Ford touches down for new role in USA

WELL-KNOWN local rugby personality Mike Ford has touched down in America for a new adventure.

The 52-year-old is excited to be involved in the launch of a team in Dallas that will be part of the Major League Rugby.

It is far removed to Ford’s last two jobs that were coaching Bath in the Premiership and Toulon to runners-up spot in the French Top 14.

Mike Ford, centre, with sons George and Joe

Ford, who is director of rugby, board member and shareholder in the new Dallas Griffins’ franchise, does not see it as an issue working at a lower level developing players after agreeing a three-year deal.

He said: “It doesn’t matter whether you are coaching in the Premiership, Championship or in an amateur league, it is about understanding players and to get them to the next level which is one of my strengths.

“The criteria for a good coach is to be able to cut your cloth and many people will have forgotten I coached Dukinfield RUFC for five years.”

Ford, who will retain a base in Diggle, was persuaded by Phil Camm, the British-born Dallas chief executive, to come on board.

He said: “I’d been talking to Phil about this project for some time. The challenge really excites me to be involved with the formation of a new club, something you would rarely get the chance to do in England or Europe.

“Phil sold me the idea that was not just rugby, but building a franchise. I am a board member so that will give more strings to my bow.”

Ford, who previously lived in Grasscroft, has been working with his squad since January.

“The players have their own clubs and trained twice a week with us. When I go back they will be with us permanently,” he explained.

Major League Rugby was launched this year with seven teams and for 2019 is expected to rise to 10 with Dallas making its bow along with New York and Los Angeles.

After watching the debut season, which runs from January to May, Ford was impressed, adding: “The standard of rugby was better than I expected.

“There were no cricket scores and the games were competition, probably of mid-table Championship here.”

Ford added the 20-game American season is far removed to Bath were it was around 40 matches.

Dallas are negotiating to build a new 5,000 capacity stadium with the provision it can be extended quickly to 10,000-12,000 if needed.

He said: “Seattle Seawolves won the league and averaged 5,000 which is roughly the same as Sale Sharks.

“Houston Sabercats, who are also talking about building a stadium, had 3,500 for their first friendly.”

Teams can recruit five foreign players, but Ford believes Dallas’ focus will be to develop home-grown talent in a 35-strong squad that will have 15 full-time players.

He said: “The league already had a television contract straightaway that took the game into homes which we are happy about.

“We have to keep doing things prudently and sensibly and take it step by step, very much like Major League Soccer has done.”

Ford believes the potential is enormous in Dallas, pointing to a seven million population and they already have the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA, Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, MLS side FC Dallas and ice hockey team Dallas Stars.

“If we managed to attract only one per-cent of the population that would be 70,000 so the potential is staggering,” he said.

Ford admitted it has been great to have a more relaxed approach and there are “different pressures” than at the highest level.

He said: “In my last game at Toulon we lost to Clermont in the final of the French Top 14 and I had to explain the loss to 120 members of the press.

“For the last 35 years, since I was 17, every weekend I had to win and people looked at the paper for results to see whether Mike Ford failed or was a success.”

Ford added his almost one full season at Toulon was a great experience and he would not rule out a return to the French Top 14.

He said: “I moved to France as I wanted to do something different. I had a squad of world-class players of all nationalities.

“I had to learn the French language and culture which was a challenge. When you get a challenge you only improve as a person and professional.

“It was great to live on the coast. I am continuing to learn French and would be happy to go back to coach as there were no negatives.”

• Ford’s sons George and Joe, both former Saddleworth Rangers’ juniors, are preparing for the new Premiership season with Leicester Tigers.

He says it is a massive year for George as England prepare for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

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