Coach Ben Ryan is this ultra-gingery London guy: red hair, red face, red beard. He’d been the coach of Great Britain’s sevens rugby team, but they fired him about four years ago.

It was humiliating to get dumped. In a kind of self-exile, Ben took a job in Fiji (sort of like Napoleon moving to Elba). Fiji is a third world country about 10,000 miles from London. There are 330 islands, of which maybe a third are inhabited.

Ben knew the team’s reputation—they had talent, but they were rough, more like pick-up rugby. The game really requires discipline, and it was a struggle to  get these guys organized. The short story is that in the last two years, the Fiji team has been the best in the world. They haves a wild, wide open, uniquely Fijian style.  They just won the gold medal at the Olympics. And of course,  they played Ben Ryan’s Great Britain ex-team in the finals and beat them senseless 43-7.

Fiji’s never won anything in the Olympics, much less a gold medal. So now Ben Ryan is the most popular man in Fiji. There’s talk that he might be nominated to run for prime minister of Fiji. There are songs written about him in Fiji. He’ll never have to buy a drink again for the rest of his days in Fiji. Hollywood could not have written it any better.

There are so many themes here; the theme of the leader being led by his team. There’s a coach who’s coaching himself as much as coaching the team. There are the hopes and dreams of this island nation that just had no business winning anything in any sport, and instead won everything there is in this sport internationally.

Ryan told The Sun (UK), “I’ll always be grateful for Fiji for helping me find my fire again. I’ll be lucky if I ever get the opportunity to coach such great guys in the future.”

Ben Ryan has completed his four year commitment to Fiji, and he’s going to return to Europe a hero—to coach one of the major professional teams, I’m sure.

So the upshot?  Ben Ryan’s story is a great example of rising from the ashes. Sometimes failure seems like the end—and it can be; Napoleon died on Elba, after all. But it’s also possible to take professional exile and turn it into opportunity. I can’t wait for the movie.

If you’ve got a rising-from-the-ashes story to share, please leave it in the comments, I’d love to hear about it. And if you’re currently stuck on your own little Elba (or feeling like that might be your next move, professionally) send me an email at and we can set up a time to talk. Maybe we can turn your Elba into Fiji.

photo credit: Liku Liku Resort, Malolo Island, Fiji via photopin (license)