Phil Simmons had been overstepping the crease with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) for some time.
That’s the indication given today by the outgoing West Indies Cricket Board’s chief executive officer Michael Muirhead, who sought to explain the rationale behind the board’s decision to send Simmons packing yesterday.
Muirhead told Cricinfo there was no one specific reason for the termination of coach Phil Simmons’ contract, nor was it a sudden development. Muirhead explained that Simmons’ vision did not “align” with the strategic approach of the WICB and the divide widened over the past few months, reaching a point where a final decision had to be made.
The decision to relieve Simmons of the job was taken by the board of directors at the quarterly WICB meeting last weekend in Dominica. It is understood the directors were asked to vote on the matter, but Muirhead would not reveal whether it was a unanimous decision to terminate Simmons’ contract. “It was the board’s decision. Let us leave it at that,” Muirhead said..
Asked whether it was his appraisal that eventually led to the decision, Muirhead did not reveal much. “I hired him, so therefore I have to release him but that is on the recommendation of the board,” he said. He did point out though that the WICB and Simmons had been deliberating on quite a few contentious issues behind the scenes. “The coach has an opinion and the board collectively had another opinion, and that had happened on more than one occasion.
“It is a whole number of things over a period of time. I can’t say it was really one thing. There is no one thing that defines what may have taken place. I think things came to a climax when a decision needed to be made.”
Simmons’ track record as West Indies coach was mixed. Appointed after last year’s World Cup, the high points of his tenure were West Indies’ draw at home against England last summer, and the World T20 win in India in April.
Importantly, the players seemed to be on the same wavelength as Simmons. But Muirhead and the board of directors remained unconvinced. “Ultimately it is performance of the team, and we want the team to perform the best it can do,” Muirhead said. “Was it [doing so] is a question that is still unanswered.”
Technically, Muirhead was not Simmons’ boss. That was Richard Pybus, the WICB director of cricket. Simmons had mentioned in an interview that he and Pybus were not on the same page. “Relationship is a difficult word,” he had said of Pybus, soon after the World T20 triumph. “He communicates via emails but he has not spoken to me since the suspension. It’s sad because this is not about him or me, this is about West Indies cricket.”
At last weekend’s meetings, the board discussed several reports including the “Cricket Report” submitted by Pybus and the CEO’s report prepared by Muirhead. Pybus’ report was an overall review of cricket across the Caribbean, not limited to the West Indies teams and coaching staff.
Reiterating the lack of alignment in strategies, Muirhead said: “It has been an ongoing thing where I think Phil, in all that he has said and done, he has not aligned… the relationships were breaking down. I think he himself had ideas for a different strategic approach, notwithstanding one already having been approved and adopted by the board. I don’t think he was aligned with that.”
In a media release yesterday, the WICB pointed out it had identified “differences in culture” as one reason behind the friction between both parties. Muirhead elaborated: “The other thing was the work culture was a little different. It was how we do business, how we execute things. It was an organisational culture. It was not the difference in ethnic culture as has been pointed out elsewhere.”
Muirhead said he had had conversations with Simmons, and he had to intervene on quite a few occasions to resolve issues. The last time they had met was about two months ago, he said. When he called Simmons yesterday to reveal the board’s decision, he said the chat was “cordial” and not “hostile” in any way.
Muirhead pointed out it was a “matter of coincidence” that Simmons’ termination was announced the day the West Indies limited-overs squad left for the UAE to play Pakistan. “The sanctions and other things could not be discussed without the board meeting. We have board meetings every three months, where we discuss everything including the performance of the teams and the coaching staff.”
Meanwhile Simmons’ sacking has brought swift condemnation in some quarters. Former captain Darren Sammy, who was himself dumped by the selection panel, said the recent WICB symposium with players and administrators in Florida was a “publicity stunt”.
Sammy posted on Facebook: “After the publicity stunt in Fort Lauderdale, the first so-called plan to move West Indies Cricket forward is to fire the coach just two days before a tour… just prove to me what I already knew. If the blind leads the blind they are bound to fall in a pit.”
Fans on social media did not attempt to hide what they thought was the motivation behind the changes. Both Sammy and Simmons have publicly criticised the WICB; Simmons on the eve of 2015 tour to Sri Lanka and Sammy during his speech after the 2016 World T20 championship final.
One group dubbed West Indies Cricket Fans Association (WICFA), with a membership of over 2000, dedicated much to the topic.
One contributor wrote, “I know the tenure of Cameron (WICB president Dave Cameron) and his ilk will end and a new administration will take over but I hope that by then the damage wouldn’t be so great that we cannot recover in quick time. These guys are so selfish that they can’t even see the damage they’re causing to West Indies cricket.”