Ox, Earth, slow, patient: How has M Malthouse done it? And what has he done?

Jock McHale was born in 1882. His father, an immigrant from Ireland, was a policeman. The family moved from NSW to North Fitzroy when little Jock was five years old and then on to Coburg. As a young man, he was invited to train at Collingwood. He stayed a while.

In 46 years at the top level:

1903-1920, player at Collingwood (1910, 1917* premierships, 1912-13 captain)

1912-1949, coach at Collingwood (1917*, 1919, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1935, 1936 premierships)

*playing coach

 

And now, the longevity record of J McHale in coaching, once thought never to be broken, will be eclipsed by M Malthouse.

The nature of records, of course, is that they are usually broken, particularly records of accumulation. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the record breaker is a better coach/player/operator than the previous record holder; rather that times have changed. (Ten Australian cricketers have made more Test runs than DG Bradman, for example, but not even they are likely to argue that they are better players).

The record of M Malthouse bears repeating here. In 42 years at the top level:

1972-76, player at St Kilda, 53 games

1976-83, player at Richmond, 121 games (1980 premiership)

1984-89, coach at Footscray, 135 games

1990-99, coach at West Coast, 243 games (1992, 1994 premierships)

2000-11, coach at Collingwood, 286 games (2010 premiership)

2013-now, coach at Carlton

 

As you might expect, many individual awards have been bestowed on M Malthouse over the years. But what is an individual award worth in a team game context? Not much. This coaching life seems to be essentially a life of relationships; getting the most out of people. I admire the cut of his gib. Even the quirky title of his book showed an intriguing philosophical bent: “The Ox is slow but the Earth is patient.”

M Malthouse has long had famously prickly relationships with journalists, which has led to negative portrayals appearing in the media. And yet, his players have historically risen to many challenges. His teams play hard, they play for him, they play often in the classic collective-that’s-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts. For what more could a coach possibly ask?

For application of communication, psychology and relationships, M Malthouse must stand as a genius. Players learn from him, they believe in him. Fringe players find something extra too, more frequently than can be attributed to chance.

In 2002, having not played finals since 1994, Collingwood reached the Grand Final. That team featured not a single All-Australian. None. It was a classic M Malthouse team. His W-D-L record at Collingwood in his final two seasons 2010 (20-2-4) and 2011 (22-0-3) stacks up well. And yet, how do we measure success?

In 29 completed years of coaching, his teams have won only four flags. In this light, perhaps his continued tenure is proof that M Malthouse’s genius in communication, psychology and relationships reaches beyond the playing group.

As he prepares to take the longevity record, it’s worth thinking of his footy lineage here. Please fill in any I’ve missed.

Coached M Malthouse:

Allan Jeans – coached St Kilda

Tom Hafey – coached Richmond

Tony Jewell – coached Richmond

Barry Richardson – coached Richmond

 

Played with M Malthouse:

Neil Balme – coached Melbourne, football staff at Collingwood and Geelong

Paul Feltham – coached Brisbane for 7 games

Kevin Sheedy – coached Essendon and GWS

Kevin Bartlett – coached Richmond

Francis Bourke – coached Richmond

Royce Hart – coached Footscray

 

Played under M Malthouse:

Nathan Buckley* – coach of Collingwood

Josh Fraser – coached Gold Coast reserves

Guy McKenna* – coached Gold Coast

Dean Laidley* – coached North Melbourne

Terry Wallace – coached Footscray, Richmond

Scott Watters* – coached St Kilda

John Worsfold – coached West Coast

Paul Williams – coached Footscray

*also coached with M Malthouse

 

Coached with M Malthouse:

Mark Neeld – coached Melbourne

Brad Scott – coach at North Melbourne

 

From that list, has anything revolutionary come out of the M Malthouse line?

Probably not. If anything, his teams have valued defense and hard work and been fairly successful with that approach. Not amazingly successful at the pointy end of the season, it’s just that his teams win more than they lose.

