The Roar
The Roar


When sacking the coach is the easy option, but history shows fortune often favours the brave

Brett Ratten. (Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images )
Roar Rookie
17th October, 2022
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Having gone through a recent review of the club’s football operations, St Kilda decided to part ways with Coach Brett Ratten.

It was a callous decision to sack a coach to whom they had given a two-year contract extension until the end of 2024 less than 100 days earlier. It was the 8th of July when they re-signed Ratten and yet on the 13th of October, he was gone.

Often, we see when things get tough, one person is made to be a scapegoat. When things go pear-shaped, the Coach gets the flick.

It’s far too easy to blame the Coach when things go wrong. To blame one person is ridiculous. We see it all the time. In the ruthless ‘premierships or bust’ mentality at the AFL, coaches are often under immense pressure for not delivering a flag. But the reality is, they are hard to win. There are currently 18 teams in the AFL so clubs have a one-in-18 chance of winning a Grand Final.

And with the prospect of a Tasmanian team joining soon, that would make the probability of securing a premiership just over 5 percent.

Everything needs to go right for a club to win it.

There are so many facets. All the coaching staff and club administration need to be aligned, and there are hopefully not too many injuries to star players. Geelong were on fire and were the favourites to win the premiership in 2021 until star defender Tom Stewart suffered a foot fracture late in the season. He didn’t play again in 2021 and the Cats’ season went down with him.


However, a fully fit and firing Geelong side in 2022 were able to go the whole way and secure the club’s 10th premiership.

Despite winning the flag in his first year as coach in 2011 and boasting the highest winning success rate of a coach during the home-and-away season, Chris Scott was under pressure for not being able to deliver another one. But the Geelong hierarchy stuck with him, and he has repaid them. This year, he led the Cats to another premiership in emphatic style.

In 2006, Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson was under pressure at Geelong. He had not yet been able to deliver the ultimate success despite being at the helm for a while. The Geelong hierarchy announced they were doing a review and could have gone with the easy solution of sacking him. But they didn’t. Instead, they provided support and as a result, the club went on to win three grand finals in the next five years between 2007 and 2011. They played in four of those five grand finals including the 2008 loss to the Hawks.

Alastair Clarkson’s first few years at Hawthorn were tough. The side was getting smashed almost weekly. But former Hawks full-forward legend and then-board member Jason Dunstall backed the under sieged coach, and provided Clarkson with the support he needed.

And Clarkson repaid the faith and led the Hawks to an unexpected premiership against the highly fancied Geelong in 2008. He also led the Hawks to play in another four grand finals from 2012 – 2015 and after narrowly losing the 2012 decider to Sydney, they won the next three between 2013 and 2015.

Alastair Clarkson

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

And they’re not the only ones.


After another year below expectations, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick was facing intense pressure at the end of the 2016 season. The Tigers had finished 13th on the ladder with only eight wins from 22 matches. The club announced it would have a review and could have easily sacked the man who had been the senior coach for seven years at that stage.

But they didn’t. Instead, they provided support, brought in the highly qualified and respected Neale Balme and the Tigers turned things around. The following year, Hardwick led the Tigers to their first of three premierships in four years.

After an abysmal 2019 where they finished second last and had an equally disappointing 2020 when they missed out on the finals again, Melbourne’s senior coach Simon Goodwin was under the blowtorch. He was facing scrutiny from the media for his apparent failure to win a premiership. Melbourne could have let him go but rather, they brought in Mark Williams, Alan Richardson, and other assistants to provide support. The following year they were able to turn things around and won the 2021 premiership.

Things can turn around quickly. A club can taste success despite having been struggling.

Brendan McCartney stepped down from his coaching role at the Western Bulldogs at the end of 2014. Captain Ryan Griffen announced he wanted to leave the club at the same time. The club appeared to be in shambles.

But then Luke Beveridge took over as coach and with the right support, the Bulldogs were on the rise again. They won a premiership in his second year in charge, 2016.

I was at Marvel Stadium when St Kilda played the Brisbane Lions on 12th August. It was round 22 and had they won that, they could have possibly played finals.


The final score was St Kilda 9.12 (66) and the Lions 12.9 (81).

Luke Beveridge speaks to his players.

