In the results-oriented business of college sports, longevity in the role of head coach is a rarity. One poor season can be grounds for dismissal, while only the most fortunate of coaches can avoid termination after repeated less-than-desirable years.
There is a way to avoid having to start the search for a new school, and that is to win. Easier said than done of course, which is why long tenured coaches are in the minority. One who has more than embraced the winning motto, however, works right here at UVic: men’s rugby head coach Doug Tate.
After taking over the reins of the UVic rugby program in 1993, Tate has spent the last two decades molding the Vikes into one of the most successful rugby programs in the country. His numerous accolades include back-to-back Canadian University Championships in 1997 and 1998, a pair of B.C. Premier League Championships in 2003 and 2010, and, most recently, the prestigious National Invitational University Sevens Rugby Championship in 2013.
While the championships are always special, some of Tate’s fondest memories during his tenure are games in which his team was shorthanded, but came together to battle through for a victory. “The ones where the guys are away: the national team guys get picked up from our program and they’ll be away. It gives some of these other guys opportunities to play,” Tate explained.
“During the semifinal for the provincial championship one year, we only had 17 players, basically. And we beat a team that had been in form,” Tate recalls—one of his fondest memories. “To win that semifinal and go on to win the provincial championship, games like that where you’re the underdog, sometimes the guys surprise you.”
Another of Tate’s major triumphs is his ability to transition Vikes players from the university to international stage. While at times it has meant Tate has had to go into games shorthanded, he is extremely proud of his national team players’ accomplishments.
“They’re from everywhere. They’re not just B.C.-based players,” says Tate, explaining that UVic has the reputation to draw the best players from around the country. “When they come here, they’re pretty committed to getting better. We have an advantage in that we can play eight months of the year, so they get more opportunities.”
As with any good team, Tate also praises a strong focus on practice for getting the most out of his players. “We develop a culture that we all practise together, so players that are up-and-coming are practising with national team players,” said Tate. “I’m a big believer that you not only need to practise, but practise with the best players to get better.”
Tate’s involvement with international rugby goes beyond supplying Team Canada with players, however. He also has coached several Canadian teams abroad, including being at the helm of the national rugby sevens squad, as well as guiding Canada’s berths in the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games.
As if his work with the Vikes were not enough, Tate is also the man in charge of the UVic’s First Division team, the Norsemen, and UVic’s development team, the Jutes. The gruelling schedule could be enough to drive any coach mad, yet Tate has found a way to balance the trio of teams successfully.
Tate is a firm believer that a team is only as good as its development system, which is the reason he is committed to putting in the extra hours. “We’re only as strong as the guys are below us. Sometimes the senior players don’t get as much of my attention as they should, but it’s a sacrifice we have to make.”
Managing playing time is also a major role of Tate’s, and can be one of the most challenging. “We have U-20s, and picking the right games to bring them up, not throwing guys in too early, sometimes they’re not ready physically or mentally to play at that level,” says Tate.
Adding to Tate’s legacy in the rugby world was his time spent playing the game. A varsity player for the UBC Thunderbirds, Tate went on to play internationally for Canada in the 1980s, including a memorable trip to Argentina to battle the fellow western hemisphere powerhouse.
Like any sport though, the game of rugby has undergone some serious changes since Tate’s playing days. “Rugby’s changed so much. It’s a much faster game, more physical, much like hockey, football, any of the collision sports,” Tate explains, on rugby’s evolution since he started coaching at UVic.
The game has changed off the field as well. “The physical preparation has become a big part of the game. You have more access to the other teams through video and stuff like that too.” And, like in any environment, adaptation is key to survival. “You have to constantly reinvent yourself. If you don’t you get left behind,” concludes Tate.
The Vikes are putting forth another strong season this year, going 6-3 in the first half of the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League.
As for his future with UVic, while he may not have another 20 years left in the tank, Tate has no plans to go anywhere soon. “I think 10 is a more realistic goal,” Tate says of his remaining years at the helm. “There’s obviously lots of stuff still to do here, our job is to develop players to their maximum potential, and if victories come with that, that’s a real benefit.”
Tate would like to be remembered not for his pursuit of championships and victories, but rather what he could get out of each player that comes through the Vikes rugby system. “We’re sort of a unique sport in that a lot of guys go on and play 10 years after they leave university, whereas in a lot of other sports they don’t, at least not at a high level. Our job is to try and get them to that level and make developments,” says Tate of his star players.
Knowing that every man plays his part on the team, Tate has plenty of praise for his role players as well. “On the other side of that, there are some players here who are very academic, and their aspirations might not be the national team. But, they still contribute a lot to the university and they become some of our best alumni,” said Tate.
Tate and the Vikes will return to the field, pursuing their Premier League dreams on Feb. 15, when they host Burnaby Lake at Wallace Field.