The Demons need to find their Ron Barassi

Callam P Roar Pro

By Callam P, Callam P is a Roar Pro


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    Ron Barassi addresses the Melbourne Demons at the break during a 1980's VFL match.

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    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.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • April 11th 2013 @ 7:38am
      dean said | April 11th 2013 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      This is very true. In this era of professionalism we discount motivation too much. I’ve long thought club success depends less on the talent you have available and more on the determination of the players. That determination reflects the expectations of the people within the club. Hawthorn are a great example of how a club demands success and expects to win, and that becomes reflected on the field. Melbourne seem rudderless, accepting of mediocrity, and they would probably see a loss by under 10 goals this weekend as a win. They really need another Norm Smith to demand success.

    • April 11th 2013 @ 7:59am
      checkside said | April 11th 2013 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Or a Neil Kerley

      • April 11th 2013 @ 2:45pm
        Callam P said | April 11th 2013 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

        Yep, relatively similar situation from my understanding.

    • April 11th 2013 @ 9:56am
      Strummer Jones said | April 11th 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      “Over the course of three seasons, Barassi turned the club around”

      I think you’re drawing a very long bow here.

      • April 11th 2013 @ 11:05am
        Matt F said | April 11th 2013 @ 11:05am | ! Report

        He didn’t do it by himself, there were a lot of changes at the club, but there is no doubt that he played an important role

    • April 11th 2013 @ 10:39am
      Seano said | April 11th 2013 @ 10:39am | ! Report

      I hadn’t thought about Mark Williams at the demons, he would tick all the boxes, much more so than Roos or Eade IMO. He would kick heads demand respect, he is unmatched at developing youngsters, hhhhmmmm good call.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [].

      • Roar Rookie

        April 11th 2013 @ 1:17pm
        Reccymech said | April 11th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        Yeah, not a bad ‘fit’ – Mark Williams.

        Whenever, if/when/where, should the axe fall for Mark Neeld I subscribe to the disciplinarian coaching format. This in essence is the context of the OP, well that’s they way I read the tea leaves. For a club to build, and lets face it, Melbourne Football Club has to lay the foundation stone/s (again?). That requires the coach to take a hard line approach, this in turn will develop the ethos/culture of the playing group. Although, this could be seen as the cart before the horse.

        The administration must be the driving force and set the standard that is ‘the club’ and what it stands for, whereupon, this will engender the playing group, led/developed by the coach to execute their brand of footy on the field.

        • April 11th 2013 @ 2:52pm
          Callam P said | April 11th 2013 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

          He certainly appears the most gettable of the coaches I named. And his record suggests that he could do a good job.

          But you’re right, unless the administration is on board it’ll be very difficult for a coach to make their mark on the playing group.

    • Roar Guru

      April 11th 2013 @ 10:45am
      mastermind5991 said | April 11th 2013 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      No doubt, the Sydney Swans have set the standard for success in the modern era. Only three missed finals series since 1995, the least of any existing club.

      Ron Barassi turned the club from a laughing stock into a competitive force, and this has since been carried on by Rodney Eade, Paul Roos and John Longmire. The Swans also utilise the draft very well, and those two have resulted in two flags (one each to Roos and Longmire).

      My theory is that the Swans planned their next premiership (2012) very well. They planned the transition from Roos into Longmire well in advance, and their success has not diminished. It took only two years for Longmire to land Sydney a flag, and continue a long tradition of success in what is traditionally a rugby league-dominated market. I can’t see Sydney declining over the long term, but the inevitable will have to happen and that is the Swans will have to endure what the Brisbane Lions and Melbourne are enduring at the moment – some tough times.

      • April 11th 2013 @ 1:30pm
        Strummer Jones said | April 11th 2013 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        My Godfather Part 1 & 2. Would you blokes get off this “Barassi turned the Swans around” or “made them competitive” rubbish. Didnt you watch Mythbusters last December when they proved his influence was nowhere near as great as what people now believe. I’m not saying he was rubbish, or even just average, I’m just saying you can’t use the sentence “Ron Barassi turned the Swans around” or “made them competitive”. Swans came bottom in 1993 and 1994 under Barassi, won only 8 games in 1995 (uncometitive in all 3 years therefore). During his tenure they also recruited a past use-by-date Dermott Brereton without success. To me the turnaround/competitiveness largely rests with the players Paul Kelly and Tony Lockett and Rodney Eade in 1996. You’re taking too much away from these blokes.

