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Why AFL fans should not expect a quick flag under a new coach

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Roar Guru
5th July, 2021
14

With my belief that luck plays a role in any competitive sport, including the AFL where 18 hungry club organisations compete with the same premiership goal, I take up the 2013 statement by the AFL legend and four-time premiership coach (1978, 1981-1982 and 1995) David Parkin. 

“I don’t think I was a very good coach. Seriously, all bar the last premiership, they were given to me really, they were great players,” Parkin said.

Of course, Parkin was a very good leader with considerable playing experience, a professional educator ahead of his time, and a talented passionate footy insider who was able to deliver for Hawthorn and Carlton as the head coach.

However, given that many of the coaches who quickly won premierships from 1978 inherited good teams, Parkin’s emphasis upon being fortunate is indeed correct.

As the following table highlights when assessing the 25 premiership coaches since 1978, of the 12 coaches who won a premiership within two seasons of taking charge, six took over teams that had two top-four finishes in the previous three home-and-away seasons.

Of the 21 coaches who coached a flag within four years, 13 took over clubs that had finished in the top four at least once during the previous three seasons prior to the coach’s tenure, while 18 coaches took over a club that had played finals during the previous three years.

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The number of finals teams increases from five to six in 1991 and to eight in 1994 as the number of AFL clubs increase.

Coach Club Flag First year Position Position Position
David Parkin Haw 1978 1977 1974 (3) 1975 (1) 1976 (2)
Alex Jesaulenko Carl 1979 1978 1975 (2) 1976 (1) 1977 (6)
David Parkin Carl 1981, 1982 1981 1978 (4) 1979 (1) 1980 (2)
Allan Jeans Haw 1983, 1986, 1989 1981 1978 (2) 1979 (7) 1980 (8)
Alan Joyce Haw 1988, 1991 1988 1985 (3) 1986 (1) 1987 (2)
Robert Walls Carl 1987 1986 1983 (5) 1984 (3) 1985 (4)
Tony Jewell Rich 1980 1979 1976 (7) 1977 (4) 1978 (7)
Kevin Sheedy Ess 1984, 1985, 1993, 2000 1981 1978 (10) 1979 (5) 1980 (7)
Leigh Matthews Coll 1990 1986 1983 (6) 1984 (4) 1985 (7)
Mick Malthouse WC 1992, 1994 1990 1987 (8) 1988 (4) 1989 (11)
David Parkin Carl 1995 1991 1988 (3) 1989 (8) 1990 (8)
Denis Pagan NM 1996, 1999 1993 1990 (6) 1991 (8) 1992 (12)
Malcolm Blight Ade 1997, 1998 1997 1994 (11) 1995 (11) 1996 (12)
Leigh Matthews Bris 2001-2003 1999 1996 (3) 1997 (8) 1998 (16)
Mark Williams PA 2004 1999 N/A 1997 (9) 1998 (10)
Paul Roos Syd 2005 2002 1999 (8) 2000 (10) 2001 (7)
John Worsfold WC 2006 2002 1999 (5) 2000 (13) 2001 (14)
Mark Thompson Geel 2007, 2009 2000 1997 (2) 1998 (12) 1999 (11)
Alastair Clarkson Haw 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015 2005 2003 (9) 2002 (10) 2004 (15)
Mick Malthouse Coll 2010 2000 1997 (10) 1998 (14) 1999 (16)
Chris Scott Geel 2011 2011 2008 (1) 2009 (2) 2010 (2)
John Longmire Syd 2012 2011 2008 (6) 2009 (12) 2010 (5)
Luke Beveridge WB 2016 2015 2012 (15) 2013 (15) 2014 (14)
Damien Hardwick Rich 2017, 2019, 2020 2010 2007 (16) 2008 (9) 2009 (15)
Adam Simpson WC 2018 2014 2011 (4) 2012 (5) 2013 (13)

Of the 25 premiership coaches since 1978, only seven of 25 (28 per cent) won a premiership with a team with no finals experience during the previous three years prior to the coach’s arrival.

While the importance of recent club success for a premiership coach does dissipate somewhat from 1990 in terms of taking over clubs with less top-four finishes during the previous three home-and-away seasons, only Malcolm Blight (Adelaide), Alastair Clarkson (Hawthorn), Mick Malthouse (Collingwood), Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs) and Damien Hardwick (Richmond) have been successful at clubs with no previous finals experience.

Given the reality that it is much harder for new coaches of a club with a recent poor record, it is simply amazing that Luke Beveridge coached the 2016 premiership team in his second year as coach after the Western Bulldogs finished 15th, 15th and 14th from 2012 to 2014.

Luke Beveridge

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The same is true with Malcolm Blight who had immediate success with Adelaide in 1997 and 1998 after that club finished 11, 11 and 12 from 1994 to 1996, although Blight had previous coaching experience with North Melbourne (1981) and Geelong (1989-1994) with the latter losing three grand finals (1989, 1992 and 1994).

While Mick Malthouse had already coached premiership teams at West Coast (1992 and 1994) after earlier coaching Footscray (1984 to 1989), his Collingwood premiership (2010) occurred in his 11th season, albeit the latter became a force under his leadership making the grand final in 2002 and 2003.

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Damien Hardwick also took eight seasons to win his first premiership with Richmond in 2017 before further success in 2019 and 2020.

Given how long it took Hardwick to succeed, four seasons before making the finals and eight years before winning its first finals match (and premiership) in 2017, it is quite unrealistic to criticise new coaches for not delivering success within a few years when they take over clubs with recent poor records.

Damien Hardwick

(Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Fans should give new coaches reasonable time to succeed rather than expect immediate short-term success as the latter is hardly likely for most clubs.

As an Essendon supporter, I also see good potential in a young Bombers side but recognise that the new coach Ben Rutten takes over a struggling club that finished 11th, eighth and 13th from 2018 to 2020.

Is three years enough? I doubt it.

Calls for Carlton’s coach David Teague to resign or be replaced ignore the reality he has only coached since 2019 after that club finished 14th, 16th and 18th from 2016 to 2018.

While Carlton and Essendon are famous Melbourne clubs with a large supporter base who expect regular success as both have 16 premiership wins, they are just two of 18 competitive clubs who must address salary caps and have some luck with the selection of players from the AFL draft and trade system.

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The odds are indeed harder for new coaches in struggling clubs to overcome when compared to those who take the reins of clubs with recent finals experience, albeit there will be the occasional exception as experienced by Luke Beveridge and the Western Bulldogs in 2016.

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