Bulldogs head coach Luke Beveridge speaks to his players. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

The Saints should have won that game. At one point late in the third quarter, the Saints had a handy lead. They were in the box seat to win that game. Unfortunately, despite marking just about everything, key forward Max King had the kicking yips that day. He could not kick straight. He was missing set shots right in front of the goal. He ended up kicking 0.5 for the night but if he had kicked straight, that could have been five goals.

And these were set shots that were more than gettable. And what a difference that would have made to the final score.
The Saints kicked 5.10 in the second half allowing Brisbane to take the lead and then win.

Now I’m not blaming King. I understand some players have an ‘off-day’. But when he is paid the big bucks to kick the goals and misses them, then that’s not the coach’s fault.

Some will say it’s the coach’s fault the player can’t kick straight. But is it really? In the current AFL climate where players have access to elite training and coaches, they practice goalkicking at training sessions. It’s not the coach’s fault that a player can’t kick straight.

Ratten has every right to feel let down by the club.


After assuming a caretaker position when Alan Richardson left just before round 17 in 2019, Ratten was officially appointed as senior coach ahead of the 2020 season. With a star-barren list, he has done a reasonably good job. Jack Steele is a well-admired star of the competition and there are some other talented players on the list but there is room for improvement.

Ratten led the club to the finals and won a final in 2020 but missed out on the top eight in the following two years.
After the round 23 loss, Ratten expressed his openness to the review that would help improve things for the club. He was seeking ways to improve. Little did he know that review would cost him his job.

The review was led by President Andrew Bassat, new CEO Simon Lethlean, former player and board member Jason Blake and David Noble who was brought in as a temporary adviser. The President conceded on Friday they did not provide Ratten with the right support and environment to thrive. And yet, they decided to part ways anyway.

“We’ve uncovered what we need,” said Bassat.

Brett Ratten (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

He talked about finding the right coach to close the gap between them and the elite teams in the competition. But then didn’t elaborate on what those skills were.

Geoff Walsh was appointed the Saints’ head of football and recently spoke on SEN breakfast. He talked about how there was “a degree of irrelevance” around the St Kilda Football club and his desire to restore that.


Perhaps treating staff with respect could be the first step.

History shows that Ratten was very stiff to get his Carlton coaching role terminated and he is unfortunate once again.
Ratten coached Carlton from late 2007 – 2012 and had a positive record of just over 50% (winning 60 games and a draw out of 120). And even though he led the Blues to three consecutive finals series from 2009 to 2011, he was unceremoniously shown the door as the Blues hierarchy sought to appoint Mick Malthouse.

However Malthouse, a multiple premiership coach, was unable to get the best out of the Blues either, indicating Ratten was hard done by.

After losing the Carlton coaching role, Ratten re-invested himself by further enhancing his coaching credentials under Hawks master coach Alastair Clarkson. Ratten played an instrumental part in the Hawks three-peat and worked alongside other experts in the field like Luke Beveridge and Leon Cameron who also went on to coach their own sides.
He was finally given another chance when given the Saints coaching role.

And after they were eight wins and three losses after round 11 this year, Ratten received a two-year extension. Then things went pear-shaped.

In his three full seasons in charge, Ratten’s results are not bad. They match up with other great coaches. Under his watch, the Saints had 11 wins and 8 losses and won a final against the Western Bulldogs in a shortened 2020 season.
In 2021, he led the Saints to 10 wins and 12 losses. And in 2022, the Saints finished with 11 and 11, only narrowly missing out on finals. They only won three of their remaining 11 games.

In his three full campaigns, he had 32 wins and 31 losses. That is just over a 50% success rate. Not a bad result especially when you factor in injuries, the impact of Covid, and the talent at his disposal.


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Four clubs have parted ways with their coaches this year. First, it was GWS, then North Melbourne, followed by Essendon, and now St Kilda. But a strong case can be made that considering his performance, this decision is the harshest of them all. And the timing is really poor.

Brett Ratten is a good bloke. He’s honest, refreshing, speaks his mind, and will have other opportunities fall his way. But everyone deserves more respect than what he was afforded. Perhaps if he was provided the right supportive environment, he could have thrived and led the Saints to premiership success.