AFL coaching landscape: Who’s under pressure?

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    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.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • February 5th 2013 @ 7:25am
      SpearTackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      It would be interesting to see if the AFL adopted some kind of coaching or off-field salary cap. Fremantle and Carlton were able to buy out contracts because they could afford to. Smaller clubs would run into mega debt if they tried the same thing. I can’t immagine Michael Voss will get a contract extension so I think for the sake of his legacy at the club, he comes out and says he’s leaving on his own terms.

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2013 @ 8:35am
      Redb said | February 5th 2013 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Very good article and summary.

      5. I disagree re Malthouse he has a one year honeymoon at least. There will be some expectation to make the 8 but not top 4.

      4. Agree on Clarkson, he has a tough year ahead of him, could Franklin leaving at seasons end actually take the pressure off?

      3. Spot on assessment re James Hird. I think though Essendon are still building and with new digs to come online I think it will Sir James plenty of reasons to stay.

      2. Yeah McKenna is safe for 2013. 6-8 wins will be a success. Less than 4 wins could see the club have a good look at replacing him in the future.

      1. Disagree on Voss, the Lions won 9-10 games in 2012, a better run with injuries could see them climb the ladder further. He was more vulnerable after the 2011 season IMO.

    • February 5th 2013 @ 11:28am
      Macca said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:28am | ! Report

      Since we’re talking about contracted coaches, what about Ross Lyon? He had his honeymoon period last year so I’d expect him to be under the heat more than Malthouse. He’s got a list capable of a flag and he’s running out of time to get the most out of Sandilands and Pavlich.
      And from your list of coaches hanging around the sidelines, only Roos and Ratten are any chance of getting a senior gig again.

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2013 @ 5:15pm
        Alfred Chan said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

        It’s quite safe to say Fremantle gave two mammoth performances in the finals last year. To topple Geelong at Etihad in the manner they did in the elimination final would have given Dockers fans more than enough faith in Lyon to lead to team into the future. Following up that performance in a nail biter in Adelaide only reaffirmed this. All of this came from a team who 12 months ago, couldn’t win on the road. Ross Lyon is their man.

    • Roar Guru

      February 5th 2013 @ 12:21pm
      TomC said | February 5th 2013 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

      I’ve never been a fan of Voss; in fact I thought his appointment was a ridiculous piece of mismanagement, made worse by a revolving door of football staff and coaching assistants of dubious quality at the Lions over the last four years.

      Even after four years, I still think he shows some signs of naivety in his decisions. The club seemed prepared to move heaven and earth to get Kurt Tippett but still couldn’t land him. The Lions are woefully lacking in KPP depth, and yet young talls never seem to get an extended run of games.

      And he will wear the disastrous Fevola recruitment as an albatross around his neck for years to come. Quite rightly too.

      That should be set against some good signs for the Lions. They have quite an impressive group of young players who are developing quickly, and older hands like Staker, Raines, Maguire, Patfull and Merrett have all played the best football of their careers under Voss. 2013 will likely be a defining year for the team and the coach.

      But the standards Alfred sets are, frankly, ridiculous. Voss needs to win a final to keep his job? I strongly doubt that that would be the standard the Lions board will apply, and nor should it be. If the Lions finish in eighth and bow out in week one of the finals I think everyone associated with Brisbane would be overjoyed at how quickly the club has come back from the terrible 2011 season. Heck, I think finishing 12th or higher would probably be an acceptable result.

      If the Lions do go backwards in 2013, which is possible, then I think Voss is unlikely to get a new contract, so I agree with Alfred that much, at least.

      Good article otherwise, though. Two other coaches who might find themselves under pressure if the season goes sour are Damien Hardwick and Brad Scott.

      • Roar Guru

        February 5th 2013 @ 12:30pm
        Redb said | February 5th 2013 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

        I reckon North will persist with Brad Scott whilst they’re middle rung at least. North really struggles to attract a big name coach whereas Richmond would have little trouble.

      • Columnist

        February 5th 2013 @ 5:12pm
        Alfred Chan said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:12pm | ! Report

        Voss went 10-12 last season which was certainly an improvement on the 4-18 in 2011. With guys like Rockliff, Redden and Rich in the middle, they have a solid midfield. If he wins 12 games this year, I can see him getting a one year extension but I still think he’ll need a finals appearance to get two or more. On top of Fevola, the Voss regime has been responsible for the losses of Jared Brennan, Michael Rischetelli, Mitch Clark, Daniel Bradshaw and Luke Power – none of which were handled very well. I think there are areas of the game Voss can make a better contribution to football than coaching.

        • Roar Guru

          February 5th 2013 @ 5:38pm
          TomC said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

          What was poorly handled about the Brennan, Clark and Power exits, Alfred? Personally I think the Lions handled those three perfectly.

          Anyway, disagree on finals being the standard for the Lions in 2013. Maybe it should be, for a bloke who’s been in charge for five years, but it won’t be.

