Coaching appointments

Now that the coaching dust has settled and all clubs have made their choices for 2012 I thought it would be an opportune time to see whether history tells us anything about the wisdom of going for a brand new coach (Adelaide, Collingwood, Melbourne, St Kilda, Western Bulldogs) or someone who has been ‘in the system’ (Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney).

I am choosing the modern era, my modern era. This is the era of my living memory of football – from 1968 onwards (I recall watching my first game on TV, the replay of the Grand Final where a gangly, bespectacled Geoff Blethyn nearly hauled Essendon across the line against Carlton) plus a couple of extra years simply because it fits my theory!

During this period there have been some substantial cultural shifts in the spread of Premierships, new versus experienced coaches winning Premierships and clubs opting for coaches without previous head coaching experience.

From 1967 – 83 only four teams shared the 17 Premierships on offer and if we extend this to 1989 only five clubs gathered the spoils over 23 seasons. Compare this to the next period from 1990 – 2011, 22 years when 11 different clubs managed to bring home the cup. From 2003 – 2008 six different teams grabbed the flag which last occurred in 1963 – 68. The salary cap and draft seems to have worked in spreading the love.

If we turn out attention to coaches 2004 – 2008 was the first time in VFL/AFL history that five ‘new’ coaches in a row (that had not previously won a flag ) brought their side to victory in the Grand Final.

Perhaps clubs are on to this, as interestingly, there has been a change in the shift from the experienced coach to the newby. Back in 1981 six of the 12 teams Carlton, Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn, Melbourne, St Kilda had coaches who had previously coached elsewhere as the trend appears to have been get someone whose done the gig before. Even in 2000 five of the 16 clubs (Brisbane, Carlton, Collingwood, Hawthorn, West Coast) had coaches who had been in charge somewhere else.

Premiership coaches especially were the ones in high demand. Of the 21 men to coach winning Grand Final teams since 1966 through to 2003 only John Nicholls did not go on to coach another club. Other clubs wanted someone with success. Only four of these 21 managed to replicate their success at the second or third club (Barassi, Parkin, Matthews and Malthouse). Even more surprising, given the trend to have experienced coaches, is that only three managed to guide their team to success when they had not achieved a Premiership at another club Walls at Carlton not at Fitzroy; Malthouse at Collingwood and West Coast not at Footscray; and Blight at Adelaide not at Geelong or North Melbourne.

The cold hard facts for clubs who went for the recycled coach with no Premiership in our interest period was that the vast majority of them were not able to bring home the elusive cup. From those with a reasonably successful background (Rose several Grand Finals, Ayres, Northey and Eade Grand Final, Wallace Prelim); moderate success (Goggin, Cahill finals); nothing much on the resume (Tuddenham, Stephen, Skilton, Robert Shaw, Peter Knights, Judge) and even two wooden spoons (Patterson) all got you another job.

For 2012 though there are six coaches (Malthouse, Pagan, Matthews, Williams, Roos and Thompson) with Premiership experience and no senior job although maybe none of them really wanted another senior job. I’ve pensioned off Kennedy, Hafey, Barassi, Parkin and Blight. This seems to represent a clear change in the landscape with clubs plumping for Premiership experience as an assistant (McCartney, Neeld, Sanderson, Buckley, Watters) ahead of experience in the senior job but no Premiership or even senior experience and a Premiership.

So Fremantle’s coup of headhunting Ross Lyon may not be the panacea they are lookng for given this history of just three coaches since 1966 coming from another club without a Premiership and then winning one at the second or third club. And just maybe the concept of career coach as espoused by Ross Lyon and Terry Wallace is nearly dead and possibly with good reason. The majority of appointed coaches – not including caretakers – since 1966 had just the one opportunity. At least 60 people couldn’t bring home the flag and did not get a chance at another club.

Or maybe it’s just the wheel turning. Consider 1966 when just one club, Melbourne with Norm Smith had a coach with experience at another club and one other, Fitzroy had recylced Bill Stephen.

Time will tell.

About Noel McPhee

Noel's background is in statistics including 13 years at the ABS. More recent employment has been at Deakin University and Services Australia. He has worked on every State and Commonwealth election this millennium plus a few Local Government Elections. His weekly article, 'The Stats Bench' appears weekly on the Eastern Football Netball League's website. Noel's legacy as a sportsman is that he tried hard; two cricket fielding trophies, a tennis premiership and boundary umpiring about 80 EFL senior games. He has completed over 35 parkruns in quite slow times in the last three years.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    All very interesting Noel. Although hard to judge a coach on his merits without taking into consideration what cattle he has .

  2. Or what Committee and football officials he has alongside him. I am no fan of McAlisters big mouth or Eddie McGuires’ relationship with Channel 9 but I can’t help thinking that if Bob Rose and Tom Hafey had had McAlister or especially McGuire as club President when they were coaching Collingwood they may have converted at least one near miss into a Flag.

  3. Rocket Nguyen says

    Just looking at para 7 it seems as if you have overlooked Alan Jeans…
    As it turns out he had more success at his 2nd club than the first

  4. Just as a follow up now that all 2014 coaches have been appointed – only 7 of the last 37 appointed coaches (since 2001) have been recycled from other clubs including two this year (Thompson and Roos).
    Compare 2000 when 4 of the 7 new appointments were recycled. Looks like the trend to the highly credentialled assistant as opposed to an experienced recycled coach is continuing.

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