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Under pressure: Every AFL coach's job security ranked

Adam Simpson (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Editor
13th March, 2018
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Rightly or wrongly, AFL coaches tend to cop the lion’s share of the blame when their teams don’t perform. Which coaches are feeling the heat coming into 2018?

A quick look at the AFL’s senior coaches reveals that most clubs have their guy locked up for two years or more, and 2018 might be the first year in many where everyone gets to keep their job.

Still, some clubs are bound to fall below expectations, and pressure will come when they do.

18. Damien Hardwick
Out of contract: end of 2021

Hardwick is football’s happiest chap after taking the Tigers to the flag last year and signing an extension last week. Richmond fans will be writing him love letters for decades to come.

17. John Longmire
Out of contract: end of 2020

Although he has his critics, John Longmire has taken Sydney to finals seven years in a row, three grand finals and a premiership. Any club in the league would be happy with that track record.

16. Brendon Bolton
Out of contract: rolling contract

Bolton hasn’t put a foot wrong in his two years at Carlton and fans seem unanimously happy with the progress made so far.

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Brendon Bolton Carlton Blues AFL 2017

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

15. Stuart Dew
Out of contract: end of 2020

Gold Coast could probably go 0-22 this year and Dew would not come close to losing his job. Expectations, for now, are so low that he could not possibly fail to meet them.

14. Don Pyke
Out of contract: end of 2021

Has drawn a few critics as anyone who loses a grand final in such embarrassing fashion is certain to do, but when you look at what he’s achieved in two years, it’s hard not to be impressed.

13. Chris Fagan
Out of contract: end of 2019

Collected a wooden spoon in his first year, but Lions fans would still be happy with the progress made. The balance of fans’ patience versus the list’s potential improvement is strongly in his favour.

chris-fagan-brisbane-lions-afl-2016

AAP Image/Dave Hunt

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12. Ross Lyon
Out of contract: end of 2020

I’ve had my doubts about him at times – and I know I’m not alone – but Fremantle as a club don’t seem to. They’ll back him in even if it’s another poor year in 2018.

11. Ken Hinkley
Out of contract: end of 2021

12 months ago we were talking about him as maybe the first coach sacked in 2017, but he turned it around, took Port Adelaide to finals, and masterfully manipulated the club into giving him a lengthy contract extension.

Safe as houses, although expectations on the club’s performance coming into 2018 are extremely high both externally and internally.

10. Luke Beveridge
Out of contract: end of 2020

If you don’t have a photo of him and Bob Murphy on your wall with a shrine of candles underneath that you tend to daily, are you really even a Dogs fan?

2017 was disappointing, but he’s got plenty of credit in the bank.

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luke-beverdige-bob-robert-murphy-western-bulldogs-afl-2016

AAP Image/Julian Smith

9. Alastair Clarkson
Out of contract: end of 2019

He and Jeff Kennett have butted heads in the past, but realistically it’d be one of the biggest stunners in years if the Hawks decided to move him on.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he leaves of his own volition when his current contract runs out in two years.

8. John Worsfold
Out of contract: end of 2018

Comes into this season as the only coach in the league to not already have a contract for 2019 locked away, and honestly, I’m a little surprised it’s not already done.

You can’t fault his first two years in charge at the Bombers though – expect an extension to be announced sooner rather than later.

7. Leon Cameron
Out of contract: end of 2020

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The beneficiary of being at a club with less in the way of a vocal supporter base than most, Cameron has been criticised by some for the fact that the Giants are yet to deliver a flag.

Realistically though, most expectations on him are probably a bit unreasonable. Clubs don’t sack blokes who keep taking them to finals and Cameron shouldn’t have any trouble doing that again this year.

GWS Giants coach Leon Cameron

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

6. Simon Goodwin
Out of contract: end of 2019

2017 was equal parts optimism and heartbreak – Goodwin delivered significant improvement, but Melbourne really should’ve played finals and didn’t.

Every man and his dog is tipping them to play finals this year, and odds are they will. They have the talent. But if they don’t, many will ask whether Goodwin is up to the job.

5. Chris Scott
Out of contract: end of 2019

He took over the Cats at an unusual time and took them to a premiership, and Scott has since done a fairly good job since, albeit without managing to get into another grand final.

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With a trio of Gary Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, the Cats are clearly in win-now mode. They’re backing in Scott to be the guy who can deliver.

