Connacht head coach Pat Lam, in his first interview since announcing his shock departure from Connacht Rugby, says the offer from Bristol rugby was too good to turn down because it secures his family's future.
The Connacht supremo will leave Galway at the end of the current term to take the reins of a team which has registered only one victory from all competitions this season and sit in the relegation zone six points adrift from their nearest competitor.
The deal is believed to be around €750,000 per year, and at an emotional press conference yesterday Lam says he turned down the Aviva Premiership side's initial advances before it came back with an offer he could not refuse.
"My whole process when I have any offer put to me on the table, I look at my rugby career, but I need to look after my family. After I came back from talking to Bristol, I sat down with my wife and put it all on the table, I said no. We are happy here. We love everything that is going on in the west of Ireland. I knew I was never going to be here for ever but bottom line it was a no.
"Two weeks ago Bristol put an offer down and it was a significant offer for me to do what I had done here at Connacht. They put down the offer to say can you do what you did at Connacht and do it here at Bristol. That completely flipped my decision making from my rugby career to my family, to my family and then my rugby career.
"What this offer does first and foremost made me make a decision about my children. My oldest son has a student debt which I can look after. My second son is at NUIG and can get him through his degree obviously, and I have my daughter who wants go to teaching college and cannot do it here in Ireland because she cannot speak Irish. The move to Bristol means she can stay with the family now as she can do it in England and I still have my 16-year-old son and my nine-year-old daughter."
The recent passing of good friend and Munster coach Anthony Foley affected Lam he admits, putting his thoughts on life into perspective and helped make up his mind when Bristol came back with this offer. "When I went down to Killaloe to see my good friend Axel at his removal. When I saw him and then found out what happened, I could picture everything because I am in that same situation myself.
"I am the second Pat Lam on this earth. The first one I was named after my grandfather, and he died when I was nine of a heart attack aged 55. My father should not be here but thanks to technology he went through a quadruple bypass. I have heart issues too. But what it did for me when I left Kilaloe, driving home with Tim and Willie, all I could think about was, if that was me, what would happen to Steph and the kids."
"My second decision to leave was Connacht Rugby. When I first got the job and still living in Auckland, the first person to ring me was Eric Elwood. I said to him that I promise you that I will do everything that I can to help your province and so last year when I had another significant offer I knew I could not look him, I could not look Willie, the players in the eye and leave. I look at where we are now with four years of improvement; systems and structures in place; This document [Connacht Rugby Vision & Strategy] is going to stay with me because so many of us put this together for the future of Connacht Rugby. This document is truly alive and gives me a lot of comfort and peace.
"I got emotional at the All Blacks game because on hearing 'Ireland's Call', hearing the four strong provinces, I got a little emotional because truly, we can stand here as Connacht Rugby as one of four strong ones."
Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane says everyone was shocked by this week's news.
“He told us Friday. I met with him on Friday and he explained the situation. It came as a bit of a shock in fairness, I didn’t get up that morning thinking I was going to hear it. But at the same time, he was pretty straight up with what the situation was. We’re disappointed, but we can’t be anything but very grateful for what Pat has done for Connacht Rugby since he’s arrived here. The players were shocked. It came as a bit of a bolt out of the blue for many of them; one or two of them might have heard a rumbling over the weekend.
“For the vast majority of them, they had no idea this was coming. But as the day went on, they had time to digest it. They are very much focused on the fact that it’s a Champions Cup week. We’ve a job to do this weekend and the following weekend. It’s amazing how quick the guys can kick into that mode.