Damien Hardwick could get the chop in 2016, and he’s not alone

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    Richmond will be hoping they can turn their fortunes around in 2017. (AAP / Julian Smith)

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    Damien Hardwick’s job as an AFL senior coach looks to be on the line this season after Richmond CEO Brendon Gale yesterday said the Tigers wouldn’t necessarily look to offer him a contract extension before the season begins – and he’s not the only coach facing the chop in 2016.

    Despite rumblings late last year that Hardwick was likely to soon sign an extension to his contract – which expires at the end of this season – it now appears probable that he will enter 2016 without a guarantee beyond the end of the year.

    Gale had plenty of praise for Hardwick in his interview with SEN but actions speak louder than words. If Hardwick enters season 2016 without a contract extension sewn up it will be a pretty significant indication that the Tigers are seriously considering replacing him at the end of the year.

    And why wouldn’t they? Hardwick has been arguably the most successful Richmond coach of the new millenium, but that’s only because the bar has been set so low by his predecessors.

    While he returned the club to finals in 2013 after an absence of more than a decade, and has kept them there in the years since, his inability to guide the team past the first week of finals three years in a row has given Tigers fans plenty of headaches.

    Had Hardwick led the Tigers to a finals win over North Melbourne in September last year he would probably have an extension by now – but he didn’t, and he doesn’t.

    The Tigers have been patient with Hardwick despite only mild success in his six-year tenure as senior coach of the club – making him the equal-second longest tenured coach in the league, alongside Brad Scott and behind Alastair Clarkson – as the club focuses on maintaining a stable environment.

    It wasn’t always so at Punt Road – there was a time in the 80s when the club was known for going through coaches faster than Chad Wingard goes through hair gel, and the constant change had such a noticeably detrimental effect on the club’s performance that Mike Sheehan went to the trouble of making a TV special about it.

    The modern focus on stability is no doubt a response to that unfondly remembered era. It has made Hardwick the longest serving Richmond coach since the legendary Tom Hafey finished up in 1976. But if the Tigers get off to a bad start in 2016 – as they did in 2014 (3-10 after Round 14) and 2015 (2-4 after Round 6) – they may finally decide to let the axe fall.

    Hardwick’s not the only coach under pressure in 2016 either, with four of his contemporaries also coming out of contract at the end of the season.

    The fate of one of them, Paul Roos, is already certain – he will make way for his successor-in-waiting Simon Goodwin ahead of 2017, though what role if any Roos might have at Melbourne going forward isn’t clear yet.

    Alastair Clarkson also comes out of contract this year but for obvious reasons would have no concerns about losing his job. Although he has been responsible for the occasional off-field controversy over the past few years, the Hawks are bound to make him an offer, and he hasn’t given any indication that he’s considering retirement.

    That leaves two, Justin Leppitsch and Nathan Buckley, who could be in a bit of trouble this year if they can’t get their sides to perform to the level expected.

    There were a handful of news reports for both suggesting they were close to signing new contracts over the off-season, but so far that hasn’t materialised for either – and that’s not a good sign.

    Leppitsch has only been in charge of the Brisbane Lions for two years and his tenure so far has been wildly unsuccessful with seven wins in 2014 and just four in 2015. Injuries have been partly to blame, but a coach can only make excuses for so long.

    The real failure of Leppitsch has been his failure to stem the flow of talented players asking to leave the club, the same problem that ultimately ended the tenure of his pre-decessor and premiership teammate Michael Voss.

    I said last season when Jack Redden walked out on the Lions that Leppitsch had to follow him, and I stand by that. The Lions need a complete outsider who can come in and transform their club, not another throwback from their long-passed premiership era content to do more of the same.

    Buckley is a wholly different kettle of fish. He controversially replaced Mick Malthouse at Collingwood in 2012 despite the fact that Malthouse had just coached the Magpies to two consecutive grand finals including a premiership in 2010.

    In his four years at the helm Buckley has seen the Magpies slowly slip down the ladder. They lost a preliminary final to Sydney in 2012, lost an elimination final to Port Adelaide in 2013, and have missed finals completely in the last two years.

    In both 2014 and 2015 the Magpies had excellent starts to the year that had them looking like probable finalists at the halfway point of the season, only to collapse in the second half of the year.

    In 2014 they were 8-3 after Round 12 but won just three more games for the year to finish eleventh and in 2015 they were in the same position after Round 11 but had just two wins in the latter half of the season and finished twelfth.

    Coming into the new season fans are going to be expecting the club’s investment in youth over the past few years to start paying off.

