The carnage at the Collingwood Football Club continues unabated. They have owned several news cycles since the end of the 2020 season, none of them for positive reasons.
Nathan Buckley had to go, as I wrote at the beginning of May. That much was obvious. You simply don’t get to coach forever, regardless of your status within a club. It was ludicrous that anyone would think otherwise.
It was odd to see respected journalists and footy observers argue the point for Buckley’s contract to continue in recent weeks. Gerard Whateley was almost his PR agent whenever the topic came up on AFL 360, and continued on with that on Tuesday night. One journalist was fawning over Buckley at the press conference yesterday, an embarrassing moment of platitudes.
Because Buckey was so professional in the media, so intelligent, so dignified and respectful, people had forgotten that there comes a moment when your time is simply up. Never had a situation been begging for a clean sweep more than what Collingwood are facing.
If Buckley’s entry into the senior coach role was messy, with Eddie McGuire’s hubris driving premiership-winning Mick Malthouse out of the role to accommodate him, his exit was perfectly smooth.
Buckley is experienced enough to know, if he removed himself and his emotions from the situation, how the cards were going to fall. And he had intimated at various stages this season that he didn’t necessarily see himself in the role beyond this year or in the longer term.
He had said the opposite of these things too, which betrayed a conflicted mind – we have all had those moments of back-and-forth in our mind when facing a momentous decision.
And from a Collingwood perspective, once it’s over, it’s over. Finish him up immediately. None of this nonsense about coaching out the year, or for another month while they meandered along. A farewell game is acceptable for a long-serving coach and historic figure, and he is getting that accordingly.
The search for a coach can now be full steam ahead. Popular opinion is that only the biggest names will do for such a grand club. Collingwood are no longer the powerhouse they once were – not only are they are no longer the biggest sporting club of any kind in the country, they aren’t even the biggest footy club in their own state.
The Pies have only had 11 full-time senior coaches since 1912, a truly remarkable feat. Nathan Buckley, Mick Malthouse, Tony Shaw, Leigh Matthews, Bob Rose, Tom Hafey, Jock McHale. These are some of the biggest names in the history of the game. The shoes to fill are large. A person of gravitas is required.
The mind immediately goes to Alastair Clarkson and Ross Lyon.
Clarkson is the most successful premiership coach in the AFL era, still contracted at Hawthorn but with murmurings about Sam Mitchell waiting in the wings. The Hawks have committed numerous failings since the 2015 three-peat, and the time feels right for him to move on.
Lyon, similar to Buckley, hasn’t achieved a premiership as player or coach, but is almost universally respected for his ability to implement a game plan and drive a club to contention. There’s no doubt he would have respect from all quarters the second he walked in the door.
The key to Clarkson and Lyon is they have both the footy and life experience to handle the pressures of Collingwood amid a potential board coup and unprecedented period of stability. All of this with a personality the size of ex-president McGuire mouthing off in his media role too.
But where is the playing list at? Is it an attractive proposition for the next man in the job? After all, this is a team that played finals in 2020.
We generally look five years into the future when assessing these situations. Changes of coach almost always happen with a team down the bottom of the ladder, and it generally takes years to contend from there.
At the start of the 2026 season, Darcy Moore and Jordan de Goey will be 30, Brodie Grundy, Jack Crisp, Taylor Adams 32, with Brody Mihocek and Jamie Elliott 33 if still going. Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Jeremy Howe and Jordan Roughead will be gone or barely hanging on. That’s their current core.
Who will be in their mid-to-late 20s prime of the current group? Brayden Maynard will be late 20s. Josh Daicos and Isaac Quaynor look like they have what it takes. But there’s precious little else that we can trust right now, despite seeing several green shoots in recent times.
The list assessment and turnover will be fascinating to watch, as it always is in these circumstances. It has already been a blood sport after the Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson debacle last year, with Collingwood trying to get into the draft. All eyes will be on them again post-season.
Nathan Buckley has had a storied Collingwood career, both as a player and coach. He leaves having gone close but never tasting premiership glory. Hopefully we get to see him in the media, where he can use his penetrating footy mind to make us all smarter.
It does leave the Pies in free fall, and when a club is in this situation it normally takes a decade or more to fully recover. It’s going to be a long road ahead.