        • April 11th 2013 @ 2:39pm
          Callam P said | April 11th 2013 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

          My statement should be treated as Barassi helped the Swans turn things about and not that he was solely responsible.

          Nevertheless when you look at Sydney in the 90s there is a distinct ‘Before Barassi’ and ‘After Barassi’ feel. The Swans made some pretty big gains over those season going from one of the worst teams ever in 1993 to winning 8 games (with a percentage a little over 100%) in 1995. In addition, home crowds rose by 60 per cent.

          The team was embarassing before Barassi was hired and perfectly respectible when he finished up at the end of 1995 and I don’t think we should ignore that. Obviously players had a significant role as well but could the Swans have attracted Lockett and Roos without the improvement that had begun in 1994? Probably not – Barassi deserves some credit.

          • April 11th 2013 @ 2:57pm
            Strummer Jones said | April 11th 2013 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

            “could the Swans have attracted Lockett and Roos without the improvement that had begun in 1994”?

            Firstly, what improvement? They won 4 games and finished bottom. 1991 they won 7 games and finished 12th (of 15). In the late 80s they were finishing top of ladder and getting in great crowds. Why didnt Lockett join in ’92?

            Secondly, what attracted Lockett to the Swans was cold hard cash, not Barassi. Roos moved because Fitzroy folded and Swans offered the best terms as far as I am aware. He was turning 32 and (unbelievably) they offered him a 3 year contract.

            In 2035 people will be saying Scully moved to GWS because of Sheedy!

            Look, you write a good piece. I’m just asking that people not rewrite history.

            • April 11th 2013 @ 3:03pm
              Callam P said | April 11th 2013 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

              I’d say there was a fair bit of difference between the team’s 1993 and 1994 results. The ladder does not always give the best indication of how competitive a team is. For example, look at each team’s percentage. A percentage in the low 60s is usually consistent with an absolutely terrible team or one that is in crisis. By comparision, the 1994 team had a percentage in the high 70s, which is more consistent with a mostly competitive team that occasionally gets belted.

              The wins are not that much different but the performance of the team was. The same thing applies to the 1995 team, who only won 8 games but had a percentage of 100 so they were clearly very competitive throughout the season.

              • Roar Guru

                April 11th 2013 @ 6:07pm
                mastermind5991 said | April 11th 2013 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

                Not to mention that Sydney did defeat Carlton, who went on to win the premiership, in 1995.

              • April 11th 2013 @ 6:59pm
                Strummer Jones said | April 11th 2013 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

                I have revisited the 1995 season. They were very competitive in the first half of the season, flogged Adelaide in fact (and again later that year…Adl finishing 1 game above them at end of year). Then got flogged themselves a few times. Lost to WCE by 1 point, thrashed Fitzroy by 21 goals, got beaten by Freo twice (I recall they couldnt beat Freo for 3-4 years??). Its a very mixed bag. Definite improvement on the previous year, but as I stated before they had Lockett and a new Brownlow Medalist in Paul Kelly. I guess you still can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear, but you can always try 😉

    • April 11th 2013 @ 2:31pm
      Matt P said | April 11th 2013 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

      You speak of Neil Craig, he is already at the club as head of the Football department. He is meant to be the one that is mentoring Neeld into being a senior coach… so I would take him off the list. Eade gets buckets of money and no real pressure at Collingwood which I don’t think he would leave for Melbourne.

      Melbourne really need one of Mark Williams or Paul Roos, both coaches with a track record of developing young players and a club culture.

      The question really has to be asked though, who would take the job. Looks like a career wrecker to me…

      • April 11th 2013 @ 2:58pm
        Callam P said | April 11th 2013 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        Yeah, I’m not sure how hands on a role Neil Craig has taken so far. If he’s very hands on then I think it probably isn’t appropriate but if he’s more in the background then I think Coach Craig would be very differenct from Director of Coaching Craig. His approach in Adelaide is the type of approach that Melbourne would benefit from, although I am surprised that it is difficult to identify his impact on the current team.

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