    Collingwood were also very successful in last year’s trade period acquiring Adam Treloar, James Aish and Jeremy Howe, but impressive as that haul was, it also heaps pressure on the Magpies to perform in the 2016.

    For mine, I’ll back Buckley in to coach Collingwood to finals this year, and earn a contract extension while he’s at it.

    What’s often forgotten in looking at the Magpies’ poor record in the second half of the year is that it began with some very competitive efforts against top teams Fremantle (lost by 7) and Hawthorn (lost by 10), and another against Sydney (lost by 9) late in the year.

    I expect Collingwood to improve in 2016 and justify a contract extension for Buckley. But if things go poorly, his head might be the first to roll.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (67)

    • Columnist

      February 2nd 2016 @ 9:56am
      Ryan Buckland said | February 2nd 2016 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      Things look to have moved a fair way since I wrote this in December: no coaches will fall in 2016.

      http://www.theroar.com.au/2015/12/09/big-call-no-afl-coaches-will-fall-2016/

      At that point, all the talk was he was a lock for an extension. I wonder what has changed? Its maddness to me; he’s done everything he possibly could have done. Richmond’s percentage has increased every year since he came in (excluding the year they limped out of the gates), and the list is far from topping out.

      For what its worth, I’m still confident that every coach will get to see out the year and there won’t be any mid season changes. So I disagree with your conclusion, Josh 🙂

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:37am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        Tell the 50,000 Richmond fans at the MCG last September that Hardwick has done all he could have done 😉

        I don’t necessarily believe these coaches will get sacked mid-season – though I reckon it’s more likely than not – but I am willing to say that at least one of them and probably two will not be coaching in 2017.

        How about a friendly wager RB, if a coach falls mid-year then you have to write an article praising the list management of the Carlton football club, and if not then I have to do… the same thing, haha.

        • Columnist

          February 2nd 2016 @ 11:27am
          Ryan Buckland said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:27am | ! Report

          Alright, let’s do it.

          If an AFL coach is sacked between 24 March and the end of thr home and away season (lets say 4 Septemver notionally at this stage), I’ll write an article that fawns over North Melbourne and disses West Coast. If there isn’t a coach sacked, you are to write an article fawning over the Eagles and dissing the ‘Roos.

          This could be all the more interesting if the two end up playing in the finals, which I reckon they will.

          • Editor

            February 2nd 2016 @ 11:35am
            Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:35am | ! Report

            I dunno, I feel like the Carlton list management thing would be more humiliating for both of us!

            • Columnist

              February 2nd 2016 @ 11:39am
              Ryan Buckland said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:39am | ! Report

              Yeah but I’ve painted myself into a particular corner when it comes to Carlton…

              Those are my terms, Monsieur Elliott.

              • Editor

                February 2nd 2016 @ 12:43pm
                Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

                Alright, you’ve got a deal!

      • Roar Guru

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:38am
        Rick Disnick said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        “he’s done everything he possibly could have done”

        …except win a final. 🙂

        • Columnist

          February 2nd 2016 @ 11:46am
          Ryan Buckland said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:46am | ! Report

          Well, there is that.

          But the case that they made the finals early in 2013 is strong, and they’ve played eventual preliminary finalists in 2014 and 2015.

          They should be expected to win one this year, and right now I think they will.

          • Roar Guru

            February 2nd 2016 @ 12:25pm
            Rick Disnick said | February 2nd 2016 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

            “They should be expected to win one this year”

            Totally agree, and I don’t expect them to not make the 8, or go out of the finals easily this time round. However, you can’t deny that should this happen, Hardwick most likely is gone.

            Carlton on the other hand can lose every game this year by 100 points, and Bolton will most likely still be there.

            There are certainties in this world and Hardwick coaching in 2017 is not one of them.

            • Columnist

              February 2nd 2016 @ 12:49pm
              Ryan Buckland said | February 2nd 2016 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

              For sure. The Tigers are just entering their prime, so its reasonable for the board and fans to expect a good showing this year.

              My concern if I were a Richmond fan is that every story about Richmond will reference Hardwick’s contracr status if he isn’t extended – that’s noones fault (except the Herald Sun’s) its just how it is.

              I’d rather see them give him two years, but make it very clear that the club expects to be moving into the premiership frame by making it incentive driven. That way if they fail this year he can still be moved. Removing a head coach always costs dead money, so signing them firing isn’t out of the question.

              Right now, Richmond are allowing the media to write their stories, rather than making a strong statement. I expect them to right that ship before the season gets underway.

