Mick Malthouse: A Good Ordinary Coach

I see you’re breaking a coaching record tomorrow.
In some ways I’ve been on this 40+ year journey with you. I was at the 1980 GF when your Tigers slaughtered us mercilessly by a record margin. I remember you and Jimmy Jess driving the ball out of Collingwood’s feeble forward line continuously. It was my first GF and you were partly responsible for my misery.

I’ve forgiven you for that.

I marveled at your ability to help Footscray reach the 1985 Prelim in your second year. Granted, Bluey Hampshire had set up the team for you, but you ‘got the best out of them’.
Or did you? Some might argue that the Bulldogs should have at least played off in a Grand Final with the team they had in ‘85.

Things began to get tough in’89. Doggies were on their knees, talent-wise and financially. You quietly bailed and left them to work it out for themselves. Thanks for the experience.

At West Coast you coached the equivalent of a state team to 2 flags in 10 years. Granted, you negotiated the draconian travel schedules imposed on you by the AFL and saluted twice. Many Eagles fans believe that the team should have won at least one more premiership, if not two or three. Credentials certified. Now you were one of the big boys in the coaching fraternity.

You came to Collingwood at the end of 1999 in a black Volvo amid much Eddie-inspired fanfare and $$$.

I was one of your greatest admirers at the end of 2002. You ‘got the best’ out of an ordinary team and almost pinched a fairytale Premiership. The sight of you and Licca in tears at the end of the game brought me and my family to tears too. So close, so gallant, brave, but ultimately a failure.

I look back now to 2002 and wonder why you got rid of Mal Michael, Paul Williams and Sav Rocca. Three fifths of a spine or goal-to-goal line might have been handy in the 2002-03 GF’s in hindsight.

I began to lose trust in you when you blamed Jason Cloke for the 2003 debacle. You played Tristan Walker and Ben Kinnear, along with Cloke up-forward when Buckley was kicking goals and in career-best form. You decided to leave Bucks in the centre and across half-back. Brisbane smashed us and the final margin flattered us.

I can’t recall you taking any responsibility.

To fill the breach you chose players like Billy and Chad Morrison to take us forward in 2004-05. At the end of ‘05 we finished second last and your career was teetering. Eddie had the smarts to bring in Derek Hine who started to spot the talent that you somehow missed. Eddie had your back then and we relented from criticising your one-dimensional boundary strategy that always seemed to come undone against the really good teams.

2007 papered over a number of cracks. Getting within a goal of Geelong was a mighty effort and you were rightly praised for your ability to ‘get the best’ out of a good ordinary team.

By May 2009 you and the Pies were struggling under the weight of expectation. 10 years and not looking anywhere near winning a flag, despite the money and resources at your disposal from the biggest sporting club in Australia. Eddie stepped in again and brought in Bucks to fire you up. It was a masterstroke and you ended up becoming a Collingwood Premiership coach.

Many forget that mid-way through 2010 we were struggling. We lost to an ordinary Brisbane and somehow pinched a draw from Melbourne on the Queen’s Birthday. You finally saw sense and dropped Fraser, Lockyer and Presti. They were valiant servants, but they would not take us to the flag.

We broke through in 2010 and you understandably revelled in the glory that ‘Your Boys’ delivered for you. Your prominence on the ground during the celebrations was noteworthy. Most coaches would allow the team itself to celebrate. Not you. You had to be front and centre, lest we forget just how big a role you played in the success.

The fact that you gave no credit to Bucks for helping develop the press that made you a Magpie icon irked me. I’m a glass-half-empty kinda guy, but I look at your record at Collingwood and I see the glass three-quarters empty. Four Grand Finals for 1-3 record. That’s a 25% success rate.

But you ‘got the best out of them’ and that’s what matters.

You could have coached back-to-back flags had your ego not got in the way. Your appearance on the Footy Show in July 2011 showed the world that it was all about Mick. When we lost the GF you blamed Swanny after you refused to move Tarrant onto Hawkins until it was too late.

