Cut AFL coaches some slack
Carlton coach Brett Ratten (Slattery Images)
When a team plays well, the players get the plaudits. The heroes of a winning team are those who come up with the big play at the right moment, on the field for everyone to see.
But when a team is playing poorly, there is no-one to blame but the coach.
Carlton coach Brett Ratten is the latest in a line of AFL coaches to be entirely blamed for his side’s under performance, after spirited performances from Melbourne, North Melbourne and Brisbane breathed life back into their respective coaches’ careers.
Carlton followed suit on Friday night, ending Collingwood’s 10-game winning streak with an incredible victory in which the Blues finally came close to meeting the expectations many had for them at the start of the season.
The same people calling for his sacking last week are probably now the drivers of his bandwagon, but there will no doubt be another coach in the spotlight in coming weeks.
AFL senior coaches are some of the most scrutinised individuals in Australia, and they are aware of this when they agree to take on the job.
What they should not sign on for is exclusive responsibility for the performance of the team.
Gone are the days where the senior coach is the unilateral decision maker wielding absolute power of the goings on in the football club.
The buck still stops with the guy in the top job, but as football club staff numbers increase, the blame should be at least partly shared.
Carlton has 37 staff in their football department, with seven pure football coaches in that list. All of these people play a role in the preparation and performance of their side.
The head coach oversees many of these processes, but they have to distribute responsibility to those in their club.
Everyone must shoulder that responsibility in good times and bad.
And let’s not forget the other stakeholder in all of this. The 22 blokes running around on the footy field have more than a bit of say as to how their club competes.
Players seem to get off relatively lightly as their coaches become scapegoats for on-field failings.
Melbourne’s dismal start to the year was characterised by a lack of desire and poor attitude. Rather than looking at the guys in the blue and red, coach Mark Neeld was regularly put up as the reason for his club’s poor showing.
Need had only been in the job six months, face with the task of developing a group of players that he had almost no hand in recruiting into a successful side that fit with his vision of the club.
However, according to some, it was entirely his fault that players like Jack Watts were not fulfilling their potential.
Likewise, the criticism of Brad Scott after North Melbourne was thumped by Hawthorn failed to address the real problem with his side.
When the Kangaroos failed to show their renowned Shinboner spirit, Scott, rather than the players, was held to account.
In victory, though, the 22 guys on the field were credited with embodying this same spirit, while the media rewarded Scott by removing him from discussions about coaches on death row.
Ratten has been involved in Carlton a lot longer than Neeld and unlike Scott, was assistant at the same club he is now, but the heat he has received has been disproportionate to his side’s performance.
Not much has changed since last year, when Carlton finished fifth. Then, the Blues looked on the up and Ratten was lauded as a coaching success.
At the end of Round three, the Blues were premiership favourites after smashing Collingwood, but a sudden downhill slump, accelerated by injuries and inconsistency, turned all eyes on Ratten.
In the aftermath of Carlton’s second win over Collingwood, the pressure on Ratten will be relieved and his biggest critics will look to place someone else’s job in jeopardy.
However, Ratten should not have been under so much pressure in the first place.
Placing the sole blame on the coach is unfair, inaccurate and, at the end of the day, does not actually solve the performance issues anyway.
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