With his contract set to expire at the end of next season, Sydney Swans coach John Longmire should seriously consider handing the reins to one of his assistant coaches so as to save the club from the potential embarrassment of having to dismiss their 2012 premiership-winning coach.
Now in his ninth year as Swans head coach (and 18th at the club since starting as assistant coach in 2002), Horse, as he is affectionately known, has overseen a poor start to the season for his side, with just one win (against Carlton in round three) from six starts.
The fact the Swans currently have the youngest squad of all 18 clubs, plus injuries to key players such as Daniel Menzel, Jarrad McVeigh, Heath Grundy, Will Hayward and co., have been factors in the club’s slow start to the season.
Additionally, the club has also lost several of their 2012 premiership stars, either to retirement or to other clubs in recent years, robbing the club of experience.
From the side that took to the field against the GWS Giants last Saturday night, only three players – Sam Reid, Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker – were part of the side that was victorious over Hawthorn on Grand Final day seven years ago.
There has also been some running commentary regarding Lance “Buddy” Franklin, who is in the sixth year of his controversial nine-year contract with the Swans which was ticked off by the AFL when he joined the club at the end of the 2013 season.
A recent report suggested that the club should trade the 32-year-old out of the club, but any chances of that happening have for the moment been shot down by his wife, Jesinta Franklin, and coach John Longmire.
It was the club’s acquisition of Buddy, which followed that of Kurt Tippett twelve months beforehand, that prompted the AFL to enforce an unprecedented trade ban on the club and strip them of the cost of living allowance they had been afforded earlier this millennium.
As a result, several players such as Shane Mumford, Craig Bird, Lewis Jetta, Tom Mitchell and Toby Nankervis, among others, left the club so as to ease the strain on their salary cap.
Jetta won another premiership medal with the West Coast Eagles last year, six years to the day after winning one with the Swans, while Mitchell won the Brownlow Medal and Nankervis won a premiership with Richmond in 2017.
All these years on, and the Swans are starting to feel the effects of the trade ban and phasing out of COLA, to the point where this proud club could soon fall into a prolonged period of mediocrity like we have seen at the Brisbane Lions after their golden period at the turn of the century.
In recent years, the Lions, who won a hat-trick of flags in 2001-03, have started to work their way out of a period in which they have only reached one finals series since their grand final loss to Port Adelaide in 2004, and not finished any higher than 12th this decade.
Their improved form this season, which has seen them start with four wins and two losses including defeating reigning premiers the West Coast Eagles at home in round one, will see them start favourites against the Swans at the Gabba for the first time since 2009, the year of their most recent triumph over their Harbour City rivals.
As well as 2009 being the last time the Lions made the finals, it’s also the most recent time the Swans witnessed September from the sidelines, missing the finals for just the third time since 1995 and having a percentage of below 100 for the first time since 1994.
It was the only full season in which then-coach Paul Roos failed to take his side to the finals, and it was that year in which he decided the time was right to hand over coaching duties to John Longmire, who had been his sidekick since 2002, ahead of the 2011 season.
The 356-gamer had overseen a successful period in the Harbour City after taking over from Rodney Eade midway through the 2002 season, guiding the club to a famous drought-breaking premiership win over the West Coast Eagles in 2005.
After taking over from Roos at the end of the 2010 season, Longmire continued to build on the success, guiding the Swans to the 2012 flag and two more deciders in 2014 and 2016.
But the psychological scars caused from the two defeats would prove telling in the years following, particularly last year when they lost more games at the SCG than usual, and had their season ended in humiliation by the Giants.
Saturday night’s loss against the Giants marked their seventh defeat from their last eight at home, dating back to the start of July last year.
It’s a slightly better start than the zero and six start Longmire oversaw in 2017, before the club famously recovered to finish sixth on the ladder and bow out in the semi-finals against the Geelong Cats.
Coincidentally, they kick-started their 2017 season rather belatedly by beating the Lions by 54 points at the SCG in round seven, but facing them at the Gabba will be a tougher proposition, even though the Swans haven’t lost in the sunshine capital since 2009.
But it’s starting to become very clear that the success the Swans have enjoyed under him is starting to wear off, and that it may be another few seasons, maybe even more, before they are serious contenders for the flag again.
