There were widespread reports on Monday that the 48-year-old New Zealander had been sacked following the Championship side’s wretched start to the season.
Carnegie stayed silent on the matter until yesterday afternoon, when they released a brief statement insisting Mercer had not been dismissed.
They did concede that the start of the campaign had not been good enough and added that forwards coach Tommy McGee would be taking charge of the next three British & Irish Cup fixtures – even though Mercer remains at Headingley.
The club statement read: “Yorkshire Carnegie have looked to clarify the position of head coach Gary Mercer. The club wishes to make it clear that Gary Mercer has not been dismissed from his position.
“The board is naturally disappointed with the start we have made to the season, and we are working hard to ensure that an immediate improvement is made and sustained following the draw with Plymouth Albion on Friday night. As part of this ongoing process, we have held detailed discussions with Gary.
“We now enter a spell of three weeks of British & Irish Cup pool games and, as per the last period of games in this competition, Tommy McGee will take charge of team affairs whilst the board, under the stewardship of Sir Ian McGeechan, look to resolve the best way forward for the club. At the present time, there is no further comment to make on Gary Mercer’s future with the club.”
Effectively, Carnegie now have three weeks to sort out their coaching situation, but the chances of Mercer continuing in the role he was appointed to as recently as September 1 must now seem extremely remote.
While they have not sacked him, it is clear Mercer has been removed from the firing line.
The Kiwi arrived just six days before the start of the season after a 10-year spell working within the Scottish RFU’s coaching set-up. He has overseen just two wins in eight Championship games.
They have not won for five games in the league, nor all season at Headingley, including being ‘nilled’ by Rotherham Titans on home soil 19 days ago, before last Friday’s desperate draw with bottom club Plymouth Albion.
Confidence among the players is at an all-time low, and leading voices from within the dressing room have questioned team tactics. Senior figures are understood to have sat down with Mercer and his coaching staff to voice concerns about their style of play.
Despite the club’s statement, questions remain unanswered.
If Mercer is the man to take the club forward, surely he would have been chomping at the bit to try to turn things around, both on the pitch and in the dressing room.
With three low-pressure games on the horizon, this would have been the perfect opportunity for him to turn the tide and improve morale within the club, ready for the return to Championship action when they could look to start hauling themselves up the table.
Carnegie state that McGee took charge of the first three British & Irish Cup games, though there was no official announcement back in October that Mercer would be handing over the reins for the first tranche of Cup fixtures.
In an interview with The Yorkshire Post after the first of those B&I Cup games, Mercer gave no indication either way that he was not in charge of first-team affairs – indeed he spoke enthusiastically about the importance of the fixtures for his long-term vision.
“For me,” he said, “the most important thing with the British & Irish Cup is getting an eye on the younger players.
“The big thing for us over the coming weeks is generating competition in the squad for the game with Rotherham (first Championship game back on November 7).”
The only certainty right now is that, from the outside, the whole situation at Carnegie looks muddled and can be of no benefit to the players as they seek direction and a boost to morale as they attempt to save their season.