Nathan Brown could walk away with a golden handshake worth as much as $500,000 after the Newcastle Knights coach and the club mutually agreed to part company at the end of the season.
In a shock move few people saw coming with three rounds of the NRL season remaining and the Knights still in the finals hunt, the club officially announced on Tuesday it was in the market for a new coach for 2020, just hours after the Newcastle Herald broke the news of Brown's departure.
Already, a host of coaches have emerged as contenders for the job with former Melbourne Storm and current Sydney Roosters assistant Adam O'Brien and fellow Roosters coaching assistant Craig Fitzgibbon believed to be among the frontrunners.
It's understood Brown made the decision over the weekend, ironically after his side had broken a six-game losing streak with a 42-6 win over the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday, to walk away from the job after four seasons at the helm.
He was aware Knights CEO Phil Gardner was conducting a full review of the club's football operations at the end of the season, with Gardner under plenty of external pressure to potentially make a change, particularly if the Knights did not make the finals.
Sensing his time may be running out, Brown met with Gardner, who he enjoys a strong relationship with, late Monday afternoon and told him he was prepared to finish up at the end of the season to save Gardner the difficult job of sacking him. A mutual termination of Brown's open-ended contract was then agreed to, with a payout that could stretch as high as $500,000.
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Brown told captain Mitchell Pearce of his decision on Monday night but the majority of the playing group, and many Knights staff, were unaware until news broke of the shock move on Tuesday.
The club's six-game losing streak at the back end of the season and a number of decisions during that period are understood to have combined to destablise Brown's position.
Up until the start of that win drought, the Knights were strong contenders for a top-four spot before it all came crashing down over the State of Origin period.
Brown's decision to publicly take the blame for not resting his Origin players for the Canterbury game in mid-July, along with the sudden departure of exiled centre Jesse Ramien, were all factors that would have gone against him in the end of season review.
"There were some external forces at play as well and Nathan could probably see the writing on the wall," one source said.
"There was no guarantee he would have retained the job even if the team snuck into the play-offs. Phil and Nathan are close and have a strong relationship. It would not have been an easy thing for Phil to sack him if it came to that so in the end, they got together and worked out a mutual agreement.
"They both should get enormous credit for the way they have handled things."
Brown has endured an extremely tough four years at the Knights after being appointed to the job in late 2015 after the club finished that season with the wooden spoon.
Former coach Rick Stone had been sacked with six games to go that season, with club legend Danny Buderus taking over in an interim period.
After landing the job, Brown immediately announced he would undertake a complete rebuild of the playing roster with the club admitting it's salary cap was in disarray.
He had the complete support of the board at the time, which was just as well because the Knights won just one game in 2016 with Brown blooding 11 young debutants.
The club's second-straight wooden spoon was followed by another spoon in 2017 but what the two years of heartache produced was a salary cap position envied by most other clubs in the competition.
With all the tough roster decisions out of the way and armed with a war-chest of money, Brown, along with then head of football Darren Mooney, went after plenty of big names with the roster now containing five Origin players in Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and Daniel Saifiti.
Brown also had a big hand in enhancing and developing the club's junior programs, which will see the emergence of several locally-produced NRL players coming through the system over the next few years.
The first of those emerging teenage stars, Bradman Best, will make his NRL debut on the wing on Saturday against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium.
But the downside of the outstanding job Brown has done with the roster is that it put pressure on the coach to finally deliver results following the end of the honeymoon rebuild period.
There was already plenty of talk his position was in jeopardy after a shaky start to the season saw the side lose five of their first six games. Calls for his sacking were stonewalled by the club at the time.
Then a run of six straight wins which included big scalps, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney, opened up the potential of a top-four finish ,which ended any talk of Brown going. But that all changed again due to their late season crash.
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To his credit, Brown always put the club before his own personal coaching record and he has made it clear he will be doing everything possible over the next three weeks to give the club a chance of playing finals footy for the first time in six years.
The Knights sit in 10th position but are just two points from eighth spot and need to win their remaining three games against the Tigers, Titans and Penrith and hope other results go their way to feature.
"My main job was to come here and put the club back together," Brown said in a club statement on Tuesday afternoon. "It's been a tough but enjoyable job. I've met lots of great people and I feel the club is far better off for me coming here. The roster and salary cap issues have been resolved and there's the potential of a team to have sustained success. A lot of the heavy lifting has been done and now I'm leaving it to the next group of club leaders to continue the job."
Gardner, who will front the media on Wednesday morning with Brown, had nothing but praise for the job the coach has done.
"Nathan will go down as one of the most important coaches in Knights history," Gardner said.
Nathan will go down as one of the most important coaches in Knights history.Knights CEO Phil Gardner
"When he joined our club ahead of the 2016 season, it was at its lowest ebb. The sheer size and scale of the task he was faced with was monumental. It would have broken a lesser man."
Gardner said statistics weren't a true measure of his time in Newcastle.
"Put simply, it would be wrong to measure his contribution to the Knights in wins and losses alone," he said. "Nathan shaped our roster as he did our club. He once again made Newcastle a place that players wanted to not just play in, but play for. His record speaks for itself. He has laid the platform for the team to return to premiership contention, and he has been the driving force behind adding both depth and quality to the roster.
"He brought true world-class talent back to the club in the signings of Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and more.
"He also led the development of home-grown talents like Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Daniel Saifiti, and Mitch Barnett, who all grew immeasurably under his leadership.
"When the Knights return to the upper echelons of the NRL, Nathan Brown will be able to take his fair share of the credit."
Brown's departure will have virtually no impact on the club's roster for next season with most positions in the top 30 already filled.