It is unlikely, though, that they will deliberately sink to the bottom just to rebuild their playing list.
John Longmire has gone on the record as saying that while he has acknowledged that the squad he has at his disposal is a young squad, he still plans to fast-track their development and teach them how to play better for longer.
Which is what leads us to the main topic – that he should start planning for the future and hand over to one of his assistant coaches when his contract runs out at the end of next season before the Swans fall further into a hole that would be hard to get out of.
Of their current coaching staff, there are two men that should come into consideration – Brett Kirk and John Blakey.
Kirk was an assistant coach under Ross Lyon (one of his assistant coaches during his playing days) at Fremantle between 2013 and 2015, during which the Dockers reached one decider (losing to Hawthorn in 2013), before returning to the Swans for the 2016 season.
At the age of 42, the former Swans co-captain shapes as a good choice to lead the club as coach the same way he led them fearlessly on the field during Paul Roos’ tenure as coach.
To date, John Worsfold is the most recent man to captain and coach the same side to premiership glory, being captain when he led the West Coast Eagles to glory in 1992 and 1994, and later coaching them to the 2006 flag at the expense of Kirk’s Swans.
But while Kirk wasn’t a regular co-captain of the club in the premiership winning year of 2005, he was one of six men who took on the captaincy duties when Stuart Maxfield stepped down as captain five rounds into the season, before being appointed full-time co-captain with Barry Hall and Leo Barry in 2006.
Thus, there is no reason why Kirk can’t become a successful coach in his own right, should he decide to take the challenge head-on.
Blakey, on the other hand, has been with the Swans since 2006 and has had some coaching experience, leading the Brisbane Lions on game day in round 18, 2005, in the absence of then-head coach Leigh Matthews.
However, should Longmire hand over to Blakey, it would create the situation in the AFL where father is coaching son, as Nick Blakey, who made his debut this year, is John’s son.
In the NRL we have Ivan Cleary coaching his son, Nathan, at the Penrith Panthers, while another ex-rugby league player, Martin Lang, played his whole professional rugby league career with his father John as coach.
The last such time this happened in the AFL came when Denis Pagan’s son, Ryan, played three games for North Melbourne with his father as coach in 2000.
Such a coaching move by John Longmire would come a decade after Paul Roos anointed him as his successor, and potentially set the club up for a new, sustained period of success going forward.
Apart from the Swans and their successful coaching handover, we have seen other clubs, notably Collingwood and Melbourne, carry out succession plans for varying results.
At Collingwood, Mick Malthouse initiated a succession plan whereby he would groom his former captain, Nathan Buckley, as an assistant coach for 2010 and 2011 before taking over as head coach in 2012.
The 2002 Norm Smith Medallist saw a regression of his side’s progress in his first six years, but after being given a vote of confidence at the end of the 2017 season, he would take his side to last year’s grand final, which they would lose to the West Coast Eagles by just five points.
Meanwhile, at Melbourne, Paul Roos became head coach in 2013 following the tumultuous Dean Bailey and Mark Neeld eras, and his priority was to rebuild the playing list and identify the man who would succeed him once his time at the club came to an end.
It wasn’t until September 2014 that Roos would find his man, in the form of former Adelaide Crows captain Simon Goodwin, who would be groomed as an assistant coach in 2015 and 2016 before taking the reins in 2017.
Roos left the Melbourne Football Club in a much better shape than when he found it, but not before training Goodwin intensively in his final season to ensure that the transition was as smooth as possible.
In Goodwin’s first season as head coach, the Dees would miss the finals on mere percentage after a final round lapse against Collingwood, but would finish fifth in 2018 and advance to a preliminary final for the first time since 2000.
But after signing a contract extension last month, Goodwin has overseen a 1-5 start to this season by the Dees, with player departures, injuries, poor form and the scars from their preliminary final mauling by the West Coast Eagles last September among several factors.
Thus, it will remain to be seen how the Sydney Swans fare should they again decide to carry out a coaching succession plan which would see John Longmire hand over to one of his assistant coaches and take them into the next chapter, possibly in 2021.
This would ensure that he can coach out his contract without speculation over his future, and set the club up for the next period of success in the 2020s.