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The AFL pre-season coaching pressure gauge

4th February, 2023
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Roar Guru
4th February, 2023
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I know, I know it’s February. But I’m bored and footy deprived. So let’s do a coaching pressure gauge, which is, let’s face it, way too early to call.

We will be starting with the coach under the least amount of pressure, going to the coach under the most amount of pressure.

18. Chris Scott (Geelong)

Winning a flag cures all ills. Geelong have cast off the aspersions that they’re too old or too slow and won Chris Scott a second flag in 11 years. It’s a remarkable record and the Cats look geared for another deep run into September.

With the new recruits they’ve brought in, this Geelong side has an obscene amount of depth. The flag, combined with the trade and draft period, sees Scott earn the lowest ranking on this list.

17. Brad Scott (Essendon)

The Bombers have had the off-season from hell. The single worst thing that could happen from here is they sack Brad Scott partway through his contract, as they did to Ben Rutten.

I expect that it will be another dour year for the Bombers, but as long as they start to show some semblance of a game plan that can consistently win games of football, the Essendon faithful will be happy.

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16. Alastair Clarkson (North Melbourne)

The Roos got their man when Clarko signed a mammoth five-year deal at the end of the season. Additionally, despite Jason Horne-Francis leaving, the Roos loaded up with three astute picks in the top 30 of the draft with Harry Sheezel, George Wardlaw, and Brayden George all joining North Melbourne.

They also managed to lure multiple high-profile trade targets for comparatively bargain basement prices. The Roos won’t be much further up the ladder next year but they should get out of the bottom two for the first time in three years.

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

15. Adam Kingsley (Greater Western Sydney)

The Giants have a new coach for the first time in 10 years. They moved on Leon Cameron after a disappointing first part of the season and appointed Mark McVeigh as interim head coach. After going through a process they determined that Adam Kingsley was the best candidate for the role, continuing the trend of 2004 Port Adelaide premiership players being appointed head coaches alongside Damien Hardwick, Matthew Primus, and Stuart Dew.

It is clear that the Giants list needs a lot of work, most notably in the salary cap space where the bloated contracts of four players has hamstrung their retention rates.

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14. Craig McRae (Collingwood)

The Magpies had a remarkable season last year, winning a huge nine games by under 10 points. The Magpies are a well-drilled outfit with solid veteran talent that was not being used appropriately by Nathan Buckley. But the appointment of McRae alongside senior assistants Justin Leppitsch and Brendon Bolton has breathed new life into Collingwood.

We can’t say Flagpies yet; however, the bevy of talent they brought in over the draft period has meant they should be thereabouts again.

13. Adam Simpson (West Coast)

The Eagles have accepted they’re going to be bad next year. That feeling is liberating for head coach Adam Simpson, who has the opportunity to develop a new game style with the best young West Australian talent available at the last few drafts. Additionally it is nearly impossible they will have as many injuries and COVID outs as they did last year, but even then, the Eagles managed to avoid the ignominy of a wooden spoon.

Simpson is clearly an intelligent coach, and next year he has the opportunity to begin the process of taking the Eagles to their next flag. With multiple years remaining on his deal he will be cool as a cucumber when facing a down year.

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12. John Longmire (Sydney Swans)

Now we are creeping into the rungs of this ladder where coaches will begin experiencing a modicum of pressure. It’s highly unlikely that the Swans will perform badly next year but the recent trend of teams shellacked in a Grand Final is not a good one.

The Sydney faithful will be optimistic they can make a deep trip into September again, however to do so with the psychological trauma of losing badly on the biggest stage in football is a difficult task. Additionally, I fail to see how the Swans got any better over the off-season.

Kinnear Beatson and the Swans recruiting staff have become known for making inspired choices at the trade and draft table yet they have a young list who will feel last year’s Grand Final far more acutely than the older heads.

11. Simon Goodwin (Melbourne)

Winning their first flag in 57 years is a panacea to all coaching ails. The Demons started last year like a house on fire, their defence was unbeatable and their forward line functioned. However, down years for Kysaiah Pickett and Luke Jackson alongside an ill-timed fist fight between Stephen May and Jake Melksham saw the wheels come off a little, and Melbourne descend to a straight-sets exit from finals where they failed to recapture their best form.

I don’t doubt that the Dees have improved over the off-season, but the fact they were willing to put three first-round selections on the table for Essendon’s pick shows their desperation to pick up the best talent. The Dees will be thereabouts yet again, however, another stint in the wilderness could see the end of Goodwin’s coaching tenure.

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10. Michael Voss (Carlton)

To miss out as closely as the Blues did last year has got to hurt. The Blues have fewer and fewer excuses for doing poorly as they look to make the finals for the first time in 10 years. Being dubbed the prime time kings next year only adds to the pressure, as well.

However, thanks to a comparatively easy fixture and a positively stacked line-up, the Blues have timed their run to perfection as they became the first side in over 100 years to have two consecutive Coleman Medallists (the last being Essendon with Albert Thurgood and Fred Hiskins in 1900 and 1901 respectively).

The Blues have a potent line-up and with Sam Walsh coming into his prime the time for a sustained period of success is nigh. Yet heavy is the head that wears the crown, and Carlton’s recent history shows their club is dominated by off-field coterie groups who love to make themselves known.

