2020 Deadline: Ross Lyon’s Contract Extension

Today, it was announced that Ross Lyon will coach Fremantle until 2020. Now, there have certainly been more controversial coaching appointments, extensions, and moves (featuring Lyon himself!) but the move to keep Lyon for the next five years shapes as one of the most intriguing coaching decisions made in recent years.

One that will end in glory, or abysmal disappointment.

Either the Dockers will shake off the ‘close-but-not-quite’ tag and claim one, two, maybe even three flags and truly become a powerhouse of the competition. Throw in 50+ goal seasons from Pavlich and Walters. Maybe a few more Brownlows around Fyfe and Lachie Neale’s necks for good measure, and it’s five years of plenty.

Or, more of the same increasingly frustrating finals losses, and an eventual decline resulting in disillusionment and Lyon’s reputation in tatters.

According to who you talk to, his game plan is either brilliant or fundamentally flawed. To begin though, a purely statistical analysis is required. Ross would like that. The man is – after all – almost ludicrously analytical in his approach to the game.

Here goes: nine years, 218 games, 143 wins, 70 losses, five draws. A 65.6% winning record. Eight final series, two preliminary finals and four grand final appearances.

This sequence of scores kicked in finals by Lyon’s sides: 8.13, 17.4, 9.10, 12.8, 9.6, 9.14, 12.11, 13.10, 10.8, 7.10, 8.9, 14.12, 11.5, 12.15, 14.15, 8.14, 10.9, 11.17, 10.9, and 10.7.

End result: Zero premierships. A 45% winning record in September and October. And don’t get me wrong, but for a dodgy bounce in 2010 when Lenny Hayes’ snap went right instead of left and through for a point instead of into the hands of Stephen Milne for a match-winning goal, Lyon would be a premiership coach. And many of the doubters would be silenced. And we’d all have to live with the fact that Milne is a premiership-hero.

But it didn’t. And they aren’t. And he isn’t (phew). And the conclusion is this: you can pontificate for days on I-50 counts, scores from defensive 50, kicking efficiency, ratio of handballs-to-kicks, differentials in handball receives, tackle-counts, contested vs. uncontested possessions and marks. But at the end of the day, only one thing matters. If you put the pigskin through the goals more than your opponents and lift that cup.

Premiership winning coaches know this, recognize the importance of clinical, overwhelming attack, of the ‘swing’ player who turns a game on its head. The occasions where you just let a hit’n’miss player go about his merry way and hope he wreaks havoc on the opposition.

Ross – I feel – disputes this. To him, a methodical, consistent, grinding game will result in hard-earned, well-deserved victory.

I like Ross. He’s hard. He’s uncompromising. He makes unpopular choices. He puts the blowtorch on players. He pushes the envelope when it comes to ‘player management’. Softly-softly? Psh. Toughen up sunshine. Yet, no premierships.

He also underplays the significance of time. In a press conference today, Lyon detailed that there was no excuse for Fremantle not to have won a flag by 2020.

No shit Sherlock.

I offer up that if Fremantle don’t win a flag by 2017 that those extra three years on your contract might count for naught. Lyon’s had a long time to perfect his plan, and he will be judged harshly. Ross however, is optimistic, as seen in a quote from today: “Professionally and personally it’s exactly where I want to be. It certainly allows myself, the coaching panel and the whole club to continue to plan and put in place pillars around my appointment.”

Lyon has all the right tools. He’s got Nat Fyfe. One of the most dominant big-men in the game. Emerging guns in Neale and Bennell. Experienced veterans in the form of Pavlich, Dawson and Johnson. A scarily-well drilled backline. An almost unfair home-ground advantage.

I want Lyon to do well. I want Fremantle to win. As an Essendon fan with only a couple of wins over Carlton to look forward to, and an intense desire to see Hawthorn not win four flags in a row, and a desire to see those who haven’t won before win on the biggest stage, it’s only natural.

So c’mon Ross. Let your players ‘off the leash’ in 2016. Transition the ball more freely. Overwhelm defenses with multiple high-scoring forward combinations. Attack. Score.

Win the flag.

Make 2020 a celebration of your success, not a closing chapter on ‘what-if’.

About Sam Laffy

Thirty-something year-old Essendon supporter. Winning the flag in 2000 when I was 12 was supposed to kick off a dynasty I could boast about for years. Still waiting for that 17th flag.....


  1. Neil Anderson says

    All teams are positive about their season ahead at the launch, none more-so than Ross Lyon and the Dockers.
    Fremantle will have to start with a win over the Bulldogs in Round 1 who are just as positive about 2016 with their healthy list which now has a lot of depth. As Jerry Seinfeld would say if the Dockers lose that first one, ” That’s an awful big motza-ball hangin’ out there”.

  2. Can’t say I’m enraptured by 5 more years of Lyon’s brand of snoozeball.

    What I saw of the Dockers last year it appeared to me their success rode largely on the back of the Sandilands-Fyffe combo. If either of those is hamstrung by injury they will struggle to get near the pointy end.

  3. Sam Laffy says

    I agree with you Neil on the positivity that all clubs show in the pre-season. It’s always going to be a break-out year for half a team’s list isn’t it?

    If the Dockers don’t score early – in terms of putting 15-20 goals on the board, the questions about the re-signing will only get louder!

    JD, I tend to agree that an injury to Fyfe – that had him out for most of the year – would cripple the Dockers He provides probably the most flair for the midfield and forward line. Snoozeball is a definite chance if he goes down.

  4. Neil Anderson says

    If there is a big dependence on the Sandilands/ Fyfe combo, it will be another big test in Round 1 without Sandilands.

  5. Dave Brown says

    Yeah, Sam, 2020 is a long time away in footy coaching. Like you, if Freo don’t win a premiership in the next couple of years I struggle to see how he’d be there in 2020. A bit like after the Crows made Neil Craig a permanent staff member in 2011 that just heaped the pressure on and he was gone within 6 months. I struggle to see the advantage for anyone much in this move.

  6. What are coaching (or playing) contracts worth these days? How long was Mick’s “contract” at Carlton? Confetti in waiting. Torn up as soon as they become inconvenient or a better offer waits elsewhere.
    The Dockers need Big Sandi to stay healthy. Fyfe to play CHF so they can kick a score and his body isn’t perpetually bashed in the midfield. Harley Bennell is an elite talent. Can he take Fyfe’s spot in the midfield?

  7. Like Judd back in his prime Fyfe needs to be in the guts where he wins so many quality clearances and busts the lines. What Freo does need is better protection and support from those around Fyfe so he isn’t being busted himself.

  8. Sam Laffy says

    Peter, you might be correct there – contracts do seem to be worthless in a lot of situations these days. Bennell I like – I think Lyon could be the type of coach who really finds the way for him to knuckle down and become a true star. If that happens then Freo could be very scary!

  9. Its great news because whilst Lyon is there we can be assured Freo will never win a flag. That cuts the odds for the rest of us.

  10. John Butler says

    Sam, in all the discussion about the Lyon game plan, I think the basic point that gets ignored is that he’s always coached playing lists inferior to the best opposition of a given year. 2009 was probably when he was closest to matching the best list, but even that team had a few guys who were role players at best.

    In recent years, Hawthorn has been the bridge too far for Freo. When you line up Hawthorn’s list depth against Freo’s, there’s really no contest.

    IMO, if Lyon has a regular failing, it’s not the game style, but the failure to build the right list.

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