          • Columnist

            February 5th 2013 @ 6:19pm
            Alfred Chan said | February 5th 2013 @ 6:19pm | ! Report

            Brennan’s was probably handled the best out of the lot and that’s only because he was playing the worst of the lot. Clark’s exit said a lot about Michael Voss’ approach to how he addressed his players. Clark went on the record saying he was sick of playing in the ruck. His reason for wanting out was he wanted a more permanent role and Voss was unable to offer one to him. Considering their dire need for a tall forward besides Jonathon Brown, they probably could have use him as a forward right about now. The team won seven games in 20110 when he shouldered the ruck load and four in 2011 when he was the 2nd ruckman. There was animosity between Clark and Voss and it showed.
            Power’s exit was the most disappointing of the lot considering both he and Voss played together for so long. Voss as a coach as the right to say it’s time to go, but as a friend the whole “we can only have one veteran on our list” thing wasn’t smooth. First reports from the club said he’s announced his retirement and then when he was asked a week later, he said he’d always wanted to play on. Sure he may have taken a spot on the list which could have been given to a youngster but he’d given so much to the club, was a highly respected leader across the league and still playing good football. Power should have been able to go out on his own terms.
            Clubs and players split up all the time but high profile ones always make someone look bad and in Clark and Power’s cases, it was Brisbane.

            • Roar Guru

              February 5th 2013 @ 9:02pm
              TomC said | February 5th 2013 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

              Alfred, with respect, you’ve strayed onto ground you’re not comfortable with.

              Clark’s stated reason for wanting to leave was that he wanted to return to Perth to be with his family. Here’s a source:


              When Melbourne made a financial offer greater than what either Fremantle or Brisbane, he changed his mind. Here’s a source:


              Clark spent the entire season 2010 playing as a forward, changing in the ruck. As you say, the Lions won four games in that season. He did, however, spend all of 2009 in the ruck after Leuenberger got himself injured. The Lions won thirteen and a half games and finished sixth. Clark made the AA squad as a ruckman.

              Your statement that he wanted to leave because Brisbane couldn’t offer him a permanent role is nonsense. I don’t know if there was animosity between Voss and Clark, but if Clark was publicly complaining about where he was being played I should hope there would be! I don’t think he was though. I think you made that up.

              I know that Brisbane aren’t the best resourced club but I had no idea the head coach was writing the articles on the club’s website. Was it there he said there could only be one veteran on the list? Did he make Black and Brown do rock-paper-scissors for that spot? Or are they still both on the list?

              I think its entirely sensible to try and stagger the retirement of the most senior players. I don’t at all agree that premiership players should be allowed to stay on the list for as long as they damn well please. The club faciliated Power’s trade to GWS for a token low draft pick, where he played one average season and retired.

              To me, it looks like the Lions got that one entirely right.

              Perhaps when people who know more about a subject than yourself politely disagree with you, you should rethink your own position, rather than dig your heels in and say a bunch of stuff that is untrue.

              • Columnist

                February 6th 2013 @ 12:10am
                Alfred Chan said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:10am | ! Report

                “But Young (Clark’s manager) said Clark had been keen to join Fremantle – who have offered the athletic big man a permanent spot at centre half-forward – from as long ago as last year’s trade period.”


                In Feb 2011: “Voss also pointed to a more permanent role in the forward line for Mitch Clark, said he had barely thought about Gold Coast’s entrance to the AFL,”


                The discussions between Voss and Clark were there and it was an offer Voss needed to match knowing Fremantle had offered it. In the end he couldn’t and Clark left after 2011. Sick of rucking/requesting a permanent role = semantics. OK – It’s not as public on paper as I recall so I must be remembering something via radio/tv.

                Brown was never an issue considering he played a completely different role to Power/Black.

                “In the end it was a mutual decision. I’ve got nothing but praise, admiration and respect for ‘Vossy’ … he wanted to be as honest and upfront with me as possible. He didn’t say, ‘You must retire’, but he definitely indicated that the club and team had other priorities and I took it on board.” – That’s a pretty good indication that Voss told him he’d be running around in the 2’s if he stuck around.

                The consummate professional, Power refused to criticise his former captain, but admitted he was desperate to play on.

                “He’s a great leader and Jonathan Brown is a great leader and that’s one of the reasons I was really keen to play with the club again next year, because I just see so much upside,” Power told SEN radio.


              • Roar Guru

                February 6th 2013 @ 12:45am
                TomC said | February 6th 2013 @ 12:45am | ! Report

                Alfred, that second link you’ve put in appears to be broken, but from what I can see there is nothing about a lack of a ‘permanent role’ being a factor behind Clark wanting to leave Brisbane.

                Clark’s reasons are quite clear. They are on record. First it was homesickness, then it was money. That Fremantle wanted to use him as a permanent CHF doesn’t at all mean that he left Brisbane because occasionally he had to play in the ruck. This appears to be a rather obvious point, and I’m not sure why it needs to be explained.

                Oddly enough I’m not going to trust something you think you remember in the distant past, possibly from TV or radio.

                But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because if a player refuses to play where his team needs him, then I have no problem at all with that player being traded.

                I have no idea what that stuff you just said about Power is meant to prove, so I’ll repeat what I said.

                1. Even champions sometimes have to be tapped on the shoulder.
                2. Nothing Power did in his final season makes me think the Lions had anything to gain by playing him ahead of younger players in 2012.
                3. He retired one year later anyway, so obviously he didn’t have much left in him, however positive he felt at the end of 2011.

                Either say why these things are wrong, or admit that you’ve made a mistake.

                You’ve made assertions you can’t support.

    • February 5th 2013 @ 8:56pm
      Floreat Pica said | February 5th 2013 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

      ..and despite the virus surrounding Buckley last year- not a mention of him in article nor comments until now?! Did I miss something? Malthouse did him a huge favour putting on the Navy- will be very, very interesting how these two clubs fare against each other over the coming months.

    • February 5th 2013 @ 11:16pm
      pete_lions said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:16pm | ! Report

      Voss is a dead man walking If things turn sour this year. Luckily Mr Lions himself, Pauls Roos is available to court.

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