AFL coaching landscape: Who’s under pressure?
Essendon coach James Hird (Slattery Images)
The 2013 AFL season posses a unique situation. Realistically, only one senior coaching position will be available at season’s end.
In a league which traditionally sees four or five changes each year, even contracted coaches could find themselves out of a job.
Over the past three seasons, Australia’s most profitable sporting code has been falling down the slippery path of paying out contacted coaches due to myopic boards and irresponsible administrators. This trend has plagued American and European codes for decades where clubs simply have too much money.
The widening gap between rich and poor clubs have seen the high profile sackings of Brett Ratten and Mark Harvey over the past two seasons. This suggests that if a coach deemed better than the present becomes available, controversy will dominate the latter stages of the season.
At the conclusion of 2013, only Michael Voss (Brisbane), Kevin Sheedy (GWS) and John Worsfold (West Coast) will be out of contract.
Leon Cameron is a certainty to take over Sheedy and with Worsfold taking the Eagles to the finals for the past two seasons; his contract extension is a formality.
One name will linger in the media throughout the year: Paul Roos.
Still relatively young at the age of 49, prior engagements which kept Roos out of coaching contention for the past four years have now been settled. If he wants a job, all he needs to do is show interest. He’s the kind of guy who will not accept a job if it costs another their job but every man has a price in this league.
So which five AFL coaches are under the most pressure this season?:
5. Mick Malthouse
No coach will ever be under as much pressure in their first season at a club than Malthouse. Whether pressured by the board or not, fans expect him to be the final piece of the premiership puzzle. When the club went the effort they did to sign Malthouse, anything less than a top four finish is a disappointing season.
He’s costing the club around $2 million this year with his base salary and all the payouts the club had to make for disposing of Brett Ratten. Malthouse will be hell bent on bettering the record of Collingwood and with the mind games he plays in the media, he’ll be putting plenty of pressure on himself.
4. Alistair Clarkson
Lance Franklin dropped a bombshell when he announced he would put of contract negotiations until the end of the season. The league’s most dominant forward is going down a slippery path which bungled both Collingwood and Geelong’s seasons when Travis Cloke and Gary Ablett respectively, announced the same decisions.
“Putting off contract negotiations until the end of the season,” always means the player is holding out for more money. It’s not secret that the salary cap squeeze is on Hawthorn after a lengthy run of success.
A West Australian native, Franklin will be courted like never before by Fremantle who are dieing for a key forward. With a young list and the pending retirement of Matthew Pavlich, the Fremantle Dockers have the ability to make Franklin the highest paid player in the league. What can Alistair Clarkson do to minimize the distraction?
3. James Hird
Hird is contracted by Essendon until the end of 2014 so the pressure won’t be coming from the club. It will be coming from Hird himself. The golden boy of Windy Hill is a smart man and knows what was expected of him when he accepted the job two years ago. He also knows what is best for the direction of the club.
It is no secret that Hird was hesitant at first about being a senior coach after successfully establishing his personal business. If he feels he cannot meet his expectations and acknowledges that that there are better candidates for the senior role than himself, he will humbly step aside and hand over the reins without holding the Essendon Football Club to their contractual agreement.
2. Guy McKenna
Contracted by the Gold Coast Suns until the end of the 2014 season, McKenna’s first two seasons have been completely void of any pressure. His list of youngsters and the clubs strong financial standing make the Suns the ideal destination for Paul Roos or any other coach.
McKenna has done the hard yards developing the list but he needs to win more than five games this year. If Roos puts his hand up and says he’d like to coach the Suns, the club would be wise to appoint him this year before the coaching market catches up next year.
1. Michael Voss
Voss entered the season with a noose around his neck. His mediocre performance has been clouded by his playing reputation around the club. Struggling to rebuild the Lions, Voss boasts one of the worst coaching records amongst senior coaches in the league and would already have been booed out of his job at any other club.
Voss not only needs to take the Lions to the finals this season, but if he is to keep his job, he needs to win a final which probably won’t happen. The Brisbane Lions looks like it will be the only available coaching vacancy at the end of 2013.
Beyond the five coaches mentioned above, Brendan McCartney, Scott Watters and Damien Hardwick are senior coaches whose contracts expire at the end of 2014. Although their jobs appear secure this season, a good year will be rewarded with early contract extensions to avoid any unwanted attention.
Beside Paul Roos hanging around the sidelines for a senior coaching job, proven candidates holding minor roles around the league include Neil Craig, Mark Williams Brett Ratten, Mark Harvey, Dean Laidley and Rodney Eade.
With such high profile names lingering in shadows of coaching boxes and only one position likely to become vacant at season’s end, not even contracted coaches are safe in this league anymore.