Coaches Under The Pump

Written by Schwarzwalder on December 6 2018

(Originally appeared in the Herald Sun on 5/12/18 & written by Jon Ralph)


Paul Roos has an iron-clad method of assessing coaches under the pump.

If you believe in Round 1 that Team X is capable of winning only eight games, why do you want to sack the coach when they fail to make the finals?

In other words, dig a little deeper into the quality of a club’s list before you start throwing around silly phrases like a coach being “dead man walking”.

It is especially relevant when you consider the predicament of St Kilda coach Alan Richardson.

In all likelihood every AFL coach will enter next year with either a contract until 2020 or, in Brendon Bolton’s case, the financial security until that date.

Simon Goodwin will receive at least a two-year contract extension in coming months and by March Nathan Buckley would seem a certainty to have at least another year added to a deal expiring at the end of next year.

It doesn’t mean the blowtorch won’t be fired up early in the year.

How many wins does Richardson need to keep his job after 37 in 110 games over five seasons?

The easy answer is 12 or more, which would get the Saints into the finals, or darned close.

Yet take the time to layer Roosy’s method of judging coaches and the equation is a little murkier.

No one truly rates St Kilda’s list, even if you judge it on 23 wins in 2016-17 instead of the team that significantly underperformed last year with four-and-a-half wins.

So how can we expect them to make finals with a team that Champion Data rates as having only a single “elite” player based on the past two year’s performances.

That player, at least statistically, is Jade Gresham, who made the move into the midfield in the last six weeks of the season but still kicked 35 goals.

Under him are a bunch of exciting kids and 10 “above average” players including Jimmy Webster, Jack Steele, Blake Acres, Jack Sinclair, Jack Steven, Jack Billings, Daniel McKenzie and Shane Savage.

The problem for Richardson is the group of unfulfilled talent is way too long, headed by Billings and Acres but including Patrick McCartin, Luke Dunstan, Billy Longer, and Savage.

At times Billings and Acres flash into the game with the kind of jaw-dropping moments that make you think they one day could be a pair of All-Australian half-forwards.

The next minute Acres if playing VFL again and Billings is shanking elementary shots at goal.

So if we believe St Kilda’s list is the 14th-best in the competition — as Champion Data has rated it — surely 10 wins and improvement from individuals across the board keeps Richardson safe.

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Alan Richardson tries to inspire his men at pre-season training.
In 2011 Brett Ratten thrilled Blues fans with a coaching performance as much about individual improvement as game style and motivation.

Andrew Walker turned into a 56-goal forward, Chris Yarran was invigorated as a running defender, Jeremy Laidler had a career year as a rebounding defender, Robbie Warnock had a career-high 590 hitouts.

The Blues ended up winning 15 games but Ratten’s fingerprints were all over the individual improvement of his players.

The point is that Richardson’s year will be defined not just by wins, but by the ability of him and his coaching team to turn McCartin into more than a one-trick pony, to get inside Billings’ head, to help Acres find consistency.

When you finish so low on the ladder that your fixture involves double-up games against Gold Coast and Carlton and a clash against Brisbane at home, it is some kind of head start.

So Richardson not only has the fixture to coach his way out of trouble, but the huge group of players who can stop teasing and start to make a difference as AFL stars.




AFL senior coaches and their contracts

Contract status: Signed a three-year extension until 2021 in January 2018.

Pressure rating: AMBER

Warming up. Pyke is safe as houses but fans not only want a bounce-back year, they are demanding more transparency over injuries and the club to stop the rot after a disastrous year defined by the fallout of the off-season camp.

Contract status: Was handed an extra two years in August, locking him until 2021.

Pressure rating: YELLOW

Fagan’s honeymoon period rolls on, but for all the hype the Lions still finished 15th last year, their fifth bottom-four finish in a row. Time to get a wriggle on.

Contract status: Has a rolling employment contract but it was tweaked this year to give him some financial protection until 2020

Pressure rating: RED

Running hot. The strange contract arrangement adds mystery, but after seven wins, then six, then two and only 20 wins in 71 games, the fans want results. Game plan, ability to kick a score, player improvement will all be scrutinised.

Contract status: Signed a two-year deal through to 2019 in August 2017, but is in the perfect position for a summer contract extension after the Pies’ Grand Final appearance.

