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)

    • February 2nd 2016 @ 6:23am
      WhereIsGene said | February 2nd 2016 @ 6:23am | ! Report

      Eddie will keep Buckley at Collingwood even if he keeps taking the team backwards, such is his eternal manlove for Bucks.

      Leppa.. well he’s probably the worst coach in the AFL quite comfortably but Brisbane is a basket case and will use the ‘we are rebuilding’ excuse as long as they can, like Melbourne did with Dean Bailey.

      Hardwick is simply gone if Richmond don’t win a final but probably safe if they do.

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:21am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        I do wonder how much Eddie’s ego could come into a Bucks decision. The succession plan was his baby so there’ll be a lot of egg of on his face if it doesn’t deliver results.

      • February 2nd 2016 @ 1:45pm
        David C said | February 2nd 2016 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        I suspect Hardwick will know his fate before the finals. Collingwood need to move Eddie on not Bucks. Leppa has to show major improvements this year … he’d be my pick as most likely to go.

        • February 2nd 2016 @ 9:53pm
          Don Freo said | February 2nd 2016 @ 9:53pm | ! Report

          Eddie and Bucks are safe…because both are doing excellent jobs.

          Bucks’ regeneration of this team is outstanding.

        • February 7th 2016 @ 11:45am
          The Original Buzz said | February 7th 2016 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          I agree on Hardwick, I think they will need to be in the top 6 around mid season for his job to be safe.

      • February 2nd 2016 @ 9:51pm
        Don Freo said | February 2nd 2016 @ 9:51pm | ! Report

        Not bad Wiggy. You have written off 3 clubs in one post and a post-humous dig at another coach.

        Ugly.

    • February 2nd 2016 @ 6:52am
      Starburns_ said | February 2nd 2016 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      Hardwick is an outstanding coach. Tactically brilliant and has the respect of the First XI. I’m backing him to make Top 4

      • February 2nd 2016 @ 9:55am
        Casper said | February 2nd 2016 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Doesn’t he need the respect of the first XXII to be assured of getting the best out of the playing group?

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:21am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        So only half the team?

        Top four is definitely within Richmond’s grasp, that said so is missing finals and having the coach sacked.

    • Roar Pro

      February 2nd 2016 @ 7:36am
      berrlins said | February 2nd 2016 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      Hardwick doesn’t deserve the pressure he’s under this year, Leppa maybe wasn’t the right choice in the first place but Bucks, Bucks is in trouble, not the worst coach in the world but right now has a lot riding against him.

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:23am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        A six year stretch as coach without winning a finals match is something that doesn’t happen very often so to be honest I feel like he does deserve a bit of pressure at the moment. That said the media scrutiny on his position will soon become intense unless Richmond start the year in excellent form.

        • Roar Pro

          February 8th 2016 @ 3:14am
          berrlins said | February 8th 2016 @ 3:14am | ! Report

          I agree that his finals record is terrible but his home and away record is excellent, and when he took over the club was hopeless, He is a big part of why they are challenging for the top four now. and if they decide not to extend his contract, who else could they get? although I do hear Malthouse is looking.

          • February 8th 2016 @ 10:25am
            The Original Buzz said | February 8th 2016 @ 10:25am | ! Report

            That would be good, Malthouse could destroy another team and lift Carlton off the bottom.

    • Roar Guru

      February 2nd 2016 @ 7:45am
      Wilson said | February 2nd 2016 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Hardwick I think will get a contract extension if they win a Final this year. That is the only why I can see them Signing him on for another year. Agree with Berrlins that he should not be under that pressure.

      Leppa I think with the chats on here that I have had with Paul D he need to be given the time and that Lions need to have patients. They have the talent there now they just need to mould it.

      Bucks I think if the Pies don’t make the finals this year could be gone then. but I don’t think that is right, to me they need other 12 months of experience and then if they don’t make the finals in 2017 then start looking at replacing Buck.

      But that could all go up in the smoke if Clarko decides that he wants a new challange at a new club. Then I think all coaches under pressure could see them self without a job.

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:30am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:30am | ! Report

        Mid-September is a long way for them to wait before they offer Hardwick an extension. Winning a final is the obvious benchmark that fans will put on a club but I think they will probably give him an offer if the Tigers are ticking over well in the middle of the year.

        Leppa I compare to Matthew Primus – a club legend who has been given the job largely because of that tag. Like Port’s situation with Primus, Brisbane have spent too long recruiting coaches who have a prior relationship with the club. They need to go find their theoretical Ken Hinkley, a complete outsider who can modernise the way coach works at the club. At the moment I think they’re too in love with where they were a bit over a decade ago to really progress forward.

        I agree that Collingwood shouldn’t be expected to make finals this year, in terms of where the list is at I think a reasonable expectation for finals is in 2017 or 2018. But the fact Buckley replaced a premiership coach, the fact they’ve traded in so many players, the fact he comes out of contract this year, it all amps up the pressure to the point where this season could be finals or bust.

        Be very interested to see how this year plays out for Clarko.

        • Roar Guru

          February 2nd 2016 @ 10:56am
          Wilson said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          can see the point with Leppa but Hinkleys don’t grow on trees. they could beg for Roos but i think he is happy at Demons. I will admit that after Voss was let go that Harvey was not give the job full time after what he had done with Freo.

          Collingwood I don’t see them sacking Buck this year unless they end up finishing between 18th and 15th then there may be some question that buck will need to answer.

          • Editor

            February 2nd 2016 @ 4:36pm
            Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

            It doesn’t necessarily have to be the scale of transformation that Hinkley worked but has to be someone who can come from a successful club environemtn and give a genuine outside perspective on the club and help bring it into the modern era.

