Wales had been knocked out of the World Cup 41 days earlier when Fiji won 38-34 in Nantes to eliminate them at the group stage.
Gareth Jenkins was sacked the following morning and the Welsh Rugby Union launched a worldwide search for his replacement.
The process led them 12,000 miles away to a former hooker who had played 17 non-international matches for New Zealand, but never won a Test cap.
Gatland had improved Ireland's fortunes in a three-year spell between 1998 and 2001, and in his final Six Nations just missed out on the title as England held a superior points difference.
He also led London Wasps to three Premiership titles and the Heineken Cup from 2002-05 before returning to his homeland to coach Waikato.
On being appointed, Gatland said: "I feel tremendous pride in coaching Wales and gratitude at the chance to work at the highest level.
"Wales is the sleeping giant of world rugby, I want to achieve potential."
Gatland made an instant impact as Wales won the Grand Slam in 2008, an achievement he would repeat in 2012 and 2019.
In doing so, Gatland became the first coach to win three Grand Slams in the Five or Six Nations era.
Gatland's 12-year reign also saw Wales reach the semi-finals of the 2011 and 2019 Rugby World Cups.
He took charge of Super Rugby side The Chiefs in 2020 and will coach the British and Irish Lions for a third time in South Africa next summer after victory over Australia in 2013 and a drawn series in New Zealand in 2017.