    • Roar Guru

      February 2nd 2016 @ 10:23am
      Paul D said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      Hardwick will definitely want to be sitting in the top 8 by the time the bye round arrives. If he does that, and then makes the finals, his job is safe – provided of course he wins one.

      Bucks – don’t care. Collingwood are big and mean enough to look after themselves.

      And Leppa – well, I think the club is now leaning more towards keeping him – I don’t think they can really wait until the bye and then sniff the breeze, because Brisbane’s start to the season is dreadful.

      West Coast (A)
      North Melbourne (H)
      Geelong (A)
      Gold Coast (H)
      Western Bulldogs (A)
      Sydney (H)
      Port (A)
      Collingwood (G)

      Can easily see them being 0-8 after that start. So it’ll be about the manner of their defeats and how we run out games and work as a team. If he’s sacked suddenly it’ll be because the club thinks he’s not the right bloke to lead this group of players – gee they have to get the next appointment right though!

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:39am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        Given that start to the year, I hate to say it because I do actually like Leppa (his rage tweeting during trade periods is amusing), but I don’t think he’ll see out the year.

        • Roar Guru

          February 2nd 2016 @ 10:42am
          Paul D said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:42am | ! Report

          I think he’ll stay, assuming things don’t get worse. It’s going to be all about the spirit and morale of the playing group for the Lions, if the kids are happy with Leppa the club isn’t going to risk further upheaval. They know they’re a long, long way back and it’s going to take years to get back into contention anyway.

      • Roar Guru

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:41am
        Rick Disnick said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        Damn, I didn’t realise just how sh4t the Lions start is until you rattled off those games.

        Leppa is a gonna for sure – sorry.

    • Roar Guru

      February 2nd 2016 @ 11:05am
      Rick Disnick said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      One thing is almost certain…someone is going to lose their job.

      In order of the most likely;

      Leppa
      Buckley
      Harwick
      Cameron
      Longmire

      Those are the only clubs I believe are likely to sack their coach, despite some of them having contracts until 2017-2018.

      Contracts mean nothing and for me the one with the most amount of pressure on him is Cameron.

      The AFL wouldn’t want another ‘expansion’ teams blowing up after giving them enormous concessions – especially after 5 years in the competition.

      GWS need to make the 8 and realise their promise. Personally, I don’t believe in this magic 5-year mark floated around at the inception of both the expansion teams, but many do, including every AFL bashing journalist in Sydney waiting to write a story about the AFL’s demise in the West – Vietnam style!

      He will be gone, guaranteed if they finish in the bottom 4. He may be gone if the team doesn’t make the 8, but less likely in this case.

      Eddie is a ruthless business man anyone would love in charge of their club. I don’t particularly like the man and I think he’s bad for the AFL overall, but he’s good for Collingwood.

      Buckley if he finished bottom 4 is gone. I think he’ll get one more year if he just missed out on the 8, but he’s no guarantee. It really depends on who becomes available and whether Eddie wants to pull the trigger. I have no doubt he would cut him in a heart beat if he could replace him with something better.

      Hardwick – simple. No top 8 and he is sacked. If they make the 8 and no finals win, he’s sacked. Anything else and he stays.

      Longmire is an interesting one. I think the Swans are stale. They play a horrible brand of football, despite having one of the most dynamic forwards lines in the league. I believe it’s possible if the Swans don’t make the 8 and play bland football in the process, it’s possible for him to be stepped aside for Stuart Dew.

      Don’t be surprised if Horse steps down due to some mysterious bout of colic and hands over the reins.

      Leppa – no chance, he’s gone.

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 11:30am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Longmire is one I nearly mentioned along with a few other coaches whose contracts go out to the end of 2017 – even with a year to go you aren’t safe.

        I do agree that he could be in a bit of trouble and at this stage I reckon he’s worse than 50/50 to be coaching in 2018 and beyond, that said, it’d be a massive call from the Swans to cut a premiership coach a year early so I don’t think it’ll happen this year.

        • Roar Guru

          February 2nd 2016 @ 11:39am
          Rick Disnick said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          I agree, which is why I had him at the bottom of my list. The only reason he made my sh4t list is because of Dew. It’s more likely to be a succession plan though if he does go.

          I don’t think they would ‘sack’ him so to speak, but he could ‘mysteriously’ step down with any number of excuses put in place if they don’t perform on-field.

    • Roar Guru

      February 2nd 2016 @ 11:51am
      DingoGray said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:51am | ! Report

      Josh,

      You on the money with Hardwick! Though Richmond have generally improved each year, when they look to be moving away from the issues that have bugged them for so long they fall back into bad habits.

