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Bradford Bulls: Francis Cummins and his quest for knowledge
Sir Alex Ferguson, Richard Cockerill and Gary Hetherington.
Three wise men who have presided over significant success at sporting institutions in Manchester United, Leicester Tigers and Leeds Rhinos.
Francis Cummins has met them all, the latter two since taking the helm at Odsal, and last Wednesday he visited Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers at the club’s Melwood training ground.
The Bulls coach’s desire to further his education and tap into the ideas, methods and philosophies of some of the country’s most respected coaches and administrators is to be applauded.
“If we improve lots of the little things then the bigger things will start to happen too,” Cummins reasoned.
“I don’t make any excuses for doing it, I don’t mind being a magpie of anything.
Francis CumminsBradford could be the most boring team in the league and that might get us a handful of wins but Brendan wants to play the game the right way and I have a similar philosophy with my team
“I’ll go and look at what other people are doing and I’ll blatantly steal it, copy it or adapt it to what I feel works best for our club.”
Goodness knows the Bulls have endured some lean times in recent seasons and failure to finish in the top eight in 2013 would make it five years outside the play-offs.
But Cummins’ boundless energy and quest for continual improvement can only bode well for the club’s on-field prospects in the coming years.
Cummins talks constantly of the need for his men to “invest in their careers”
and his willingness to look outside of the box is indicative of his underlying philosophy.
It has to be remembered, of course, that these kind of cross-sport relationships are commonplace.
Former Bulls coach Steve McNamara has met with Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Roy Hodgson and developed a close friendship with England Under-21s boss Stuart Pearce.
But not every coach is willing to look outside of his own sport.
“I’ve got other people in business and the church who I can talk to as well,” added Cummins.
“It’s the same thing, it’s about dealing with people.
“If we can make players better people as well then we will achieve. I’ve got lists of other people I’d like to see.”
What in particular attracted Cummins, a boyhood Manchester United fan, to head across the M62 and meet the manager of their bitterest rivals?
“There were a couple of things that really interested me with Brendan,” he explained.
“He won promotion with Swansea but it was the way they played when they came into the Premier League.
“They didn’t kick it down the field and hope they might get the odd goal.
“Their style of play very much interested me because there is a lot of pressure on football managers and they’ve got to have instant success.
“Bradford could be the most boring team in the league and that might get us a handful of wins but Brendan wants to play the game the right way and I have a similar philosophy with my team.
“We tried last year and we got better but my main message to the players was ‘we need to improve our skills further’.
“It would be silly to try and play Warrington’s game, or Leeds’ to a certain extent, right away because you need to have your core skills and structures in place.
“But if you put the hard work into your skill set then you can do that. That has been a focus for us so far and will continue to be so.
“These things don’t happen in a matter of weeks, it takes time. We’ve got to stick by our philosophies about our core skills.
“Brendan was very interested in what we do in rugby league and was keen to hear about our methods and practices at Bradford too.”
Cummins is not alone in seeking to expand on his knowledge base – his entire coaching staff are at it too.
The Bulls boss has a list of meetings that his team will hold with various figures from different sports as they seek to increase the expertise within Odsal.
Cummins said: “All my coaching staff have been instructed to go and speak to people, so drawing on these different experiences will help us all.
“They’re all on a programme now of doing that themselves.
“They will bring that back to the group and that’s how we’ll improve Bradford Bulls.
“Whether that just confirms what we are doing is right, or shows there might be another way of doing it, we will see.
“From the strength and conditioning under Tom Clough, even to the way the training kit gets distributed by our kitman Leigh Beattie, we’re looking for all those little things.
“Nobody has all the answers but collectively we will get there, I know we will.
“That’s because we’ve some good staff and good young men who are working really hard to become better players.
“It’s an ongoing process and at no point will we stop and think we’ve cracked it.”