Paul Holmes: Ohio Aviators, Tiger Rugby Coach re PRO Rugby, Doug Schoninger, Allegations

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Paul Holmes is the founder of Tiger Rugby & 1823 Rugby, Assistant Coach of the Ohio Aviators, USA U20s & Falcons Coach and successful international businessman.  After seeing our interview with Pro Rugby Organization (PRO) owner Doug Schoninger, Mr. Holmes felt compelled to weigh in on the unfortunate PRO Rugby vs USA Rugby situation and the allegations, filings and grievances being levied.

RWU: Paul, as you know, PRO owner Doug Schoninger sat for a lengthy interview with us about all-things PRO and your name came up. What is your take on what Mr. Schoninger said and his referencing you, re San Diego Breakers’ #9 Tom Bliss’ contract situation. Here’s the quote “We want to build up the game in America with our dollars. We don’t need to be paid by American dollars and American fans and American sponsors to go to England to build their game. That’s not the plan. It was never the plan, speak to Paul Holmes, he understands that was never the plan from the beginning – as he represents to me.”
Holmes: In re to what Doug said regarding contracts, any 12-month players were to be available to PRO twelve months of the year, inside and outside of the season. During the off-season they were to train in a high performance environment and play within the club structures of USA Rugby – as long as those clubs were approved by PRO Rugby. I personally didn’t have any dealings with contracts. However, due to having many Tiger Rugby Academy players contracted, I asked a lot of questions, which made me familiar with what the expectations were. With regards to the player contract situation of Tom Bliss in which Doug referenced me, I have no idea of what his contract states or doesn’t state.
RWU: Are you saying that the Ohio Aviators coaching staff was in line with and aware of Mr. Schoninger’s position that all PRO players had a 12-month commitment?
Holmes: I can only speak for myself, but we were all made aware that all United States-based players, that had a 12-month contract, had responsibilities that carried through the full term of the 12 months.
RWU: But Mr. Bliss was not a USA-based player, so would he possibly have had a different arrangement?
Holmes: I would hope in his case that he had a different arrangement because we were always told that players had to be present and available for the Pro Rugby Organization. In hindsight, he should have had an in-season contract, like some of the other of the league’s internationals. But again, I am not familiar with the specifics of his agreement.

RWU: As an influential part of the Ohio Aviators, and a vital component for Head Coach Paule Barford, with whom you worked tirelessly with, how do feel about the disbanding of the SF Rush and coach Paul Keeler filing with the the Labor Board in CA for approximately 14K in salaries and expenses owed?
Holmes: On the surface it’s pretty bad for Pro Rugby and it certainly doesn’t instill any confidence for any of the other teams or the potential growth of new teams. However, we have to understand that there may be circumstances that we are not aware of and Pro Rugby is a professional entity. Doug Schoninger is trying to run a business, and in business not everything runs smoothly.
RWU: But you’ve got some exciting things going on in the Columbus area; the stadium being built in Obetz, Tiger Rugby Academy & 1823 Rugby, and the potential development of a rugby-specific, state-of-the-art training facility. Some might argue that  you’re not slamming Mr. Schoninger like you should be… that because these things are in the works, it’s beneficial for you to not burn bridges.
Holmes: Tiger Rugby was here before Pro Rugby and will continue regardless of the operations of PRO or any other professional league. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve invested in the game is the USA, players in the USA, long before Pro Rugby was even thought of. As it sits right now, though, with many invoices outstanding, I would have to decline being involved in season two.

Paul Holmes, Eamonn Hogan, Paule Barford.

RWU: Okay. What are thoughts then, re your fellow Aviator’s coach, Eamonn Hogan, apparently filing a grievance with USA Rugby for not getting paid?
Holmes: My feeling is he should be paid in full and Eamonn not being paid is unacceptable.
RWU: Do you have any idea why he hasn’t been paid or how much he is owed?
Holmes: I don’t have any idea about either of those. Eammon is being very professional in not discussing the terms of his contract, nor has he said one bad thing about PRO to me.
RWU: How do you feel about USA Rugby’s response to Mr. Hogan’s grievance and those of others that have filed?
Holmes: What has the response been? They’ve been pretty silent.
RWU: Do think that is an appropriate response?
Holmes: I believe all these matters should be dealt with between the parties involved. And matters of business between the Pro Rugby Organization and whomever files the grievance, should not be made public.
RWU: But one could argue that approximately 115,000 paid members of USA Rugby have a right be informed.
Holmes: Well let me clarify: If it’s an issue within the membership, like a ref or player on a club level filing a grievance for something, than that should be made available for the the membership. But when it comes to a professional matter involving a third party, that should not be made available.
RWU: But doesn’t lack of transparency inhibit a player, coach, ref or vendor from coming forward? What about empowering an individual or entity as via a strength in numbers?
Holmes: If I had a problem with PRO, I have two ways to deal with it: go to USA Rugby or go through other channels like the media or courts. But if I do choose to use the USA Rugby grievance route, it should be private. That’s just my opinion.

RWU: Changing gears, what is your take on the invoking of early termination clause of all PRO contracts on the part of Mr. Schoninger?
Holmes: I believe it is unacceptable if the players that are affected have done nothing wrong.

RWU: How do think this will all play out?
Holmes: I believe in the product of Pro Rugby North America. I also believe that what we did last year – from an on-field playing perspective – was pretty remarkable. I hope that PRO and USA Rugby can work through things, so that our players will be able to keep having a better and more competitive environment. I do believe Doug Schoninger’s vision is good for USA Rugby and a lot of credit needs to go to him for funding the start-up of professional rugby in America and having the vision of what that could look like. Also, a lot of credit should go to Steve Lewis for creating an environment for players, coaches and the USA Rugby community to enjoy and witness the highest level of rugby in America on a domestic level. What Doug and his staff of two – Steve [Lewis, Director of Rugby] and Assistant Everything, Dom DeFalco, pulled off was pretty remarkable considering it had never been done before. And for those of you wondering… I am NOT currently on the PRO payroll.
RWU: That makes two of us… What is the most disappointing aspect of this development?
Holmes: The fact that we are sitting where we are at the moment with this cloud of uncertainty. While I don’t agree with everything, particularly when it comes to people being owed money, it’s important to note that what Schoninger owes right now is a pittance of what he’s invested. And everyone is talking about what he owes and not what he’s spent.
RWU: That’s not a very popular thing to say, you know.
Holmes: I know it’s not popular but at the end day, Pro Rugby North America was a huge positive for the rugby community in the States and Doug Schoninger/PRO and USA Rugby can come to good agreement, then i believe that Doug should have our support in continuing the league.

Steve Lewis & Dom DeFalco

RWU: With all of the above going on, do you think a PRO year 2 is even possible at this point, with all the public infighting and apparent distrust emanating from both sides?
Holmes: I believe anything is possible, however, all outstanding money issues need to be resolved.
RWU: Here’s hoping… Thank you, Paul.
Holmes: Any time. Thank you.

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Matt McCarthy comes to from their partner in the USA, RWU and MTM feature a stable of diverse contributors, with coverage that is both serious and with a wink. Find him on twitter: @Matt_McCarthy00