Brisbane Lions: No one is safe

When Michael Voss was appointed as Brisbane’s coach in 2008, my brother Nick sent me a text, who cares about his lack of experience.  Voss should just take the money.  For two million bucks he’d be mad not to. 

Ultimately, that is what Voss did.

Back then, one of my mates, the Pole, predicted Voss would be sacked in his first season.  ‘I just don’t think he can coach,’ the Pole said.

Nick and the Pole were both right.

Brisbane gambled with Voss, who didn’t have any senior coaching experience.  He had pedigree though, club captain, three premierships, five best and fairest awards and a Brownlow medal.

Unfortunately, all those awards, medals and premierships were worthless.  After five years Voss’s dream job is over.  He was judged on the win/loss ratio, which was ordinary, 44 victories from 110 games.

Coaches can’t be judged any other way.

Having spent 22-years at Brisbane, Voss would be shattered.  There is no emotional limit to what he is feeling right now.

Getting sacked won’t tarnish his legacy, not in terms of his contribution to football.  His career was exceptional.  The comeback from a shocking broken leg, when he could barely train, was extraordinary.

That injury robbed Voss of the chance to play 300 games.  Still, as a gold-class midfielder he’s a cinch for the AFL’s hall of fame.  Had he played for a Melbourne club, his profile would’ve been huge.

Last week, Lions chairman Angus Johnson said Voss had been told about the approach to Paul Roos, just to see what he was doing next year.

At the weekend, Voss refuted that, saying he’d expected transparency on coaching issues and didn’t get it.

Johnson handled this termination badly.  It’s no wonder Voss refused to coach the final three games.  Most men in his situation would’ve quit on the spot.

The sacking seems in hope, like a lover dumping a partner because someone else is flirting with them.

Begging won’t help Brisbane.  If Paul Roos doesn’t feel the love, he’s not going to coach, and all they’ll be left with is the usual suspects.

Under Voss, Brisbane won eight games this year and was tracking to win ten.  North Melbourne and West Coast might win ten games.  Brad Scott isn’t about to be sacked at Arden Street, and John Worsfold is in discussions about another contract with West Coast.

As Voss broods at home, thoughts of Brisbane making the finals next year must be agonising.  Watching footy right now would be a chore.

In his exit press conference, Voss said his sacking wouldn’t diminish the love he has for Brisbane.  Hopefully he adheres to that, and doesn’t do what other men have done, when they suffered the same fate.

When Wayne Schimmelbusch quit as North Melbourne’s coach in 1993, he didn’t return to Arden Street for a decade.

Schimmelbusch must’ve gone through shocking emotions when North Melbourne made the finals in Pagan’s first year.

He has never publicly stated his emotions when North won the premiership in 1996, with a lot of players he recruited to the club.  History says Schimmelbusch couldn’t coach, but Denis Pagan could.

Kevin Bartlett, when he was sacked as Richmond’s coach at the end of 1991, vowed never to return until the men on the club’s board were gone.  Once those men were gone, Bartlett continued his hiatus.

Bartlett played in five premierships for the Tigers and snubbed Punt Road for about 25-years.

It’s a shame when the love dies like that.  The return is never seen as honourable.

Voss captained one of the most admired sides in AFL history.  He was uncompromising as a leader, tough and fearless.  He set the example.  His men followed.

As coach, his men tried to follow his message but couldn’t.  Voss, unfortunately, joins a long list of champion footballers who couldn’t reinvent themselves into great coaches.

Champions of the game like Schimmelbusch, Royce Hart, Carl Ditteritch, Ian Stewart, Bobby Skilton and Barry Cable couldn’t find a tangent between playing and coaching.

It is too simple to suggest those men couldn’t coach.  Argument could be made that they never had the right resources, support or financial backing.  But they weren’t great coaches when it mattered most.

Voss, like the men listed above, didn’t do enough when he had his chance.

He will find it hard spruiking a 40 percent winning ratio when looking for another senior role.  Extenuating circumstances like injury, poor drafting or scandal are widely known, but as coach, he is responsible.

And failed coaches carry a stigma.  Despite their charisma and potential, most never get a second chance.

Voss might jag a job as an assistant.  It’s a stretch to believe Melbourne will offer him the coaching role.  If he couldn’t lift the struggling Lions, he might struggle to lift the hapless Demons.

The transition for great footballers, from playing to coaching, remains a tough gig.

Since 1970, just two champion players, Leigh Matthews and Malcolm Blight, have reinvented themselves into great coaches.  From ten grand finals as coaches, they won six premierships.

Of the rest, men like Kevin Sheedy, Mark Thompson, David Parkin, Mick Malthouse and Pagan were good players without being great.  They were better as coaches.

As a coach, Voss was a great player.

‘The question had to be asked whether I was the person to get to the next level,’ Voss said.  ‘But to go to the next one is a bigger one, a much bigger one. That’s going to require a whole new level of resourcing and recruiting and trade. They’ve made the decision that I’m not that person, it’s someone else.’

Who that someone else is remains unclear.  Yesterday, Lions board members Mick Power and Paul Williams told Angus Johnson they had no faith in his leadership.  Leigh Matthews wants to join the board, but not under Johnson.

Consider the hypocrisy.  Johnson had no faith in Voss, so the coach was sacked.  Two of Johnson’s board members have no faith in him, and he refused to quit.

Voss didn’t have that luxury.

During yesterday’s press conference, Johnson spruiked his achievements and said he would continue to work hard to appoint a marquee coach.

‘This has nothing to do with the decision that was made about Michael Voss,’ Johnson said of the board challenge.  ‘That decision was a unanimous decision arrived at by the board after we went through as I’ve often said a comprehensive, exhaustive and robust process.’

Johnson later said it was Paul Williams who suggested Voss should be sacked.  Now Williams and Power want Johnson out, too.

The bloodshed at Brisbane isn’t over.

After Voss was sacked, he said speculation about his future during the season wasn’t worth worrying about.  ‘I believe in what’s in front of you is what you deal with,’ Voss said.  ‘You’re all in or you’re all out.’

Johnson was honest when he fronted the media yesterday.  ‘The sole reason that they (Power and Williams) gave was that they believe I had botched, I think were their exact words, the recruitment of Paul Roos as senior coach to the club.’

If Johnson doesn’t get Roos to sign a contract, he should heed Voss’s words.

All in, or all out…

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Peter Schumacher says

    Interesting analysis. Still like to know more about the suggestion that some senior players had not been happy with his coaching.

  2. does Paul Roos meet your definition fo great player / great coach?

  3. AT,
    Anyone who coaches that defensive, suffocating, unappealing and constricting style of play isn’t a great coach.
    Roos played with flair. He coached without imagination.

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