But it’s been Roman legion –stuff. Backs to the wall, fight, fight, fight. In the meantime we’ve had A Jeans, K Sheedy, M Blight, D Pagan, L Matthews, P Roos, M Thompson setting bold premiership-winning game styles. Not something M Malthouse has really done.

No, the remarkable thing here is the longevity. Longevity at a successful-enough rate. The doing of a not-so-remarkable thing, like, say, standing up, can itself become remarkable if you do it for long enough. Some sense of awareness and history can help you to decide whether that is a worthy aim.

In a classy nod to history, MA Taylor famously declared his own innings closed in Pakistan on 334*, when equal to the highest Test score of DG Bradman (rather than eclipse it). And yet ML Hayden had no such qualms in hurtling past it in rattling up 380 against the might of Zimbabwe.

J McHale’s record is dead. Long live J McHale’s record.

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.

Comments

  1. Francis Bourke coached Mick at Tigerland.

    It’s hard to forget St Francis’ “Aunty Jack” fitness test prior to the ’82 GF that Mick sadly failed.

    MCR

  2. E.regnans says

    Good one MCR.
    Thanks.
    I don’t know that story, but it sounds like one that would have made an impact on a future coach and leader of people.
    Coached also by A Jeans, T Hafey.
    Explains a bit.

  3. Very apt tribute ER. You hit many nails on the head.
    “Persistence and application prevails” might be another way of saying the ox is patient etc. And it fits with the practical, can-do ethos of the man. All people and footballers have their shortcomings – it is how you work to overcome them that differentiates winners from losers.
    And longevity is not to be sneezed at. Mick made his own luck – it was not handed to him on a platter. He built a team at the Dogs, which gave him the CV to inherit one at West Coast. But he uniquely transformed that talent into sustained achievement. As you say the credible 2002 GF performance by his ragtag Magpies is probably his greatest achievement, combined with the subsequent rebuild to add the talent to go one step further in 2010.
    Jock would approve. Thanks ER.

  4. David/Peter.

    I’d say Mick finished off the re-build project at the Dogs that commenced the previous year under Bluey Hampshire & Shane O’Sullivan. 14 of the 20 players who ran out on to Waverley in the ’85 Preliminary Final were at the club prior to Mick’s arrival. Bamblett (84), Buhagiar, Daniels, Hardie, Maylin & Peart (85) were inspired (initially) pick ups.

    I hope Mick’s remembered for the superb job he did (86-88) in keeping inferior outfits to the one he had at his disposal in ’85 competitive.

    MCR

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks OBP he is a fascinating man in that it appears if you are on the right side of him he is engaging , funny and a great communicator , on the wrong side of him good luck ! The pies 02 and may be a goal umpiring decision going the pies way would have been his crowning achievment . Mick surviving this long in the rat race world of footy in which it is often more political than politics and how much scrutiny there is now days is remarkable

  6. ‘Coached with Mick’ – Was Guy McKenna also an assistant at Collingwood during Mick’s tenure?

  7. E.regnans says

    G’day PB, yep, his record lifting middling players (on ability) seems very good. I wonder how the guns were treated. I guess it would be a very individual horses-for-courses answer to that.
    Mic – I don’t know much about the Footscray years, but I reckon Mick is likely to be remembered for just what you say there (reads similar to Collingwood 2002-03).
    OBP – Agreed. The longevity itself becomes the remarkable thing – quite apart from the record over that time. Scrutiny outrageous.
    SCB – G McKenna coached at Collingwood in one of the gazillion assistant roles that now exist.

  8. E.regnans says

    PB- my favourites of that 2002 era side were Paul Licuria (two times best & fairest in Mick’s teams) and Rupert Betheras (and not just because I played school footy with him). Just kept going. And going. Very Mick.

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    As a Virgo (earth sign), Chinese Ox, I have a lot of sympathy for longevity and patience. Nicely encapsulated ER.