You’ve treated Journalists with disdain and that’s fine for the hardened Journo’s who can deal with it. The young reporters were not spared the rod and yet you complained about the treatment your Journo daughter copped from fans when things weren’t going well.

You used your family as a shield, citing a ‘loss of faith in humanity’ to deflect from your shortcomings as a coach. It must be hell pondering how awful people are while sitting at a French Manicurist in Toorak. How did the Malthouse clan survive it?

Now you are at Carlton, and poised to break Jock McHale’s record. Two weeks prior to the season you swelled with pride and declared: “I don’t see how we can be beaten.” Two weeks into the season you stated that Carlton was a “bottom side that couldn’t attract players.”
I have to hand it to you Mick. For a good ordinary coach you are a revealing example of how persistence, self-belief and the power of denial can do wonders for a career.

Congratulations on your milestone.

If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear the sound of my one hand clapping.

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.


  1. The People's Elbow says


  2. Compelling arguments here Phil. I had a chuckle when Mick stated at yesterday’s press conference that this weekend’s game “is not about me”. He’s a bit like those puffer fish; the more the conversation is about Mick, the larger his chest expands.

    He is a great survivor, I’ll give him that.

  3. Granted it has been a great career but it has always been about Mick.

    Ron Barassi, Tom Hafey and Kevin Sheedy are respected because they were representatives of football clubs. Mick just isn’t likeable because of his arrogant ego persona that overides all the good he has done – Mick represents Mick. He is only humble when he realises that his job is on the line.

    I know Allan Jeans would never have had a huge picture of himself in his loungeroom as was shown a few years ago of a full wall portrait appearing in Mick’s abode.

  4. Hello Phil.

    I re-visited the 1985 Preliminary Final recently and prior to then would’ve agreed with anyone who thought the Dogs should’ve qualified for that seasons decider. I’ve since changed my mind, 15 minutes from time and they were gone. Had they somehow managed to get over the Hawthorn the following week could’ve got ugly early. The Hawks victory in the PF meant they’d knocked off the Dogs three times in four meetings that year. Enough said.

    I’m not sure you could link/associate or blame Malthouse for the Dogs parlous financial state in ’89.

    Thanks for remembering, and praising, the job Ian Hampshire did prior to Mick’s arrival. Bluey and Shane O’Sullivan did a lot of the ground work in making the club relevant following the awful state it found itself in the early 80’s.


  5. DBalassone says

    Phil, I found myself agreeing with some parts of this and disagreeing with other parts of it. Some random thoughts:

    2003 GF – was sitting in the Southern Stand (Ponsford side) and will never forget at the centre bounce looking into our forward line and seeing Kinnear, Walker and Jason Cloke. You knew we were in trouble. His comment afterwards about Jason Cloke’s game was a disgrace, given the man was grossly played out position, and worse still was Mick’s later response when David Cloke asked him to explain what he meant by the insult.
    2002 GF – Mick’s crowning achievement. The side he inherited from Shaw in 1999 was the worst list in the AFL. How did Mick do it?
    1990-99 – yes WCE were close to state teams, but bear in mind WA state team were not quite in the class of SA and VIC state teams at the time. You have to give him some credit considering where WCE finished in 1989 under John Todd (didn’t they lose to the Dons by 142 points that year?).
    1986 – Mick was correct to drag Brad Hardie at VFL Park – he was playing unaccountable footy picking up cheap kicks behind the play. Back in those you could win a Brownlow for doing that (Stynes did it in ’91 as well). Brad has held the grudge against Mick ever since and never resisted the chance to sink the boot in.
    1984-85 – did a great job at the Dogs, not sure you could blame him for leaving in ’89 though. He gave them 6 years.
    2007 – similar to 2002, not a great side, but he got them to within 5 points of perhaps the greatest team of all time in that Prelim.
    2010-11 – he created a great footy team and deserves kudos for that. I loved the boundary line strategy – it worked – it’s too predictable playing corridor footy and too easy to combat. The forward press was his masterstroke – I know Bucks was forward coach and thus deserves credit too, but I’m led to believe it was Mick’s brainchild.
    2011 GF – have to agree with you. Once the Pod went off, the logical move was to put Tarrant on Hawkins. Though in truth, I think the Cats had our measure and were going to run over us after half time no matter what. Like Modra getting injured in the ’97 Prelim (allowing Jarman to go forward), I think the Pod going down was a big factor in allowing Hawkins to become the focal point.
    Is Mick a bit like Aka or Harry in that he doesn’t really articulate himself that well? Yet the poor bloke always has a microphone thrust in front of him so it is inevitable that crap will ensue. I stopped listening to him years ago in that regard. But I totally respect his ability to get the most out of this team. He knows how to communicate to young men and that is his job after all. I salute him on the record.

