollard had backing from him and the then chairman of selectors, Clive Lloyd as well as the Test and ODI captain Jason Holder, who does not have a vote.
But he even went further by stating that he and Lloyd were outvoted 3-2 in a selection meeting with the other selectors being Courtney Browne, Courtney Walsh and Eldine Baptiste.
It is accepted that by exposing the vote, Simmons would have brought the entire selection panel into disrepute.
When he was reinstated in November, the WICB said it was conditioned upon issuance to him of a letter of reprimand for his inappropriate public comments, and Simmons making a public apology to the WICB and persons whom he may have offended.
Even after he was reinstated, well-placed sources revealed that Simmons still showed strong opposition to the selection of a couple players, both on the tour to Australia as well as the series against India.
In late June, Lloyd was removed from the selection panel (he had been chairman since August, 2014) with Browne taking over as chairman, while Lloyd is to be a special ambassador for the WICB from October 1.
Walsh is no longer a selector as well, having been appointed the Bangladesh bowling coach for three years, effective September 1.
Back in May, Simmons was instrumental in having Estwick join the technical team as bowling consultant, replacing outstanding former West Indies fast bowler Sir Curtly Ambrose for the Tri-nation ODI series in the Caribbean, which featured Australia and South Africa.
It is understood that during the badly rain-hit final Test against India in Trinidad, there was a meeting of the WICB cricket committee of which Simmons is a member but he was not invited. Hence, further signs of what was in the making.
Now, in its release relating to his firing, to be told by the WICB that there were differences in “culture and strategic approach” can be somewhat mind-boggling.
Simmons came to the job with credentials, which were well spelt out by the WICB. They talked about his eight years of “unparalleled success” with ICC Associate team Ireland, and said he was “the outstanding candidate” among seven people interviewed for the job.
“We are thrilled with the appointment of Phil and we believe he is the right individual for our team and our region at this time, so we want to welcome him back home.
“Phil has a proven ability to develop players, while cultivating great team spirit and a winning culture. We have a number of young, talented players about whom he is excited to be coaching and we believe he is the right fit,” said WICB Chief Executive Officer Michael Muirhead.
“Phil has impressed us with his understanding of the current realities of West Indies cricket and his ability to articulate practical examples and strategies of things that could be implemented within the team to improve performance.
“His independence of character and his resolve to stand up for what he believes in were also qualities that convinced us that Phil was best suited to usher the West Indies team into a new era of success,” Muirhead said.
Apparently such colourful language proved to be Simmons’ undoing.
Simmons, who played 26 Tests and 143 ODIs for West Indies as a top order batsman and medium-pacer between 1987 and 1999, had acknowledged that it was difficult to leave Ireland, but coaching the West Indies team was too good an opportunity to let pass.
“West Indies have a tremendous history and prestige in the game, and I am honoured to have to have been given this opportunity to be head coach,” he said.
“There is an abundance of young talent coming through the ranks and to be able to assist with the development of the future playing talent in the West Indies is fantastic. I can’t wait to begin and I am looking forward to starting work with the players.
“I am excited to be beginning this new chapter in my coaching career and to have the opportunity to create a winning culture.
“West Indies have a huge following across the world and I have great admiration for the passion fans show for our team. We are determined to give the supporters the brand of cricket and the level of success that we are all looking to achieve.”
So how do the dismissals of Dyson, Gibson and Simmons compare?
Though the WICB only sent a terse release on Dyson’s dismissal, it was revealed two days later by Garner, then a WICB director, in a live radio interview with yours truly, that there were disagreements between former West Indies captain Chris Gayle, manager Omar Khan and Dyson.
“There are debriefings and all these sorts of things that go on after every tour,” Garner said.
“It is one of the things that happened where the manager, the coach and the (former) captain disagreed and from the reports that we had, it was obvious that it wasn’t working and it was decided to part company with Mr. Dyson now, rather soon than later,” Garner said.
In the case of Gibson, he had received a telephone call at the weekend informing him of his axing on the eve of a series of three One-Day Internationals, two Tests and a one-off Twenty20 International against Bangladesh, but the WICB did not announce it until two days later.
Informed sources said Gibson was probably asking for too much power in the selection of the team.
Simmons, too, could not get his way with the players he wanted among other issues. He said so publicly and was hammered.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com