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The coaching scrutiny ladder

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Roar Guru
30th March, 2021
2057 Reads

Already only two rounds into the 2021 AFL season, the murmurs and media talk – including social media chatter – turns to coaches and the extent to which they are scrutinised.

Based on this chatter and other factors, I have constructed a coaching scrutiny ladder ranging from the most under scrutiny or pressure, perceived or otherwise, to the least.

I then compare with the current position of the team on the ladder. This is an exercise that can be conducted at various stages of the year.

Coaching scrutiny ladder
1. Nathan Buckley (Collingwood, ninth)
2. Simon Goodwin (Melbourne, fourth)
3. David Teague (Carlton, 15th)
4. Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide, first)
5. Chris Scott (Geelong, 11th)
6. Leon Cameron (GWS, 16th)
7. John Longmire (Sydney Swans, third)
8. Brett Ratten (St Kilda, tenth)
9. Ben Rutten (Essendon, 17th)
10. David Noble (North Melbourne, 18th)
11. Chris Fagan (Brisbane, 14th)
12. Matthew Nicks (Adelaide, 12th)
13. Stuart Dew (Gold Coast Suns, sixth)
14. Justin Longmuir (Fremantle, eighth)
15. Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs, fifth)
16. Adam Simpson (West Coast Eagles, seventh)
17. Alastair Clarkson (Hawthorn, 13th)
18. Damian Hardwick (Richmond, second)

Nathan Buckley, coach of the Magpies, looks dejected

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

I group the coaching scrutiny ladder into six groups. The first group is made up of positions one to four in scrutiny and pressure.

Collingwood being Collingwood means that the coach is always under the pump. Add to this close to ten years in the job, with limited success, and it means that Nathan Buckley takes number one position.

Interestingly, the first four are from big clubs that are historically successful, but they have very limited recent success in premierships. These clubs attract considerable external noise.

The choice of Ken Hinkley at number four might surprise but expectations are high at the spiritual home Alberton Oval, and although things are going well at the moment, that can change at any moment.


The next group ranges from positions five to seven. This group should be under more pressure but are perhaps surprisingly not as much so. Despite Chris Scott’s protestations, the performance of Geelong in the finals since their last premiership has been mediocre.

A shock loss to Adelaide in Round 1 and a very lucky win against Brisbane at home should have the pressure metre running hot.

For GWS, it is surprising that the coach does not come under more scrutiny given the rapid fall from grace following a grand final appearance in 2019 and player exodus. Perhaps being outside the Melbourne media bubble assists.

John Longmire is revitalising his side, going for youth, although Sydney’s finals performances since their flag in 2012 have been patchy, including two grand final losses in 2014 and 2016.

Brett Ratten is in a group on his own at number eight. He is an experienced coach, although not at St Kilda. His overall coaching record is mixed, but St Kilda looks in promising shape, notwithstanding their loss at the weekend.

St Kilda coach Brett Ratten looks on

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The next group relates to positions nine and ten. These are the first-year coaches, who despite ladder positions, will be given reasonable breathing space. However, should the losses mount, then the heat will come quickly.

Following this group are those in positions 11 to 14. These are recent coaches in the AFL, with less than five years at the helm, and in a number of cases are either tracking well or building nicely, such as Gold Coast under Stuart Dew and Fremantle under Justin Longmuir.

While statistically David Teague fits into this camp, the pressure of being head coach at Carlton elevates him into the most scrutinised category.

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Finally is the group 15-18 that is in the ‘recent credits in the bank’ classification – coaches who have achieved the ultimate premiership in recent times. The incumbent premiership coach, Damien Hardwick, has the most credits and obtains the wooden spoon for being the least under scrutiny.

The ladder above shows a comparison between the coaching scrutiny ladder and actual ladder position of the club in question at this moment.

There is no overwhelmingly strong relationship between the two. However, tentatively, there appears to be some relationship at the lower reaches of the coach ladder. More secure leaders have their clubs in better positions.

Of course, the sample size is only small based on two rounds, but as has been said a great deal in recent days, very few clubs recover to make finals after being 0-2 down. I have no doubt as well that the scrutiny ladder will vary considerably before we see the end of 2021.