Essendon’s Coaching Selection Process: A Chance to Buck Modern Trends

It could be said that the chasm left by James Hird’s demise was all but inevitable after he was signed on for the 2011 season. He did not complete an apprenticeship as either an assistant coach or as a head coach of a state-league team. He was brought in to rectify the downward spiral left by Matthew Knights, and if history has shown anything, favoured sons never seem to have a happy stint as a coach of their old club.

However, this is a chance for an innovative appointment which could be the antidote for what is otherwise a poisoned chalice. The club still has no better idea as to the outcome of the WADA appeal, and there are murmurings of an impending player exodus. Even if players do not leave en masse, there are reportedly 20 players out of contract, including two of their better players in Jake Carlisle and Brent Stanton. Additionally, with Paul Little’s decision to stand down at the end of the year, the chance of a board spill is forever rising. The new coach will be very aware of the turbulence that awaits, even before applying for the role.

Therefore, it may be time for an AFL club to finally break recent tradition and appoint a former head coach. No other coaching position in the history of the league has required a person who has excellent crisis management skills. They also need to be able to unify a playing group which apparently loved Hird, and may potentially faction in the aftermath. Finally, they will need to deal with intense media attention and scrutiny from day dot. This skill set would likely only be held by someone with a wealth of experience.

There are three coaches who spring to mind as viable candidates: Mark Harvey, Guy McKenna, and Brenton Sanderson. All three were arguably sacked too early for different reasons: Harvey in favour of Ross Lyon; McKenna after failing to meet expectations after losing Gary Ablett, and; Sanderson after disagreeing with the board over the direction of the playing list.

Hird’s replacement will ultimately face an excessive amount of attention, and the support of ex-senior coaches Neil Craig and Mark Neeld is unlikely to be sufficient. It is better to get someone who can weather the storm as opposed to feeding a young coach to the wolves.


  1. Ross Lyon is doing his post season review as we speak. Dockers – too old and slow. Squeezed as much juice as was available out of that lemon.
    RL has a history of jumping ship just before it hits the rocks.
    Adelaide, Carlton or Essendon?
    Adelaide and Essendon have more upside in the playing list. RL is a Melbourne boy so going home is always attractive. Hird and WADA are a ready made scapegoat for any underperformance in the next 3 years.
    RL has a hide like a rhino, and the Bombers next coach will need that. Essendon may be broke, but they have a direct tap into the big end of town. Little will pay big for the right man.
    Lyon will be donning the sash by the end of September.
    Remember you read it hear first.

  2. Massive, massive, massive call PB. Essendon’s list is beyond ordinary. I doubt that any established coach currently in the game would jump ship to head to Tullamarine – cashed up and backed by the big end of town or not.

    It doesn’t matter who Essendon appoints as its next head coach, until the club dismantles and re-builds its recruiting department nothing will change and the fundamental problems that Hird and Knights couldn’t address will still remain.

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