The Cats have kept their window open by continuing to load up with mature talent, but someday the well is going to run dry. Hard to say whether or not he’ll be given a chance to rebuild the list when that day comes, but he’s probably safe till then.

4. Alan Richardson
Out of contract: end of 2020

Richardson has impressed a lot during his four years coaching St Kilda, but the club went backwards for the first time under his tenure in 2017 after falling just narrowly short of finals the year before.

Few, if any, are predicting them to crack into finals this year as well, after the retirements of Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna. The footy world has collectively gone cold on St Kilda’s potential.

We haven’t really seen their gameplan evolve and while they’ve often been busy at the trade table, most of the players acquired have significant limitations.

All things considered, a contract extension late last year was a significant show of faith from the club, and should stave off any threat of a sacking even if the Saints struggle in 2018.

3. Adam Simpson
Out of contract: end of 2019

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Simpson inherited the Eagles at a somewhat awkward time – most new coaches come in looking to rebuild, but instead he took over a list that was fairly mature but not reaching its potential under a then-burnt-out John Worsfold.

In just two years he took them all the way to a grand final, but they copped an embarrassing loss on that day and haven’t delivered on expectations in either of the years that followed.

Most are predicting a slide down the ladder this year after cutting more experience than any other club last year and going from the oldest list in the league to 11th.

Their final preseason game on Sunday was an absolute debacle despite having a fairly strong side named, and with their two most important players Nic Naitanui and Josh J Kennedy both on the injury list, there’s plenty of reasons to be concerned about 2018.

Simpsons’s achievements with the Eagles have been impressive and he has probably earned the right to have a crack at rebuilding the club’s list. West Coast’s list management moves last year, though, painted a picture of a club that isn’t quite sure where it’s at, making it hard to predict how they will react if 2018 is a major disappointment.

The heat will definitely come at some point. How will they respond when it does?

Adam Simpson West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

West Coast Eagles coach Adam Simpson. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

2. Brad Scott
Out of contract: end of 2020

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The usual lifecycle of an AFL coach is to be brought in when a team is at its lowest ebb, rebuild the playing list and see how far you can take it – usually to finals, hopefully a flag – then probably get moved on after that era ends.

That’s what makes Brad Scott’s situation a bit unusual.

He didn’t really come all that close to a flag, with a narrow half-time lead in a preliminary final in 2015 the best we’ve seen, and yet North appear to be backing him in for another turn.

Like Ken Hinkley, he signed a contract extension last year which seemed to be offered largely due to concern that he might be about to be poached by the Gold Coast Suns.

The extension obviously put to an end any chance of that happening, but has forced the club to back in their man at a time of great uncertainty.

While many of 2017’s bottom sides look ready to take steps forward this year, it’s hard to see the Roos doing anything better than treading water, with a step backwards ever more likely.

If that’s the case, expect talk about whether or not it was the right decision to extend Scott to heat up, and quickly.

Familiarity breeds contempt and fairly or unfairly, a lot of North fans are beginning to tire of Scott’s leadership. I’m on the fence myself.

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Regardless of that, what’s done is done. The club probably have low expectations internally for the year and even a wooden spoon wouldn’t see them flip-flop on Scott’s extension.

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott

(AAP Image/David Crosling)

1. Nathan Buckley
Out of contract: end of 2019

After a six-year tenure that has taken Collingwood from grand finalists in 2011 to well short of a finals berth in 2017, Nathan Buckley hung onto his job by the skin of his teeth last year.

He said before the season began that he expected he would lose his job if he failed to take the club to finals. The Pies did miss September, but Buckley was given a two-year extension regardless.

A deep club review was run late last year, which ultimately saw Buckley keep his job but a number of other changes were decided upon, including a significant reshuffling of the list management hierarchy.

It was also mooted that an ‘experienced mentor’ for Buckley should be recruited to the club (who is, by the way, more experienced than ten other senior coaches) – but this doesn’t seem to have materialised.

Whether or not Buckley can survive depends on what the internal expectation for 2018 is. If it’s ‘finals or bust’, he’s likely to be in trouble, with most predicting they’ll fall short again.

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If expectations are more realistic, then Buckley probably only needs to coach his side to ten or so wins in order to stay in the hot seat for 2019.

Anything less than September action is certain to be met with a mountain of public criticism from fans and the media, and there’s no guarantee what kind of decision might be made as the pressure mounts.

Eddie McGuire would be acutely aware of the fact that Buckley’s contract runs out at the same time as when Alastair Clarkson may decide to finish up at Hawthorn.