  6. Jeez Phil, I was hoping you could write an obituary for me on the Almanac. But I’ve changed my mind. With all the skeletons in my cupboard, you’d have a field day.”
    I tend to apply the “walk a mile in their shoes” test before passing judgement on other people’s life and career.
    Sure Mick is a public figure and well paid – so we are all entitled to an opinion. He has some flaws – who doesn’t – but also some huge strengths and achievements.
    I don’t like MIck’s persona much, but I admire end respect his character and achievements enormously.
    I wonder how much of the prickly persona is intentional armour to allow a thoughtful,, deep character to survive in such a brutal, public environment?

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thanks for the comments lads. The fact that I took the time to write 1000 words on him shows that I do have some begrudging respect for MM. Cheers

  8. E.regnans says

    Fair enough, Phil.
    Let it out.

    Life. It’s complicated.

  9. Ouch!

    The 1999-2003 resurrection was remarkable so it was a shame Mick undid his amazing work with 2 major errors that cost the Pies stealing one against the Brion juggernaut.

    1. Refusal to invest in or recognise the importance of an A Grade ruckman

    2. The forward line fiasco of the 2003 GF mentioned by Damian (notwithstanding Rocca’s PF suspension dealt him a shit sandwich).

    The less said about Aug 2011 > the better. My theory is even the best coaches tend to get tipsy on their own bath water after a certain period of time.

  10. Really interesting, Phil.
    M Malthouse really does polarise opinion.
    The first thing that needs to be said is that 715 games of coaching is a mighty mighty effort.

    Also, I must add that last week’s comment “My wife has been in tears…” really stuck in my craw. What exactly was she crying about? He knew what he was getting himself into when he took on the job, so not much sympathy for me there.

  11. Skip of Skipton says

    The ‘Kirribilli’ agreement with Eddie and FIGJAM would have irked the man at the time.

    Then you win the 2010 premiership, improve the performance in 2011*, yet still this handover agreement persists, well that would have shit him no end.

    Why not leave Reid on big T-Bone? Suck on that Eddie.

    *Collingwood were odds-on for the flag throughout the home and away season.
    Remember that Geelong were the only team to defeat them that season.

  12. Matt Zurbo says

    Great read, mate. Speaking to the players, most love him. They say the public persona is not the one the players see. They reckon they play for him. Then there are those that hate him. Reckoned he played favourites. Turned a blind eye too much in ’11. They also admit what he tells the press/public is often a red herring to hide what he is really trying to do. “I’m gunna go out there and say something that will cop some flack, but it will take the pressure off you and what we are trying to do.”

    I agree about West Coast. What a team!!

    I think he is one of those ones you’d have to be on the inside with to know his worth.

    A real ripper piece mate. Cheers.

  13. Skip of Skipton says

    Entering the last round of 2011 Collingwood’s percentage was 181. Which in this day is mindblowing and stratospheric. That’s how good they were, if you can’t be bothered remembering.

