York City Knights can today confirm that Head Coach James Ford has departed his role with the club after being granted a release and will take up an Assistant Coach role with a Betfred Super League club Wakefield Trinity.
Ford initially arrived at the Knights in 2011 as a player on loan from Widnes Vikings and made over fifty-seven appearances for the Club, earning Heritage Number 1710.
After spells as an under-20s coach and first-team assistant with the Knights, he became the men’s Head Coach in 2015.
A tumultuous couple of years saw the Knights’ very existence threatened but, despite that, Ford marshalled his troops to the League One Play-Offs in his first year at the helm before, in 2016, guiding the team to the same stage, being defeated in Toulouse.
2018 saw the Knights not need the Play-Offs with Ford putting together a squad that won the title after a colossal battle with Bradford Bulls, spawning the rivalry that remains to this day. With world record victories over West Wales Raiders being recorded with several other memorable wins along the way, the Knights returned to the second tier for the first time since 2013.
That year saw Ford’s men become the surprise package of the campaign with a team that was initially tipped to struggle finishing the year in third place – the highest ranked English team in the division, behind only Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse and ahead of established second-tier clubs Featherstone, Halifax, Leigh and Widnes.
An aborted 2020 campaign was followed by one of struggle as Ford’s injury-hit team finished 2021 in ninth place, but a squad turnover saw the former Widnes and Sheffield player coach his men back to the Play-Offs. The victory over Halifax Panthers became the first Championship Play-Off the Knights had ever won, a victory that earned the Knights a Semi-Final berth against Leigh Centurions and a match that would prove to be Ford’s last in charge of the Club.
Ford departs the club with a coaching record, including the aborted 2020 season, of 131 wins, 71 losses and 3 draws from 209 matches, giving him a win rate of 62%, second only to Richard Agar (69% win rate from 36 matches).
On his departure, Ford said: “This is probably the hardest interview I’m going to do as York Head Coach but possibly the most important one.
“I’d like to start initially by thanking the players for their efforts over the last eight years and I include every single one of them in that, whether they know or believe it or not. I think the world of every single one of them and I’m very proud to have coached them and, hopefully, helped them in some way.
“I’d also like to thank my support staff for their incredible work ethic and drive. They’ve been absolutely key and central to the progress the Club has made. Without them I don’t believe the Club would be where it is today.
“The rest of the staff at the Club, they’ve been awesome and I’ve absolutely loved every minute I’ve had at the Club. Being in the office and interacting with the staff there, the owners and the volunteers… I’ve loved every minute of it. The Club wouldn’t be where it is today without you guys.
“And then, we move onto the supporters. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve a pretty special relationship with each other. We’ve had some tough times and we came through those tough times to enjoy some really good times. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get the job done for you and I assure you it wasn’t through a lack of effort! I think we’ll all agree that the Knights are in a really strong position to kick on and take that next step.
“The last thing I’d ask of everybody, the staff I’m leaving behind, the players, the supporters is to keep doing what you do. The new Head Coach will love you all for it and, together, you’ve got a real chance of taking the next step of making a Grand Final and challenging for promotion.
“There’s no real standout reason as to why I’ve decided to leave the Club. The relationship I have with Clint is strong and I believe in the direction he’s taking it. I think his leadership is certainly going to help the Club take that next step.
“The relationship between everyone at the Club is really strong and, in some ways, I’m really sad to be leaving.
“But every coach’s journey at a club comes to an end. Players and coaches come and go but the Club is still there. It’s in safe hands and I am desperate to see York continue improving and become a Super League club in the very near future.
“Thank you very much for your support over the last eight seasons. It’s been an absolute pleasure.”
Chairman Clint Goodchild added: “First of all, I would like to thank James for his efforts as Head Coach at the Club. He has been a figure of stability at the Knights and has worked through some incredibly tough periods, especially in the early part of his Head Coaching career.
“I personally see James Ford as a future Head Coach of the England national side and I believe that this is simply the next step on that journey for him. Everyone at the club is behind him in this regard.
“James leaves with our best wishes and he will always be welcome back at the Knights.”
Everyone at the Knights would like to thank James Ford for his efforts during his long tenure with the Club. One of a group central to the club’s turnaround in recent years, he will always be remembered fondly by Knights supporters and he will always be welcome back at the LNER.
The Club are currently in conversations with a handful of potential replacements and we will be announcing a new Men’s Head Coach before the end of the month.