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Is replacing a successful coach the hardest job in sport?

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Roar Guru
30th October, 2019

There are two types of coaches: the one who has been sacked, and the one yet to be. That begs the question as to why anyone would want such a position.

Beneath the perpetual pressure, conflict and scrutiny that follows a head coach in any sport lies a profound ardour and drive for success.

A select few get to experience this and is why some become immortalised at the end of their reign.

But what happens next?

History tells us success can often be followed by vulnerability and instability – especially after a celebrated coach departs a team.

Regardless of the sport, it appears the most challenging time to be appointed coach is when replacing a successful one – an obvious but important point.

Clubs have fallen into the trap of not giving the next in line enough time to recreate the success of their predecessor.

Arsenal is the latest club to fall victim, with Unai Emery feeling significant pressure less than two years into the job Arsene Wenger held for nearly 22 years.

Unai Emery

(Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)


A polarising yet successful manager, Wenger not only transformed Arsenal but the Premier League and following him was always going to be tough, regardless of the appointment.

It is a ruthless industry, as David Moyes found out, lasting only 51 matches before being shown the door.

Moyes was christened the chosen one after the great Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, leaving behind a cabinet full of silverware and a club at the height of its power.

Three managers – and one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – later and Manchester United is lagging behind with each new manager blamed for exacerbating the issues created by the last.

In hindsight and given what the club has dealt with, it might not have been the worst idea to persist with Moyes for a little longer.


Since Moyes, they finished fourth the following season under Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho took them to a second-placed finish and now they sit seventh with Ole at the wheel.

A case can be argued each of those managers should have been given more time, but it can also be said the club’s longing for immediate success has blinded them from making logical decisions.

Clubs like West Ham have fallen victim to this as well, with the Hammers being a revolving door for managers since Harry Redknapp’s departure.

These aren’t the only clubs in England – or even the only clubs in the world – whose fates have spiraled out of control since losing a successful coach.

But why is this the case? And is there a way around this?

In the AFL, the Essendon position remains a poisoned chalice since Kevin Sheedy’s departure, the same way Richmond endured decades of darkness after Tom Hafey and Tony Jewell left.

Richmond was the worst of the lot, sacking Tony Jewell in 1981 a year after winning the premiership and Francis Bourke in 1983 a year after making a grand final.

Collingwood appears to have bucked this trend with Nathan Buckley, who followed Mick Malthouse, and may just be all the better for it with Collingwood finishing in the top four in consecutive seasons.

Collingwood Magpies

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

There are of course several other exceptions, but it is interesting how this trend exists in sport.

Obviously, a coach cannot hold the position forever. Many mentioned in this article might been there a little too long.

Arsenal fans could argue what distinguishes their situation from Manchester United’s was Wenger should have been let go well before 2018.

Would this have left Arsenal in a better spot than they are now? We’ll never know.

Is the solution as simple as giving coaches more time, in the way Collingwood did with Buckley? Or is the issue less to do with the coach and a more an issue of a club’s administration?

Should these longstanding coaches depart with the people who appointed them – presidents, CEOs and owners can hardly stay at a club forever.

Would the addition of new administrators alongside a new coach aid the transition into a new era following the departure of a coach like Kevin Sheedy or Sir Alex?


Damien Hardwick’s appointment at Richmond was done alongside that of CEO Brendon Gale – a move that took the club from rags to riches both on and off the field.

This worked for the Tigers, but no two sackings are ever the same.

Although it’s interesting how the departure of successful coaches – regardless of whether their sacking is due – results in an almost inevitable demise for a club.

Here’s hoping Hawthorn survives when Alastair Clarkson eventually departs!