9. Damien Hardwick (Richmond)

Is it a cheap shot to have the Tigers in ninth? For sure. However, the argument that Damien Hardwick is the median in terms of pressure is a good one.

The Tigers traded aggressively for Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper from the Giants and they did so with the albatross that is Tom Lynch’s contract around their neck. Richmond have turned their biggest weakness, their clearance work, into their biggest strength. However, to do that and not be successful would be dreadful to consider.

Hardwick and co brought in new talent for success now, another tilt at a flag before Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Dustin Martin inevitably call time on their storied careers. That pressure, despite the obvious capabilities sees Hardwick earn the ninth spot on this list.

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Damien Hardwick

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

8. Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn)

The talk around Hawthorn is they’re going to be on struggle street this year. Sam Mitchell has proven himself to be a tactically astute coach with surprise wins over port Adelaide and Geelong last year. However, they lost a considerable amount of experience in the off-season with Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara and Ben McEvoy leaving for greener pastures.

The Hawks became considerably younger and their successors are not immediately apparent. Mitchell is a club legend, so he will be given a significant grace period, but the results for Hawthorn will be ugly such that the pressure begins to ramp up on Mitchell and his cohort.

7. Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs)

Beveridge is a weird cat. His interactions with journalist Tom Morris shows that. Making matters worse, the Bulldogs made an outwardly nonsensical trade to bring Rory Lobb into an already strong forward line.

Losing a Grand Final is not good for a side’s psyche and it shows with the Bulldogs, as they barely snuck into the eight last year and were bundled out the first week. I doubt there will be Che Guevara quotes in this year’s season launch as Bevo needs to get down to brass tacks and get his charges playing scintillating football if they’re to be any hope of challenging the upper echelons of the league.

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6. Chris Fagan (Brisbane)

Fagan has shown a lot in his tenure at Brisbane. He has taken his side from perennial cellar-dwellers to contenders. However, their record in finals makes them the butt of a lot of jokes as last year was the first year they actually won more than one final, as well as the first time in eight years that they won a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Exacerbating matters was aspersions cast upon Fagan’s time at Hawthorn by an unnamed group of indigenous players that were there contemporaneously to Fagan. This is a proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over their head.

Additionally, the Lions lack of defence represents a fundamental flaw in game style that will not be fixed over night. The cap at the Lions is full to bursting, so they need to succeed now or the dreaded go home factor will begin to punish. Fagan has a stay of execution given that he was able to win two finals last season, however, it was only a stay.

Lions coach Chris Fagan

Chris Fagan (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

5. Ross Lyon (St Kilda)

I have two reasons for having Lyon this high. No.1 is Ross is fatally flawed as a coach – he does not know how to get the best out of his most poorly performing charges. The second is that the Saints have demanded success now, it’s why they moved on Brett Ratten months after signing him to a two-year extension. But they do not have the list for it.

The Saints had one of the best lists in the competition when Lyon took them to Grand Finals in 2009 and 2010, however, this current list is full of jobbers and fringe 22 players that will not take St Kilda to the promised land. The Saints need a couple more drafts before they can surge up the ladder, and this appointment just reeks of ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality that has affected some parts of the AFL.

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4. Justin Longmuir (Fremantle)

The Dockers are in a win-now mentality, and I suppose after nearly seven years of high draft picks and missing finals such a mindset is understandable. They emptied their coffers of players like Blake Acres, Rory Lobb and Griffin Logue all to make room for their whale in Luke Jackson.

I have no doubt that Jackson will be a good player; however, he cost a king’s ransom to get him over from Melbourne when Freo already have a good ruck in their side.

3. Matthew Nicks (Adelaide)

Nicks has been a consistent coach at Adelaide. Consistently working on lowering expectations.

With three consecutive bottom-six finishes, the Crows do not have a margin for error here. They need to show something, particularly with the inclusion of Izak Rankine as a ball of excitement playing that integral striker role where he can hopefully build up the tank to play in the guts in a prorated capacity.

However, the Crows lack a good second tall defender to intercept effectively, forcing Jordan Dawson to play taller than he is. Additionally, their midfield is one-paced. For a coach who has been valued for his ball movement Matthew Nicks has been lacking in weapons to proficiently move the ball up the field.

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Matthew Nicks, Senior Coach of the Crows

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. Stuart Dew (Gold Coast)

Now, there is one reason and one reason alone that Stu Dew is not atop the list and that reason is expectation. The Gold Coast Suns are finally coming good and they’ve had players buy in, as shown by Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell both extending in the off-season. With Ben King looking like a new player the Suns will be better; the question is, will they be good enough? I’m backing them to make the leap into the eight but it’s going to be close.

1. Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide)

There aren’t many coaches who have coached for 10 years, let alone without a premiership to show for it. Hinkley had an aggressive off-season, leaving no stone unturned. I do not doubt that Junior Rioli and Jason Horne-Francis will be good players for the Power.

However, they do have some ageing players in Charlie Dixon, Tom Jonas, Trent McKenzie, Scott Lycett, and Travis Boak and their replacements aren’t immediately apparent. The Power have removed the draft capital to replenish their players with aggressive trades such that their eggs are all in the win-now mentality. But if the Power have even a mediocre start this year Hinkley will be gone by the bye.

Well, there you have it, folks. I actually started writing this in December so the news might not be entirely up to date. But leave your thoughts in the comments below and I will do my best to respond.

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