  10. Peter Fuller says

    ER,
    A fine assessment of MM, and you’ve drawn excellent comments. I think the most noteworthy Malthouse achievement is to have coached effectively and successfully in very different situations over a long period of time when the game has changed dramatically as has the coach’s role.

    I defer to Mic Rees knowledge and assessment of Mick’s time at Footscray and concur with the views of others in this thread about the merit of the two peaks at Collingwood. 2002 was a remarkable effort with a largely average team and one superstar. Alas, the Carlton years have tarnished rather than added lustre to his record, proving something about silk purses and sows’ ears.

    The only addition I would offer to the comments to date is reference to West Coast Eagles extraordinary 1990 finals campaign. Peter B. mentioned Mick’s accomplishment in keeping the Eagles competitive throughout the nineties, but in 1990, they were obliged to make the trip across the Nullarbor four weeks in succession (and if I recall correctly, they may have played played the final home and away match in Victoria also). The draw against Collingwood in the qualifying final suggests (perhaps fancifully) that Mick was perhaps a Peter Sumich post-siren shot at goal from winning a flag in his first year in charge. Predictably they were spanked twice, but as well as drawing with Magpies, they managed to eliminate Melbourne to reach the Preliminary Final for the first time, after a 7-15 win loss record the preceding year under John Todd.

  11. E.regnans says

    Bonsoir M de H,
    Wonderful. Thanks.
    If in writing that story and in responding to you, I’ve found a way that is appropriate to my just-discovered status as an Aries (fire sign) Chinese Rabbit, it is a complete fluke.
    (oh, what does it all mean??)

    P Fuller,
    Indeed the 1990 campaign of West Coast was a difficult one, with the draw (“let’s come back next week”) at Waverly not really helping. There was no thought of setting up a base camp in Melbourne, either, as far as I know. Stoicism is usually seen most clearly in hindsight.
    I agree that to be head coach over very different periods (re: understandings of technology, information, communication, physical health, mental health, travel) should be recognised for the enormous feat that it is.
    This is all written from a spectator viewpoint, of course. I’ve never met M Malthouse, nor many to have played for him. It would be fascinating to know what went on in those ‘over-achieving’ (for lack of a better expression) teams and years. What is the potent mix of ingredients? Thanks.

  12. I like Mick.
    I think he deserved more than three premierships as a coach.
    He might too.

  13. John Butler says

    Splendid E Reg.

    I think McHale and Malthouse would have found much in common had their paths crossed. Both rely on a stern, authoritarian facade. Whilst no doubt based in some personal truth, presenting as such often serves to deflect or conceal more complicated emotions and motivations.

    McHale operated in a time when authoritarians found easier acceptance. Micks ability to maintain his relationship with younger players proves there’s more to him than that. Yet, as JTH mentioned last week in another context, it would be interesting to discover if his message is still received by the younger generation in the way it is intended.

    Cheers

  14. Luke Reynolds says

    Jock stands head and shoulders above the rest. N.Smith included.
    Mick’s journey at Collingwood was fascinating. Loved his work in 2002, 2003 (except that horrible GF, J.Cloke at CHF??) and 2007 onwards. Was calling for his head after 2004 and 2006. Certainly didn’t care for his poor attitude in 2011 around his final season and the Buckley appointment. Thought he handled himself very poorly. While Buckley publicy carried himself extremely well. But as a Collingwood premiership coach, I’m forever grateful. Wonderful effort to coach that many games.

  15. Regardless of what you think about M Malthouse,
    714 games as a coach in this fickle industry is a mighty
    effort. Just ask Messers Neeld, McKenna, Watters etc
    what they think of that performance.

