The Demons need to find their Ron Barassi
Ron Barassi addresses the Melbourne Demons at the break during a 1980's VFL match.
Yesterday afternoon Melbourne CEO Cameron Schwab resigned but speculation remains about the future of coach Mark Neeld.
If previous experience is any indication, speculation will persist throughout the season and, like coaches before him, Neeld’s position may become untenable by season’s end.
This article assumes that Neeld will be replaced at some stage and addresses how the Demons should approach a new appointment. This is done with regards to the next full-time appointment rather than the appointment of a caretaker coach during the season.
The Demon’s on-field issues are numerous and include everything from poor skills to deplorable decision making. However, at its core all these issues can be filed until two separate categories: experience and desire.
Melbourne needs to address these issues if they decide to appoint a new coach at season’s end.
For most clubs, new coaching appointments come down to a decision between experience or youthful enthusiasm and fresh thinking. Should a team choose someone who has been successful as a senior coach?
Or should they look to an assistant coach or a development coach who may have fresh ideas that could give the team an edge against its opposition?
The decision usually depends on that particular team’s situation and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, given the Demons’ predicament the choice should be clear: they must appoint an experienced senior coach.
Both Dean Bailey and Neeld had excellent credentials as assistant coaches across a variety of roles. Both won premierships as part of the coaching team at Port Adelaide and Collingwood respectively. And both failed as senior coaches (at least thus far).
A senior coaching position is a vastly different role to an assistant coach. The added media attention itself should be enough to scare off most candidates but there is also the fact that if anything goes wrong at the club you will inevitably become the scapegoat.
Players do not care? Sack the coach. Unsatisfactory facilities? Sack the coach. Hopeless Board? Sack the coach.
Despite the differences in role and responsibilities, AFL teams have long had a preference for the untried coach compared with an experienced one. In choosing Bailey, Melbourne overlooked Kevin Sheedy, a four-time premiership winning coach.
In choosing Neeld, the Demons could possibly have appointed Rodney Eade, a coach with a long history of making the finals. For AFL coaches, new is always better.
If the Demons want to turn the team around they must ignore the untried (and usually very cheap) coach. Melbourne’s situation is not one that calls for learning on the job and while it is possible they could find an assistant coach who becomes an amazing senior coach the greater likelihood is that the job will prove to be too difficult.
Melbourne’s situation is not without precedent in the AFL. In 1993, the Sydney Swans hit rock bottom and turned to legendary coach Ron Barassi who had not coached since 1985.
Over the course of three seasons, Barassi turned the club around, attracted quality players such as Tony Lockett and Paul Roos, and instilled the culture that was later cultivated by Eade, Roos and now John Longmire.
The Demons need to take a similar approach to the Swans, in particular they should focus on coaches with a history of overachieving, instilling a quality culture and creating teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. In short, they need coaches who understand how to be successful.
For my mind, the coach that best embodies that quality is Paul Roos. His tenure at the Swans really speaks for itself, with the Swans seeming to frequently outplay more talented teams.
Roos would be a difficult get for the Demons, particularly given his ties to the Swans and his reluctance to coach again. But he is the coach that ticks all the boxes.
Rodney Eade is another one that must be considered. His coaching record is excellent and while he has not won a premiership he has won 54.5 percent of the 314 games he has coached.
Leigh Matthews is a candidate that would immediately demand respect from his players and who would want to disappoint Lethal Leigh?
Former Adelaide coach Neil Craig is another who could do a fine job. A strict disciplinarian, Craig would at least demand accountability and a focus on developing strong defensive play.
He also has the advantage of already being familiar with the players.
Premiership winning coach Mark Williams has to be approached given he is surely wasting his talents as a senior assistant at Richmond.
And then there are the more left field choices: could Melbourne convince Kevin Sheedy to take on a final coaching role? Probably not given his treatment in 2007 but Melbourne players could do worse than approach the game like the teenagers in Western Sydney.
And what about Denis Pagan and Terry Wallace? I suspect the faithful at the Blues and the Tigers would have a lot to say about that.
There are many potential coaches out there for the Demons and this article only scrapes the surface.
Like the Swans before them, Melbourne needs to find a coach who can impose their will on the football club, demand respect from the players, and develop a football culture that can continue on even after they leave.
In short, Melbourne needs to find their Ron Barassi.