      I think there leaders who go “MIA” when the Heat is on looks particularly bad for Hardwick.

      They have to make Top 4 this year and I would go as far as to say they have to make a Prelim Final for hardwick to be extended.

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 4:38pm
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

        I could write a whole nother article on why Richmond haven’t been able to become the successful team they want to be just yet.. and I probably will! Stay tuned.

    • February 2nd 2016 @ 9:59pm
      Don Freo said | February 2nd 2016 @ 9:59pm | ! Report

      I would suggest Eade is most likely…or most deserving.

      Perhaps Brissy might sack Leppa, expecting Roos to come up there. (Poor Vossy)

      • Roar Guru

        February 3rd 2016 @ 1:54am
        Paul D said | February 3rd 2016 @ 1:54am | ! Report

        Harsh on Eade. Gold Coast’s midfield was gutted last season.

        The Lions tried that before – I wouldn’t want Paul Roos anyway, I’m not sold on his gameplan down at Melbourne. I can only assume he’s building the foundations for Goodwin to really let them off the leash.

        I’m a fairly mild mannered person, but if the Lions board do sack Leppa without any replacement lined up (again), I may put my foot through my monitor and send the bill to the club.

        • February 3rd 2016 @ 1:59am
          Don Freo said | February 3rd 2016 @ 1:59am | ! Report

          He sure was gutted…but they might rise despite him with midfield back, up and running.

          Eade is too confrontational, too old school and will be as effective as Malthouse. He was a default appointment.

          Only joking about Roos. I just think Voss should still be there and things would certainly be a different shape.

          • Roar Guru

            February 3rd 2016 @ 2:04am
            Paul D said | February 3rd 2016 @ 2:04am | ! Report

            Not that different. He wasn’t that much better than Leppa.

            • February 3rd 2016 @ 2:09am
              Don Freo said | February 3rd 2016 @ 2:09am | ! Report

              No…but he is an astute talent. He just had to learn how to coach. He knows how to lead. By now he’d have it down pat.

              People moderate over time. Brissy lost the momentum of Vossy the Brand. They needed to support him with mentors rather than sack him. Laidley, Sumich, Hinkley, Brian Royal…

          • February 3rd 2016 @ 7:09am
            Milo said | February 3rd 2016 @ 7:09am | ! Report

            Just one point on Eade. He strikes me as someone who has the nous and ability to reinvent himself and change and adapt to suit the times and the situation. I saw a different Rocket last year when the chips were down than the one who coached Swans and Bulldogs. Full complement this year and GCS will be knocking on the door of 8 if not in it.

      • Editor

        February 3rd 2016 @ 10:40pm
        Josh Elliott said | February 3rd 2016 @ 10:40pm | ! Report

        I don’t reckon Eade was a great appointment but to suggest he deserves a sacking is a fair way off I think. He had about half a fit list last year and has put in significant work cleaning up a very unprofessional culture that had developed at the club.

    • February 3rd 2016 @ 1:14am
      MJ said | February 3rd 2016 @ 1:14am | ! Report

      Even if they replace Leppitsch the financial situation of the Lions is such that they probably can’t afford someone proven so they may be forced into keeping him.

      One smoky that will probably sound laughable now….Ross Lyon. If Freo go backwards and the development of the kids are further stymied would the Freo board have the guts to go in another direction?

      • February 3rd 2016 @ 1:34am
        Don Freo said | February 3rd 2016 @ 1:34am | ! Report

        “Laughable now…”? That is laughable at any time.

        “…the development of the kids are further stymied..” The development of the kids is what had them finish on top last year. Do you think Pav did it?

        I can’t believe how little eastern staters know about The Dockers.

        The other silly thing is that you have just stated that Brissy can’t afford anyone but Leppa…and you go for Rossy? Ross Lyon can print his own pay cheque.

      • Roar Guru

        February 3rd 2016 @ 1:54am
        Paul D said | February 3rd 2016 @ 1:54am | ! Report

        Ross Lyon isn’t getting the sack.

        • February 3rd 2016 @ 10:52am
          mattyb said | February 3rd 2016 @ 10:52am | ! Report

          Now that is laughable. The kids further stymied comment though is the funniest. You seem to have one wild imagination.

      • Editor

        February 3rd 2016 @ 10:42pm
        Josh Elliott said | February 3rd 2016 @ 10:42pm | ! Report

        I can see the logic of where you’re coming from but no, I don’t think it’s a serious possibility. Technically at this point Lyon is the most successful coach in the history of the club, taking them to both their first grand final and first minor premiership. They’ll back him in to bring more success longterm, I think.

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