MELBOURNE Ewen McKenzie will step down as Queensland Reds' director of coaching at the end of the year to pursue opportunities outside Super Rugby, the Brisbane-based team said on Tuesday.
McKenzie, who guided the Reds to a maiden Super Rugby title in 2011, has long been touted to take over from Australia coach Robbie Deans and could well be in the frame if the Wallabies fail to beat the touring British and Irish Lions in their three-test series this year.
"My experience at the Reds and with Queensland Rugby will be something I'll always treasure but I feel the time is right to pursue new coaching challenges outside of Super Rugby," McKenzie said in a statement on the team's website.
"Anyone who knows me understands I have strong coaching ambitions and, after spending nine years coaching at a Super Rugby level, I'm excited about pursuing a different role either here or overseas."
McKenzie, a former Wallabies prop in the 1991 World Cup-winning team, joined a struggling, financially-stricken Reds team in 2010 and turned the Super Rugby basement dwellers into winners of the southern hemisphere competition within two years.
He stepped back to take a more strategic role last year and allowed former Western Force coach Richard Graham to take the match-day reins, and the pair piloted the injury-ravaged team to the Australian conference title and another postseason appearance.
"While it is always difficult to farewell a championship-winning coach, we have always known that Ewen had aspirations to coach at the next level," Queensland Rugby Chairman Rod McCall said.
"With that in mind we set about implementing a succession plan with the introduction of Richard Graham that enabled us to move through any transition smoothly."
A former assistant to Australia's 1999 World Cup-winning coach Rod Macqueen, and to Eddie Jones at the 2003 World Cup, McKenzie was named head coach of the Sydney-based New South Wales Waratahs in 2003 and took them to the Super 12 final in his second season, before another final appearance in 2008.
He then headed to France where he took Stade Francais to a semi-final in the Top 14 in 2008/09, before being sacked after a poor start to the following season.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)