Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse is a man at the top of his profession. His side have won the 2010 AFL premiership, 2010 McClelland Trophy, last week’s NAB Cup and enter the 2011 season as red-hot flag favourites, yet if Pies president Eddie Maguire’s plan goes ahead he won’t be coaching in 2012.
We all know about Maguire’s unprecedented succession plan for the top job at Collingwood, with Malthouse to move aside into a director of coaching role, making room for Magpies favourite son Nathan Buckley to take the reins for the 2012 season and beyond.
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou summed up a lot of footy fans’ sentiment towards the plan when he said on 3AW radio last week: “He’s going to become director of coaching, whatever that means.”
It is a strange plan (particularly considering it was orchestrated all the way back in mid-2009) and it has copped its fair share of criticism, with AFL legends Leigh Matthews and Paul Roos the latest to question it this week.
But you can understand Maguire’s desire to secure Buckley to the club, as there’s no doubt he has an intelligent football brain and is an impressive candidate to become an AFL coach.
But we’re talking about replacing the 2010 AFL Coach of the Year who has coached in seven AFL Grand Finals (if we include 2010’s replay) in the past 20 years, with a former on-field superstar who has never coached an AFL match before.
It’s a strange prospect when you think about it like that.
And we shouldn’t forget Malthouse (despite his grey hair) is only 57, which is by no means the retirement age for an AFL coach. Far from it, particularly one currently at the top of his field.
Publicly, Collingwood claim the succession plan was mutually agreed by all parties.
Maguire said last October: “This agreement… was not inflicted on Michael, it was actually agreed with Mick before we even spoke to Bucks.”
It makes you wonder if Malthouse has actually lost the passion for coaching.
Yet when Malthouse, who admitted he expected enquiries from other AFL clubs post-2011, was asked if he’d contemplate moving to another club to coach he wasn’t outright in his response, when he said: “Until that time, I really couldn’t say.”
Maguire, though, said last year that if Malthouse’s reneged from his agreed contract (three years as director of coaching) and opted to coach another AFL club, he may sue him.
It was a strong warning from Maguire, but whether that threat would turn into reality is another question.
The question plenty of people are pondering is, has Maguire given Malthouse his director of coaching role to deny other clubs his services?
Former premiership-winning coach Paul Roos, who stepped down from the top job at Sydney to hand the reins over to long-time assistant John Longmire this season, made the point Malthouse will have to offer Buckley plenty of space and control to make the arrangement work.
Whether or not Malthouse will be content with such a modified role is a question only he can answer, but it could play a big part in deciding his future beyond this season.
And then, of course, as Matthews suggested if Collingwood do win the 2011 premiership (as widely predicted, although obviously there’s a long way to go) how could the plan go ahead.
Even a Grand Final place would put Maguire in a difficult position, but you’d think given the team player which Buckley is, he may be content to wait his turn another year given the circumstances.
Then again, maybe Malthouse has lost the passion, but given he’s a career coach currently at the top of his profession, it’s hard to believe that would be the case.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, 69, is a similar example of a long-time coach who has been linked with retirement but just continues on and on, as he knows no else and continues to succeed.
Whatever happens at Collingwood this season, Maguire’s unprecedented succession plan will cause a stir.
Whether it works as he had planned, we’ll have to wait and see, but confining Malthouse to the peripheral role of ‘director of coaching’ isn’t something which I can see lasting for long.