Richmond to be applauded for faith in Hardwick

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Richmond have re-signed Damien Hardwick for a further two years. This ties him to the club until the end of 2014 and is unquestionably the right move for a variety of reasons.

Of course there will be knockers. As usual, there will probably be a stream of Richmond jokes at the ready, even more so if they happen to finish in that infamous ninth position this year.

Some will argue that it’s ‘classic Tigers’, and that if a coach can get his contract renewed after two years of missing the finals, what message does it send? Critics will point to Essendon giving the exact same contract extension to Matthew Knights before 2010, only to sack him at the end of the very season they made the announcement.

Any such gripes will go down as pot-stirring at best, and uneducated nonsense at worst.

One of the unimaginative aspects of modern football opinion is to dredge up past mistakes as if the future will also be set in the same concrete. It is true that this will be the third coach to have a five-year run at Tigerland, with only one set of finals in this time (so far). And it is a fact that the Bombers were made to pay dearly for their exuberance in re-appointing Knights.

But each decision can only be made on its merits, based on fresh factors and circumstances. What difference does it make to CEO Brendan Gale, President Gary March and coach Damien Hardwick what happened in 2008, 2005 or 2002?

People in footy have short memories, and it was only the middle of 2010 when Richmond was 0-9 and many were wondering if this was the worst team since Fitzroy. One online bookmaker even paid out early on the Tigers for the wooden spoon, which was eventually ‘won’ by West Coast.

Hardwick had inherited a playing list that could kindly be described as a train wreck and a side that had finished no higher than ninth in the previous eight seasons, with six of those being 12th or lower. A winning record of over 40 percent from that 0-9 position is suddenly looking a lot better isn’t it?

Richmond had 21 players who played senior football in 2009 that are no longer at the club, which is the kind of turnover required by a team that is searching for the next squad of quality to take them up the ladder in the quest for premiership glory.

The Geelong v St Kilda grand final in 2009 contained sides that were built from the 2000-2002 draft period, and the Cats in particular had the wisdom to exercise patience with their coach Mark Thompson. It was hard to argue that they planned poorly when he delivered a flag in his eighth year at the helm.

Alistair Clarkson was ‘On the Couch’ on Foxtel a few weeks ago, preaching about the benefits of stability at a football club, and in particular about the disruptive media speculation that surrounds any coach out of contract. While this should never be a reason to re-appoint a coach early, it is a pleasing side benefit that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Much has been made of Richmond’s tough start to this season. With matches against Carlton, Collingwood, Melbourne, Geelong and West Coast, at best they’ll start favourite in only one. There is a very real possibility that the Tigers could be 0-5 after this stretch of games, and if so, we will doubtless see some muckrakers trying to paint Hardwick’s extension as premature and planting the seeds of complacency.

Disregard any such statements as the ramblings of fools.

Any team containing Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt, Brett Deledio and Tyrone Vickery as the blocks to build a side around is entitled to think they are at the beginning of an upward curve. Everything Damien Hardwick has said and done to this stage of his coaching career has been impressive to most educated observers.

Does this mean that the Tigers are going to make the finals this year? Unlikely. Does it mean they’re going to finish top four by the end of 2014? No one could know. Are they guaranteed a flag during Hardwick’s tenure? Absolutely not.

Making a key decision such as a coaching appointment is about confidence, sound judgement, and faith. You draw confidence from your process, back the judgement of your instincts, and tie it all together with the faith that you’re on the right path.

The Richmond power-brokers have done exactly that, so let’s judge them all in three years, not three days, three weeks, or three months.

Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.
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