  16. Ironmike – You’re probably right.
    Luke – He was portrayed interestingly through the Collingwood years, wasn’t he? I guess that’s important – the portrayal. For we’ll never know what he was really doing/ feeling/ thinking. And that’s fair enough. His antagonistic jousts with media types maybe created an aura of negativity around him. It’s true that when you meet someone, expecting them to be difficult can be self-fulfilling. It’s all muddled because we are only given second hand information. The agenda of reporters and media bosses probably also comes into it.
    I imagine whenever a Malthouse press conference is about to start, media producers are already setting the narrative to “beleaguered/ hostile/ difficult.”
    Perception doesn’t equal truth.
    Interesting issue that covers all reporting on any topic.
    Smokie – That’s it, isn’t it? The list of coaches to have begun and stopped since 1984 would be a long one (including premiership winners such as M Blight, D Pagan).

  17. Whoops – missed you JB.
    Maybe the authoritarian grouch needs to be part of a coach’s persona.
    Maybe not.
    The same would once have been said of teachers and educators.
    Not so now.

    Listened to a podcast with Sir Ken Robinson this morning – a thinker and reformer in education. Google his TED talks for a start if you’re interested in better ways of leading/ educating/ teaching. His podcast was on something called “goodlifeproject.”

  18. I try to listen to Malthouse Tuesday afternoons when he’s on 5AA for about 20 minutes. He seems to be reflective, thoughtful and interested in the health of our game, and the well-being of others. He wants people and organisations to do well.

    I’d rather listen to a minute of Mick as opposed to hours of interviews with media-trained types who say nothing. This, of course, is most of them.

    Well done to him.

    Good job, David. Enjoyed your tribute/analysis, as always.

  19. Great piece and great comments. Of course I like to think that Royce Hart kicked off the Bullies’ revival in his short tenure as coach, getting hardness and skill into young cubs.

    I’ve always liked Malthouse, especially as they don’t seem to breed Richmond premiership players any longer : (

    As someone who spent many years campaigning for forests, I loved his involvement in the WA Old-growth forests stuff. True leadership, and taking a risk.

    He coaches clubs I am meant to hate and he is an irascible old so and so. But I love him still, and his record is awesome.

    I always ask my footy friends to judge him against his peers – the Blights and Pagans and Joyces and Parkins and Sheedys and Matthewses – not the calm, autopiloted, chief executive style new age coaches like Roos and Clarkson. All that former list were complex, ego-driven people. It doesn’t work today – but we need it at Richmond – so his ability to get to at least 715 and still be working 10 years after “Roos changed everything” is incredible.

    Onya, Micky!

  20. Kevan Carroll says

    I bow to no one in my admiration of Mark Taylor, but the repeated tale that he declared rather than pass the Don’s 334 just isn’t so. Shortly before stumps, while on 334, he crashed a square cut destined for the boundary. A Pakistani fieldsman (his name eludes me) who had fumbled consistently throughout the innings made a remarkable stop. At stumps Taylor was still 334no and the slim chance he had of winning the match required that he declare overnight. Sorry to destroy a myth…something about the facts and a good story…

  21. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I don’t recall Mick ever admitting being wrong. Maybe that’s the secret to his longevity. Good on him, I guess.

  22. Thanks Mickey – no doubt M Malthouse is a people-person, with the interests of those in his charge at heart. Interesting point you make about the health of the wider game. He’s a thinker. Of course he is.
    5AA? That must be a giant aerial you have on your Singapore apartment.

    G’day Peter W – yes the coaching persona is changing with the times. L Matthews is another who started after 1984 of course, and for all his premiership success, finished a while ago now. It’s had me wondering about the many lives he has influenced – much like those of a school teacher.

    G’day Kevan – ahh, a myth dispelled. Maybe.
    Would love to hear MA Taylor speak about this.
    Thanks for shedding some light there.

    G’day Phil – hmm. That’s an interesting observation.
    I’m firmly in the ‘good on him’ camp. Though I recognise that acknowledging error is an important part of self-awareness.
    Surely he does acknowledge error. No examples spring to mind…

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