John Daggett leads pair of rugby teams to undefeated seasons in Barrie

 DAVID MANN, Special to the Examiner

Georgian Grizzlies men’s rugby head coach John Daggett was recently named 2016 male coach of the year by Rugby Canada. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER

Georgian Grizzlies men’s rugby head coach John Daggett was recently named 2016 male coach of the year by Rugby Canada. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER

Even John Daggett couldn’t have drawn up the rugby season he had on the pitch in 2016.

The Barrie Sky Blues and Georgian Grizzlies men’s head coach led both of his teams to undefeated seasons.

The Sky Blues capped off their year by winning a promotion game to send them from the Toronto Rugby Union to the Ontario Rugby Union, and the Grizzlies finished by capturing their first-ever Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) gold medal.

Daggett’s list of accolades doesn’t stop there.

He was named coach of the year by the OCAA, Rugby Ontario and, most recently, Rugby Canada.

Daggett said all of the achievements came as a surprise.

“When I got the call for the one (coach of the year) about Rugby Canada, I had to pull the car over and take a minute because I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Daggett began his coaching career in Orillia, and then later served as a coach in Toronto. In 2012, Daggett was named head coach of the Georgian team and, in 2015, head coach of the Barrie squad.

The quick rise Daggett has made on the sidelines still baffles him.

“I was out west with my wife the other week for the award and telling her that six to eight years ago I was coaching in Orillia, playing at the lowest level (of rugby) you can play at and to think now that I’m getting all of this recognition, it’s great,” Daggett said. “I’m really humbled.”

The first time Daggett ever picked up a rugby ball was during his Grade 9 year at Lawrence Park high school in Toronto.

He remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I was walking down the hallway and the rugby coach. An old Irish guy, CC Moody, poked me in the chest and said three o’clock today after school you’re going to meet me on the pitch and you’re going to learn to play rugby,” Daggett said vividly.

“I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know what a pitch was, I didn’t know what rugby was,” he added. “That was the first practice I went out to.

“I was hooked.”

Ever since that moment, Daggett hasn’t been able to stay away from the game of rugby. His playing career spanned from Lawrence Park to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay to club rugby in Toronto.

Daggett finally made the transition from player to coach in Orillia, and it’s his father who has inspired him most to become a coach.

“My dad all through my hockey days was my coach and I saw how much enjoyment he got out of it and being able to pass that knowledge along and the passion and enthusiasm,” he said. “Rugby was my game, I wanted to do that.”

You don’t have to ask Barrie Sky Blues captain Mike Alcombrack twice about the kind of influence Daggett has had on him in rugby.

“A little bit of a patience. I’ve never had a coach that’s coached me in my leadership,” said the longtime Sky Blues forward. “He’s really taught me to take a look at the process as well as the end goal.

“From a technical and theory side, he’s really challenged me to think the game through,” Alcombrack added.

Always organized, always on time and always willing to show you rather than just tell you how to fix your mistakes, Daggett has had a plan since Day 1 when he took the helm of both rugby organizations.

“I think we had two pages of things we wanted to change and we might have only got a few of them done- goal setting, accountability, and seeing the bigger picture,” Daggett said.

The record improvements that both teams have seen every single year that Daggett has been their coach are simply results of what’s been re-established in each club.

“The coaching staff led by him completely changed the club culture and product on the field. It’s amazing,” said Alcombrack. “Any time you to know John he just sort of brings that presence.

“He’s just a natural leader; people want to play for him because he inspires you.”

Expectations have heightened for 2017, the Barrie Sky Blues begin their season in May playing against more competitive rugby teams in the Ontario Rugby Union, and the Georgian Grizzlies return to the pitch this fall with a huge target on their backs as the reigning OCAA champions.

Daggett is confident in the players he has coming back to both teams to carry on this momentum.

Aside from performance on the field, Daggett’s greatest mission as a rugby coach is simple.

“We want good young athletes who are good young men.” 

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