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Hiring and firing in the AFL: what to do with Brendon Bolton?

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Roar Rookie
31st May, 2019
38
1469 Reads

It only takes a cursory glance at the Carlton BigFooty board to see their fans have lost hope.

The actual Carlton board is becoming increasingly frustrated with the nagging line of questioning adopted by the media, exemplified by Chris Judd’s testy responses to Caro and Hutchy on Footy Classified last Monday. Brendon Bolton’s mum would have trouble defending him at the minute.

Carlton’s president, Mark Logiudice, has been relatively inconspicuous, relying on the cachet Judd has with Carlton fans to allay concerns over the coach. Initially, this was a wise approach but the strategy has run its course as Carlton’s abysmal recent record threatens to overwhelm the club.

Carlton appears to be making an age-old mistake struggling clubs continually repeat of relying on other clubs’ experiences sacking coaches. It’s usually a copout to buy time, avoiding tough but necessary decisions because clubs fear making a bad situation worse.

But the bad old days of the likes of Graeme Richmond sacking coaches on a whim are well and truly over. Clubs are mostly well run with devolved power structures that avoid decision-making being put in the hands of a solitary figurehead. People point to Richmond not sacking Damian Hardwick after 2016 or St Kilda not sacking Alan Richardson last year as evidence that clubs should wait it out, prizing stability, however, those scenarios were entirely different to Carlton’s predicament.

Richmond had made finals the three years prior to 2016 and, although ultimately disappointing, had been building under Hardwick. St Kilda had been building also, recording 12 wins in 2016 and 11 wins in 2017 off a base of six in 2015 before plummeting to four wins in 2018 off the back of Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna’s departures leaving a gaping hole in leadership.

The Saints have somewhat righted the ship at 5-5 this season but no one could definitively claim Richo has proved the Saints right to hold on to him just yet. Bolton has no such record of improvement to point to. How long can you hold on to the “green shoots” Bolton speaks of when you’re 4-38 in your last 42? When you’re 1-9, two games safe with the spoon in hand and a percentage of only 77?

Does Carlton’s percentage improving from 64 to 77 amount to “green shoots”? Hardly. The only shooting Carlton should be talking about is shooting Bolton from a cannon into the sun.

To be fair, Bolton has had misfortune. The loss of Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer and Sam Docherty’s ongoing troubles have hamstrung a list with little to no depth. But doesn’t Carlton’s reliance on players like Gibbs, who has had a couple of standout seasons in his career, and Kreuzer, who is an inspiring, but ultimately just above average ruckman, say it all?

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Those are issues of recruiting as well, and SOS is rightly coming in for a lot of blame, but the job of a coach is to maximise the talent at his disposal.

Who has actually developed on Carlton’s list in Bolton’s time? Jacob Weitering has only started to show signs this year, much later than would be expected of a pick 1. Zac Fisher is a great find and will be part of any future Carlton success. Patrick Cripps is a superstar but he would likely have been successful anywhere and is a credit to the recruiting term moreso than Bolton.

Harry McKay is a serious bright spot and looks to have the swagger to one day lead the forward line. Beyond that, it’s slim pickings.

Charlie Curnow has gone backwards significantly this year and Sam Petrevski-Seton struggles to string games together. These players are young and should become very good but the stilted rate of development suggests either problems with the environment or that Bolton isn’t getting through to the players.

Ultimately, Bolton is responsible and the side being worse three and a half years in than when he began is more than enough evidence to send him on his way.

Stability is extremely important for football clubs. But stability is meaningless when your club is incapable of winning games. To even think about becoming stable you have to get a good coach. Bolton inherited an awful list at a club coming off traumatic sackings of Mick Malthouse and Brett Ratten, but he has shown nothing to suggest he will be a good senior coach.

His public comments haven’t given any indication he knows how to get out of this mess beyond the tiresome corporate buzzwords he peddles like a middle manager. Making matters worse, the messaging hasn’t changed to reflect his own and the club’s shortcomings either. He was still yammering about not being taken “off course” after Carlton’s most recent loss to a St Kilda that is just going.

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Exactly what course is Carlton on? Is that the course where you don’t make meaningful improvements in three and a half years? It’s not much good being on course when you’re broken down on the side of the road, a million miles from your destination and no help in sight. Some more trite offerings include “we want strong accountability around”, “we’ve been really transparent” and “we needed to connect better centre forward”.

Sleep-inducing dribble, the lot of it. Also, we’re not playing hockey, Brendon, so spare me with the centre forward nonsense. You could be forgiven for thinking Bolton’s comments are designed to induce numbness, to deaden the listener to the reality of how bad Carlton has been under his tenure.

I’ll employ a buzzword of my own: circuit-breaker, which is exactly what Carlton needs, and can only mean sacking the coach before an entire season of development is wasted once again.

If Carlton were to follow any club, the experience of North Melbourne and Brad Scott is instructive. North could have taken the easy option of stability but they have avoided the bitterness typical of sackings and Scott leaves the club on good terms. Although Scott reportedly went to North seeking a release, Carlton could do the reverse with Bolton to work out an amicable departure.

Bolton probably wouldn’t agree to that given he’s only three and a half years in as opposed to Scott’s near decade, but in that event Carlton’s decision becomes even easier. 12 games is a sizeable chunk that Carlton could use to try young players in new positions and maybe, just maybe, start winning a few games.

Brendon Bolton

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

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I don’t see what Carlton has to gain from keeping Bolton. They look listless, the fans have lost hope and, if they’re not careful, the players will too. Getting rid of the coach will give them longer to assess prospective coaches and to put the feelers out for the likes of Brett Ratten and Alastair Clarkson. Clarkson might be a stretch but when you’re in as dire a spot as Carlton you’d be foolish not to explore every avenue. They could even have a dip at luring Paul Roos ‘Off the Couch’.

That brings me to Ratten. It might sound crazy but Carlton could create the new Blues by calling on one of the old. This wouldn’t be a case of picking a favourite son for the sake of it as Ratten is highly regarded for his work at Hawthorn during their premiership run.

The decision to knife Ratten for Malthouse was driven by old Carlton arrogance and enmity, partly motivated by a desire to get one over hated rival Collingwood, but in the process they sacrificed a premiership hero who is the only coach to have had Carlton play a strong brand since the salary cap scandal.

If there is no sensible argument for keeping your coach other than stability, then it’s time that coach was removed. Carlton can solve a problem and right a wrong by giving Ratten back the job he never should have lost.

Do that and we’ll start hearing the Blues faithful belting out da da-da da-da a bit more often.