TWELVE months after his lifetime dream was ruthlessly consigned to the dustbin, Garth Brennan says with a rueful smile: "Changing the coach is not always the right answer."
It was on July 14 last year that the Gold Coast Titans put an end to weeks of speculation, announcing they had terminated Brennan's contract, barely 18 months into a three-year deal.
Since then four other coaches - Nathan Brown (Knights), Steven Kearney (Warriors), Dean Pay (Bulldogs) and Paul Green (Cowboys) - and their respective clubs have parted company prematurely.
"That's five coaches at 16 clubs," Brennan said. "Almost a third of the coaches in the space of a year."
More could soon follow.
Brennan, of course, had a fair idea what he was signing up for when the Titans appointed him to replace Neil Henry in October, 2017.
Coaching in the NRL is a fickle business at the best of times. And whether they were the Giants, Seagulls, Chargers or Titans, there have been few clubs with a higher turnover of players and coaches than the Gold Coast.
It was a job, nonetheless, Brennan simply had to take, having worked tirelessly for more than a decade to put himself in a position to be considered.
A born-and-bred Novocastrian, the former police prosecutor made a name for himself as a fullback in the Newcastle Rugby League, winning premierships with Western Suburbs and Waratah-Mayfield.
When his playing days ended, he kicked off a coaching career in the Knights' junior ranks, and at one stage was in charge of a Harold Matthews team featuring a bright young prospect named Boyd Cordner, who remains a close mate.
In 2011, he became the first coach to steer Newcastle into the under-20 play-offs, only to learn there was no position for him on the staff of incoming boss Wayne Bennett.
Taking that setback in his stride, he landed a start at Penrith and spent the next six years commuting from his home at Stockton to the foot of the Blue Mountains, where he won premierships in both under-20s and NSW Cup. That success put him in the shop window and, when the opportunity arose at the Titans, he knew there was no option except to pursue it, despite Penrith supremo Phil Gould warning: "Be careful what you wish for, Garth."
"NRL coaching jobs don't come around too often, and you have to take what comes your way," Brennan said.
"Especially if you're someone who hasn't played in the NRL and might not have the same profile as the other coaches out there."
Brennan steered the Titans to eight wins in his first season in charge. They had four wins from 16 games last year when his contract was terminated.
They proceeded to lose all eight remaining games in 2019 after his exit, to finish last, and are three from 11 this season under his replacement, Justin Holbrook.
How much faith a club shows in the coach comes back to its philosophy and plan.
Twelve wins from 40 games left Brennan vulnerable, but at the corresponding stage of his Newcastle tenure Brown had three victories to his name and was well on the way to collecting his second wooden spoon.
Yet Brown lasted almost another two years and, even after winning only 25.5 per cent of his games at the Knights, walked away with most agreeing he had done a reasonable job in rebuilding a dysfunctional roster.
There was no such latitude for Brennan at the Titans, and the writing was on the wall from the moment it was revealed the club's newly appointed "head of culture", Mal Meninga, was conducting an internal review.
"The powers-that-be wanted success quicker than I was able to deliver it," Brennan said. "But I told the club's owners right from the start it wasn't going to be a quick fix. I just hope they do the right thing by Justin and give him the time to turn it around."
Disappointed as he was about having the rug pulled from under him, Brennan can at least claim to be one of only a handful of Novocastrian products to have coached at the highest level, along with the likes of Clive Churchill, Warren Ryan and Rick Stone.
"My ambition was to become an NRL head coach, and I achieved that," he said. "I thought it was going to be a longer project than 18 months, but that's the cut-throat business of rugby league."
Having returned to Newcastle late last year, Brennan is still interested in working in rugby league, if the "right job" comes along. In particular, he believes his strength is junior development, having nurtured a host of young players who have since become household names.
For now, he's tackling a new career pathway, having completed his real-estate agent's accreditation course and started working for Creative Property, managing the Newcastle and Merewether areas.
"I've had a few investment properties over the years, and I've always kept a close eye on the market, so it seemed like a good fit and I was looking for a new challenge," he said.
He will still be keeping tabs on the footy each week and, in particular, empathising with any coach who finds the temperature in the hot seat rising fast.
"It was only 12 months ago I was in the same situation myself," he said.