In 2018, Darren Coleman was offered a three-year contract and a precise mission statement: turn the once great Gordon rugby club from cellar dwellers to champions. He accomplished his task in just two seasons, taking first grade from last to first and building a winning culture and wider club identity that has remained since his departure.
Coleman did the same at Warringah, is tracking towards another title with fledgling Major Leauge Rugby team LA Giltinis -- and now a disenchanted NSW rugby community will be hoping he can also work his magic with the Waratahs.
Officially confirmed as the Waratahs coach on a three-year deal on Thursday morning, Coleman -- or DC as he's known by players and fans -- has been on the road to a Super Rugby coaching gig for decades.
Described as an "intense, goal-driven person" by Gordon first grader James Lough, Coleman is known as a players' coach, a man who focuses heavily on building a culture and identity. At Gordon, Coleman's mission wasn't just about creating a winning first grade Gordon side, but creating a holistic culture within all four grades, colts and women's rugby.
Joining the club in the 2019 preseason, Coleman hit the ground running. The fitness sessions were brutal and the training was hard, but he never strayed from his messaging of "last to first".
He set up boot camps across the northern beaches and north shore, taking grade, colts and women's XVs and sevens players to Palm Beach, Manly Beach and Clifton Gardens in Mosman, all strategic locations within the club's closest rivals catchment areas. Once the season began he didn't let up, he continued the messaging and pushed for a mental shift within the club.
"If I sum DC up altogether he brought structure and professionalism, which was what we were really lacking," Lough told ESPN. "We were held accountable for everything you did, the reviews were detailed, he was calling on you constantly; it was very professional in everything he did.
"He made a point that Gordon isn't just the senior team any more, we had our women's teams as well coming through in the XVs and the sevens. It started with our preseason boot camps where he had the whole club there, from women's to colts to grade and he pushed us hard, for him that identity of inclusiveness is massive, and it was important for the players to accept that, they can't run away from that.
"There was a massive mental shift, we had to learn to win again. We had spent so many years getting close in an odd game or just expecting to lose and then going off and drinking our beers. He, along with some of the leaders, instilled in the team this expectation that there's nothing but winning and that really was infectious throughout the whole team. That's how you get the results of not just the first grade championship but third grade championship and a club championship."
While he's a hard man on the pitch, with high expectations for his players, Coleman also has a non-rugby side, a side that sees him take time out of his day to contact first grade players, lower grade players and former clubmen just to check in or have a chat, to see how they're going or to impart a little advice.
"He's got two sides, on his non-rugby side he's a great guy who takes time out," Lough said. "I know for a fact he contacted every single Gordon player, past and present from the last five years, he kept in constant contact with them throughout last season; checking in, seeing how they are, and so forth.
"He texted lower grade players, asking them how they're going, giving them points on where they could improve, it really inspires those guys.
"Then you flip the other side and he's a very intense, goal-driven, structure-driven personality; he's very direct in how he runs his program, he's not ashamed of how he runs his program and that's how we found success. He's an intense person but a great person at the same time who gets results."
In a journey that's taken him from NSW's Mid North Coast to Sydney, across to Canada, Japan and the USA, Coleman's finally been rewarded with a role Gordon President Matt Glascott believes was long overdue.
With Gordon on its knees, Glascott hired Coleman in one of his first moves as president. He had an enviable rugby resume and had turned Warringah around only a year earlier. Glascott gave Coleman three years to build a semi-professional program, recruit first grade players, revive the culture and win a Shute Shield premiership.
"From my point-of-view he knew how to turn a club around, he did that at Warringah, he knew how to win, so he knew what was required," Glascott told ESPN. "He had a great track record; he's coached Super Rugby, he's coached overseas and he's won Shute Shield premierships, his experience was second to none. There's not many coaches running around Shute Shield that have his experience; he shouldn't have been Shute Shield, he should have been coaching Super Rugby and higher by that time.
"Gordon was at its lowest it had been for some years and coming into the club as president I knew something drastic was going to have to happen in order to turn the club around quickly. I made a plan and part of that plan was to go out and get the best first grade coach I possibly could and that was DC.
"To turn around the club in such a short time was remarkable. Bringing that belief to the players, not just first grade, but to guys across the whole club. People were re-energised and started to come around just from the moment he was brought to the club.
"He created a great culture and identity within the club, which is incredibly important when you're trying to win and build a winning culture. You need great communication and great leadership."
With a growing discontentment between Shute Shield clubs, grass roots rugby and NSW Rugby, Coleman's appointment is seen as a first step in healing the fractured relationship. For many it's a sign players and coaches will no longer be overlooked and the gap between Shute Shield and the professional sphere will finally be bridged.
"Absolutely, 100 percent there's confidence in the system now," Glascott said. "Someone coaching the Waratahs understands grassroots rugby right through the Shute Shield and into NSW Waratahs.
"Every other coach who's come from overseas doesn't understand the local rugby landscape and it's such a valuable part of coaching, it takes you years to understand people in the rugby teams, not just the Waratahs and their academies, but also across Shute Shield and the country areas -- DC coached the [NSW Country] Eagles.
"There's a whole lot of positives that'll come from having a local talent, a local coach, someone who's coached in the Shute Shield for a number of years, to step up into that role. He gets it, he understands it, and I have no doubt that NSW and the Waratahs will be richer for having that experience."