McKenzie, who has transformed the Reds from cellar-dwellers to champions in just two years in charge, has agreed to extend his contract by an extra 12 months.
The surprise extension has serious ramifications on a national level with Wallabies coach Robbie Deans’ contract expiring at the end of 2013.
McKenzie looms as a natural successor, especially after Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill admitted in October he featured extensively in the governing body’s succession plan.
But the Queensland Rugby Union believes New Zealander Deans will again be reappointed after the British and Irish Lions tour in two years time “unless the wheels fell off”.
QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael and chairman Rod McCall, though, indicated McKenzie’s extended deal wouldn’t necessarily preclude him from ascending to the national coaching post.
“That’s a fair way down the track and there would have to be a fair amount of dialogue that all parties are involved in to allow the delivery to be right for the game,” Carmichael said.
McKenzie said the motivation behind his decision was to finish the job he’d been recruited for – leaving a legacy for what had been a fractured code in Queensland’s highly-competitive sporting market.
“There’s an attraction to be around and see that all through,” he said. “We are only in control of our own environment and we’ve done a good job in the last couple of years but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
While the 51-Test former prop is highly-regarded as Deans’ heir apparent, due to the Reds’ attacking style as well as their success, McKenzie stressed there were no guarantees in sport.
“Rugby is a moveable feast,” he said “One thing I know about coaching, you’ve got to be the right bloke at the right time. We can only deal with what we know right now.”
It’s his second contract extension and means he’ll be in charge at Ballymore for five years – the same length of time he guided NSW until 2008 – by the end of the deal.
McKenzie has twice before been well positioned to coach Australia, knocking back the post in late-2005 to stay on with the Waratahs, and being overlooked in favour of Deans two years later.
With half the Reds squad coming off contract this year, including star halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper, the new deal for the popular mentor is certain to help retention efforts in the face of extra salary cap pressure.
Two of McCall’s first calls as chairman in September 2009 was to appoint McKenzie as Reds coach and Carmichael as CEO and they have swiftly pulled the QRU out of the mire.
Queensland finished fifth in 2010 and started attracted healthy crowds on the back of an expansive game plan, before winning 15 of 18 matches last season to claim the Super Rugby title.
The transformation has seen membership grow beyond 23,000 – more than cross-code rivals the Broncos, Roar and Lions – and the average attendance climb to 33,000 to have the QRU on the brink of regaining full control of their finances after two years of ARU support.