Pressure rating: GREEN

Ice cold. As long as the Pies don’t suffer a catastrophic slide down the ladder Buckley has done a Lazarus and shown he has a long-term future.

Contract status: Signed a two-year extension through to 2020 in March this year.

Pressure rating: RED.

White-hot. It’s time to deliver. The list is stacked, good enough to win 10 of the last 14 games this year and hasn’t won a final since 2004. Just no excuse not to make finals and likely win one.

Essendon fans are ready for a finals win under John Worsfold. Picture: Michael Klein

Nathan Buckley won over the sceptics in 2018.
Contract status: Signed a long-term deal through to 2020 in March 2016.

Pressure rating: ORANGE

Simmering. The kids are coming and the acquisitions of Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb helps. But three years into a rebuild the fans are impatient and Lyon’s position isn’t helped by a murky sexual harassment controversy.

Contract status: Signed a three-year extension through to 2022 on the eve of this year’s finals.

Pressure rating: ORANGE

Complicated. The hierarchy showed their faith in Scott with a new deal but the fans are filthy at a 3-9 finals record since 2011. They believe the Cats have become September underachievers.

Contract status: Signed an initial three-year contract through to 2020.

Pressure rating: GREEN

The inside word is Dew is a cracker. Given the current list, how would you know? Needs the time and patience for a total rebuild. Hope he gets it.

Contract status: The Giants extended his contract through to 2020 in July 2017.

Pressure rating: AMBER

Bubbling. Cameron has arguably done well to go deep into the past three finals series with a shocking injury toll. Critics believe he should have a flag by now.

Contract status: In August he signed a three-year contract extension, taking his tenure through to 2020

Pressure rating: GREEN

Bulletproof. Not even a straight-sets finals exit impacts the reputation of the AFL’s super-coach, who is setting the Hawks for another flag surge.

Contract status: His initial five-year deal runs out at the end of 2019 but talks are progressing on an imminent extension after the preliminary final run.

Pressure rating: YELLOW

Tepid. The list is star-studded, the premiership window is finally wide open and after finals wins over Hawthorn and Geelong, even the prelim stinker against West Coast is close to forgiven

Contract status: Ignored rival interest to sign a two-year extension through to 2020 in August 2017.

Pressure rating: AMBER

Measured. The fans believe Scott got maximum potential out of this list after 12 wins with lots of improvement from the kids. Then the Roos excelled in the trade period despite missing on Andrew Gaff.

Contract status: Received a three-year extension through to 2021 in September 2017 after he considered leaving for Gold Coast.

Pressure rating: ORANGE

Power fans demanded more from a team that went all in to win a flag and instead flopped with four straight losses to miss the finals. Then traded Chad Wingard. The heat is on.

Contract status: Signed on until 2021 in March this year after taking the Tigers to their first premiership since 1980.

Pressure rating: YELLOW

Medium. The Tigers flopped in the prelim final and might have missed a window to win two flags if they can’t get it done with Tom Lynch. But when you deliver the Tigers faithful a flag you can do little wrong.

Contract status: Contracted until 2020 but his deal contains some kind of trigger clause that could see the Saints paying him only his 2019 salary if things go pear-shaped this year.

Pressure rating: RED

Extreme. A stinker of a season on every front. It wasn’t certain Richo was safe for next season until very late in the year. Ripper bloke, needs to show his inner junkyard dog.

Contract status: Contracted until 2020 with the Swans after signing an extension in July 2016.

Pressure rating: AMBER

Buddy-related. Only four sides are younger than Longmire’s Swans, who have remained competitive while introducing a new wave of kids. But the harsh judges will say Buddy is 32 in a month, recovering from groin surgery and five years into a nine-year deal. And without a flag at Sydney yet.

Contract status: The Eagles locked away Simpson for three more years — through to 2022 — on the eve of a finals series in which West Coast won the premiership.

Pressure rating: GREEN

Happy as Larry. Has a flag in his back pocket, a new contract, and a star-studded list with plenty of young talent.

Contract status: The Bulldogs extended Beveridge through to 2020 in the month before a 2016 finals campaign in which they stormed to the premiership.

Pressure rating: AMBER

Surprisingly high. Delivered the Dogs’ second premiership ever so should have a lifetime but two confusing years since. Won the flag with a remarkable coach-player bond, but enough have left since to wonder is that connection as strong as it was?


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