So, after much speculation, Alastair Clarkson’s manager has shut the door on a coaching gig in 2022.
It’s amazing that a man who was, just a few short weeks ago, vehement he’d be leading Hawthorn until the end of next season now can’t possibly entertain the idea of sitting in a coach’s box – but that’s footy.
However, you don’t really need to read between the lines to find the juicy part in James Henderson’s statement. “Clarkson will not coach an AFL club in 2022“.
We won’t see him at the helm of a new team next season, but you better believe teams will be lining up to secure his signature for 2023.
So, with Clarkson’s next chapter put off until the season after next, where does that leave the rest of the football industry? Which clubs – and which coaches – will be sighing of relief and whose 2022 just got made a lot more nerve-wracking?
There is a glimmer of hope for the besieged Carlton coach.
His sacking has seemed inevitable at times in 2021 and his post-match press conference last weekend was tough to watch as he seemed very much like a dead man walking.
Not to digress too far, but when was the last time a coach suffered this much job speculation without so much as a peep of support from his board? Disgraceful.
Carlton’s statement earlier this week read like a stay of execution at best, but a ruthless cynic could certainly interpret this sentence; “The club will take the necessary time required to absorb this review and any outcomes or decisions will be made on the timeframe that is in the best interest of the club, not based on external expectations or pressure”, as actually meaning “the club is waiting to hear back from Clarkson’s management”.
Teague is still contracted to the Blues for another season, so perhaps Clarkson’s just delays his departure by 12 months.
But, without a standout candidate to take over the reins, Teague could end up being given another season to prove himself. I genuinely hope he’s able to make the most of it.
The other side of the coin is the fate of Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew.
Dew has had four years in charge of the Suns and, while he was building off one of the worst bases in modern football history, the fact is the club has gone 17th, 18th, 14th and 16th in that time.
This year’s 16th-place finish was particularly disappointing and led to serious scrutiny over his future for the first time in his tenure.
He’s been bullish about his future when asked this season – fair play to him – but another bottom-five finish in 2022 would make it very hard to justify extending his contract into a sixth season.
I can’t imagine going into an AFL season as coach without a contract for the following season fills you with confidence at the best of times, but the knowledge that the greatest coach of the modern era could be waiting in the wings would make it even worse.
Like Teague, Dew might have a splendid 2022, turn the Suns around and put any rumours of his demise emphatically to bed. Every heavy loss next season, however, will likely see the winds of change blow ever more heavily.
The three-time premiership Lion has recently emerged as the frontrunner in the race to become Collingwood’s next senior coach and would no doubt be thrilled to learn he’s no longer up against a four-time premiership winning coach.
No disrespect to McRae – or whoever ends up taking the Magpies gig – but Collingwood brass would have been disappointed to hear Clarkson would not be available to them coming into next season.
A move to Collingwood had long been rumoured for Clarko over the last few seasons and, while there’s no suggestion that had anything to do with Nathan Buckley’s departure, bringing someone of Clarkson’s stature on board would have gone a long way to appeasing a fanbase still furious over last offseason’s trade period disaster and current on-field woes.
But as one door closes, another opens, and the door appears well ajar now for McRae – currently an assistant with the Hawks – to move into his first senior coaching role.
In addition to Dew and (presuming he survives) Teague, there are no fewer than five more coaches coming out of contract at the end of 2022.
In truth, it’s hard to see many of them being at serious risk of the axe next year – but the temptation to bring Clarkson in could do funny things.
Two of this year’s top four coaches in Simon Goodwin and Chris Scott enter next season in the final years of their respective deals.
It’s easy to forget the knives were well and truly out for Goodwin coming into 2021 but, even though an extension still hasn’t been penned, you’d imagine the Demons will be locking their coach in for a few more years soon.
Scott is an interesting one given he’s now in an 11th season with still just the first-year flag to show for it – and it’s hard to work out whether premiership success this year increases or decreases the chances of next year being the last.
If the Cats go another two seasons without being able to add to the trophy cabinet, is it time for the older Scott twin to move on? Or would reaching the summit once more be the catalyst for Scott to pursue another challenge?
Either way, you’d imagine it’d be his decision to make and, given Geelong’s very old list, it’d be a surprise if the job tempted Clarkson.
Matthew Nicks just became the first coach in Adelaide’s history to survive missing finals two years in a row. Whispers may become murmurs in 2022 if the Crows completely flatline, but they’d be mad not to give him a proper tenure to see out this lengthy rebuild.
The two coaches who may shift nervously would be St Kilda’s Brett Ratten and the GWS’ Leon Cameron.
Ratten has had just two years in the St Kilda job, but this year was incredibly disappointing and he could find himself in a very hot seat if 2022 goes further south. I think the Saints need to show patience, but they have recruited fairly aggressively in recent seasons and could get restless.
Cameron’s situation, on the other hand, is the really interesting one. He deserves a lot more credit than he’s getting for putting the Giants in the finals once more after they were widely written off pre-season. His mid-year extension last season was also criticised as being premature after they went on to miss the eight.
But the 48-year-old is now coming up on nine years in charge with only a disastrous grand final appearance to show for it. GWS have the talent to be a contender for a few more years yet – could a new driver be what the Ferrari needs to take the chequered flag in 2023?