    All other dominant teams in the last 25 years had % of .

  14. Skip of Skipton says

    % of 160 give or take.

  15. Spot on piece of writing Phil
    MM is an enigma wrapped up with an enema. He is confusing and he gives me the shits.
    Back in early 84 my mates on the Barkly St hill chanted “bring back Bluey” for most of that season. You got it right when he slunk (?) off to Perth. Only trouble is I was around the home of WCE often enough that our paths crossed. He wouldn’t know I existed but I heard and saw enough to understand the driving forces that seem to motivate him. I could tell stories that probably wouldn’t make your mums hair curl, but would certainly get this website shut down under a welter of legal actions. So I won’t.
    Suffice to say I am over MM. I don’t wish him ill will but I just wish he would go away. Noisily if need be but away………

  16. Skip, I could write a 200 page thesis as to why Collingwood went from that level of imperiousness to losing the GF in the space of 4-5 weeks. Of the many theories MM would figure in most. Having said that, he also built a seemingly invincible side.

    I bet Nannette wishes he’d taken Collingwood’s easy money now.

    A riddle wrapped in an enema – nice line Chalkdog!

  17. Have to disagree about MIck coaching a WA state team
    There were plenty of good players not available
    Anyone who looked at the 1986-7 period in VFL history would see that every side that could, signed all the best from the West. There were no concessions in those days just sheer bloody-mindedness from the Vics. Who bailed the Dogs? The Indian Pacifics came up with the $4 million the VFL needed and saved Hawthorn’s skin as well

    I do agree that Mick under-premiershipped with the Eagles, but the travel and the AFL killed them in 1990 and 91. Six weeks in a row in 1990,that’s a stitchup right there

  18. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    So Skip.
    Are you suggesting that Mick threw the 2011 GF out of spite? I love a good conspiracy theory, but surely even he wouldn’t go that far. Would he?

  19. All you have done in this article is take every success of Micks 30 years and give credit to someone else instead. Then blame him for everything that may have gone wrong.
    Where is the balance…..seems to me you are trying to get your own life failings and frustrations out and blame someone else.
    Suck it up mate and live your own life.

  20. Rick Kane says

    Well said Lord Bogan, well said. Buyer beware.

  21. Andrew Starkie says

    Philo, so much more could be said about MM, positive and negative. He professionalised the game in the early 90s and forced the rest of the comp to catch up. But, on the other hand, his selfishness and ego cost the Pies the flag in 2011. And there’s so much more….

    But, most of us on this site are men and all flawed.

    It’s 715 more VFL/AFL games than me.

    Let MM have this time. He’s earned it.

  22. Luke Reynolds says

    Couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said Phil. MM should be a revered figure at Collingwood. He chose to sign the coaching agreement that would have made him Director of Coaching. When he by all means would have been sacked at most clubs. I’d have sacked him after 2005, 2006, 2008 and probably 2009. What an ego. Buckley’s role in the 2010 triumph seems understated. Mick could still have been there in a well paid, less pressured role. Go Bucks. Go Pies.

  23. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    That’s false equivalence as I don’t think that you’re a borderline sociopath.
    My increasingly pessimistic world view and moments of abject misery aside, what is it exactly that I should be sucking up? Please enlighten me with your acumen.
    Cheers Luke,
    When Bucks was asked by Gerard Whately about this being ‘His’ team now, he responded by saying that it is about a number of individuals that contribute to the success of the Collingwood Football Club. A stark contrast to his predecessor. I hope to see Bucks raise the cup as coach, but I fear that he is too decent as a human being . Hope I’m wrong.

  24. Dennis Gedling says

    Completely agree with this article. MM was an opportunist at best and would’ve made a great politician. Following the 2011 GF (where he had been outsmarted by a first year senior coach) rather than acknowledge the premiership side it turned in to an awkward tribute to Malthouse first and foremost showing it was always about Mick.

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