Four years. In modern times that’s usually the life span of a coach or umpire considered unsuccessful.
This interesting stat was revealed when I first compiled my list of the top 100 coaches and top 100 umpires in AFL/VFL history.
Four years of 22-game seasons adds up to 88 games, and this is currently the bar for admission to the top 100 list.
A rather crowded hot seat – or hot bench? – includes four coaches who meet the criteria, some of whom are well known AFL identities: Tony Shaw (Collingwood), Kevin Bartlett (Richmond), Guy McKenna (Gold Coast) and Gerard Neesham (Fremantle), but it also includes two coaches from well back in history before the advent of 22-game seasons. Coincidentally both five-year broken stints included one season of 16 games at the oldest club, Melbourne.
In Gordon Rattray’s case it was his first year at coaching in rather bizarre circumstances. Rattray, whose middle name was Kitchener, was a brilliant left footer who was born in Shepparton and played for Wesley College.
In 1917 he was recruited by Fitzroy and stepped straight into their senior side as an 18-year-old, playing six games, including the winning preliminary final and the losing grand final.
But there was a world war on, and he had enlisted, so he spent 1918 serving overseas in France.
He returned home in 1919 and was discharged in time to resume his football career and win the best and fairest. He won it again in 1921 and was a premiership player in 1922.
In 1923 he became club captain and led them to a grand final, which they lost to Essendon. In 1924 Melbourne appointed him as their playing coach.
He was, however, still residentially tied to Fitzroy and therefore ineligible to play for Melbourne.
He coached the entire season at Melbourne as non-playing coach and – as he was still a Fitzroy player – he played in the semi-final for them against Richmond, his one game of football for the year.
He left Fitzroy after the 1924 season and, having been originally chosen to be the playing coach of North Melbourne in its inaugural VFL season, was granted a clearance to serve as the captain-coach of Brighton in the Victorian Football Association (VFA).
He played 53 games and kicked 39 goals in his three years at Brighton (1925–27), and under his stewardship Brighton played in both the 1926 grand final, with Rattray at centre halfback, and the 1927 VFA grand final, with Rattray at centre half-forward.
On both occasions Brighton lost the grand final to Coburg.
In 1928 he returned to Fitzroy and played what would be his final season as captain-coach.
His playing career totalled 87 games, one fewer than his coaching career, which still sees him in the top 100 games coacheed of all time.
Gerald Brosnan also played all his career at Fitzroy, starting in 1900 and finishing in 1909 with a 131-game total that places him permanently in equal 65th position on Fitzroy’s list of top 100 all-time game players with Tony Ongarello and Doug Searle.
Immediately after retiring he began coaching University in 1910. The club had their best year ever in their seven years in the VFL, winning ten games, including five in a row, to finish the year in sixth place.
However, the next year, 1911, the wheels fell off and after two seasons recording only one win and two more seasons with no wins the club folded as a VFL team after the 1914 season.
Gerald Brosnan coached them from 1910 until 1912 and then again in 1914 to record 72 matches as coach, the most by far of any at University.
Six years later, in 1920, he reappeared as coach at Melbourne for a 16-game season to take his total to 88 matches.
In week 1 of the 2021 season two more coaches will join the already overcrowded hot seat of 88 games coached in the VFL/AFL: Simon Goodwin (Melbourne) and Chris Fagan (Brisbane).