    • February 2nd 2016 @ 8:29am
      Franky said | February 2nd 2016 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      Sigh, it’s early February and we’re already talking about sacking coaches. I guess that’s the end of summer.

      I agree with the premise of your article, but if the only way Hardwick can prove himself is to win a final, talk of sacking him during the season is irrelevant. Unfortunately, that won’t stop the speculation.

      How the hell are Richmond going to manage this situation? This is all the media will talk about until he either gets an extension or is sacked, and that’s before we even consider how they are travelling on the field. If Richmond get off to a bad start, the speculation will reach fever pitch…

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:32am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        It’s a magical time of year.

        Agree the timing of things is what makes this difficult – the longer they wait the more speculation will ramp up, and waiting till mid-September would have the media going absolutely mad. I reckon it’s more likely that Hardwick will either get the chop mid year after a poor start, or get an extension mid year after a good one.

      • February 8th 2016 @ 10:32am
        The Original Buzz said | February 8th 2016 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        I love the preseason for that very reason, the sometimes illogical and unreasoning opinions of fans (me included), media and experts alike before a ball has touched the hallowed ground of the field. The last few years have proven that it is difficult to see how a team will perform before they take the field in battle.
        Bulldogs and Freo recently and Port Adelaide under Hinkley before them are good examples.

        • February 8th 2016 @ 10:36am
          Don Freo said | February 8th 2016 @ 10:36am | ! Report

          It’s never been surprising to see how well Freo does each year.

    • February 2nd 2016 @ 9:52am
      Milo said | February 2nd 2016 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      There is no way Hardwick will be sacked mid season. Id be surprised if he doesn’t get an extension at the Board Meeting in February but that extension may be one year (until end 2017) and contain significant performance based inclusions. That way it gives some breathing room this season and leaves open the oppty to replace at season’s end if need be.
      As for his performance, Im still always left wondering why he seems to struggle to identify talent and refuses to give decent opportunities for younger players while persisting with the likes of Chaplin, Houli, Grigg and co. I don’t know how much of a factor was the inclusion of Griffiths and Conca who both hadn’t played for some time into that side that played and lost against NM, but Ben Lennon who played his best 4-5 games for the club (and was in the best in most of them) leading up to that was incredibly stiff. Tactically Dimma seems to have improved but still doesn’t appear to be anywhere near the top 4-5 coaches and often seems lost without a plan B on game day. One more full year is deserved but from there its anyone’s guess.
      Buckley is safe so long as Eddie Everywhere is Pres. Leppa should be given one more full season hopefully without the injuries he endured last years. Of course Lethal may have a say on that.
      So maybe no-one to get the chop. How about that.

      • Editor

        February 2nd 2016 @ 10:43am
        Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        I could be wrong here but I think there is a rule saying that coaching contract extensions need to be a minimum of two years – again, I could be very wrong there, I’m not sure where I read it.

        The Griffiths/Conca decisions were very strange last year. I could understand the logic of them to some degree but bringing two underdone players into a final is just not a good idea, especially when you’re playing a team that rested half of it’s side the week before.

        • February 2nd 2016 @ 11:15am
          Milo said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          I didn’t know that (about minimum tenures) but you may be right. If so it changes things significantly. Then again, what do coaching contracts mean these days? Well I guess from Richmond’s pov, its probably more important than most that they stick to their promises given the late 70s/80s history of coaching ruthlessness mainly attributable to GR.

          • Editor

            February 2nd 2016 @ 11:38am
            Josh Elliott said | February 2nd 2016 @ 11:38am | ! Report

            While player contracts are often said to be not worth the paper they’re printed on, coaching contracts can actually be a bigger deal since if you sack a coach you then have to pay out their contract, which is not the case for trading a contracted player. That can potentially be a huge expense for clubs depending on how many years the contracts have left. Brad Scott at North Melbourne for example I think is virtually unsackable at the moment because he was extended to 2018 – if they were to sack him this year that would probably mean paying out $1million not to mention the cost of hiring a new coach.

            • February 3rd 2016 @ 7:02am
              Milo said | February 3rd 2016 @ 7:02am | ! Report

              Coaching contracts at RFC are worth more on the intangibles side now given their history. Not only do they want to ensure a coach at least coaches out his tenure to avoid paying out dead money, but they need to ensure that potential coaches have comfort that they will be similarly looked after and treated with respect at the end in order to attract the best coaching talent at Tigerland. Go back to when Spud the Dud was picked in 1999; no-one else wanted the job. I remember Bomber knocked it back too. So that was a legacy of GR that needed to be dismantled.

              I read this morning that Leppa may get a year’s contract which is what I thought may happen at RFC so apparently its not outside the rules. But my feeling now is that Dimma will get another two years and this will happen prior to Round 1.

      • February 3rd 2016 @ 9:13am
        bob burra said | February 3rd 2016 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        So what you are implying is that if by some chance that at the half way mark of the season if Richmond is sitting as 5/6 or 6/5 that the board WOULD NOT be looking at Hardwicks’ position as Senior Coach. If you believe that, that would make you nearly as blind as the Essendon tribe who believe that the ‘Dons did nothing wrong

        • February 3rd 2016 @ 9:20am
          Milo said | February 3rd 2016 @ 9:20am | ! Report

          Rubbish. You clearly don’t follow AFL too closely or know much about the current RFC Administration under Benny Gale. Even when Tigers were equal last in 2014 after Round 14 the administration and the club as a whole was united. There was no talk of coach sacking inside the club. This is not the same club that ate its own in the late 70s and 80s.

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