What Centres of List Management Excellence tell me about those who convene them, football discourse, and why I feel sympathy for Mick Malthouse: a response to The People’s Elbow.


Thank you for alerting me to the crucial role of Centres for List Management Excellence and the structures which support them. No doubt Hawthorn will be looking on enviously, and it’s only a matter of time before we see cranes over Waverley Park.

It’s timely to note, in all of this, the position of Mick Malthouse.

While I don’t agree with all of Mick Malthouse’s approach and style, I have respect for his experience in football (and life) and for his record. Despite much media discourse resulting in the idea that coaching is a task about as challenging to going down to Target to buy three pairs of socks, coaching is actually a complex task. Coaching requires many understandings and the skills which flow from those understandings – leadership, relationship-building, compassion and empathy, an awareness of personal development, psychology, wisdom – to acknowledge just a few. You need to be a father-figure, a teacher. His record suggests he must have some of them.

So I am finding myself feeling a little sorry for him. That’s because it seems people around him – elements of the media, governance, executive et al seem to have fallen for the shallow and simplistic discourse, rather than the complex one. Centres of List Management Excellence scream that at me.

If I am an editor of a newspaper today I send my best writer to Mick – not with a pour petrol on the Mick in Trouble agenda BUT TO FIND OUT WHAT IS GOING ON AND WHAT HE THINKS.

Seems to me Mick Malthouse is becoming an island, and I can see why. But that’s interesting in itself. Is football so skewed by boofheadedness, that it forces one of its senior statesmen into solitude?

Maybe I could go and see Mick. I have interviewed him once before and he was terrific – I could understand why young men would do things for him.

But there’s another layer to the problem. He might talk to me off the record, but he wouldn’t give me what he really thinks and feels. So what would be the point? Other than for me to say “I empathise with your position.”

Who are the villains here?

And football makes claims to be a great game.

Oh, hang on, whose making that claim on a daily basis? [“Get communications to prepare a release please”]

They wouldn’t know what made it great.

And, more importantly, we are not stupid, and neither is Mick.

[CEO pauses over his computer. “Get me communications again…Can we put Mick up on Thursday. I’ll get a brief to him.”]





About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. JTH – at the same time that Carlton is searching (fruitlessly) for its past greatness, people in Tasmania are searching (again) for evidence of Thylacines.

  2. The People's Elbow says

    As I mentioned this morning on Twitter, “connects with fans” is now a “KPI” of the coaching job at Carlton. We’re one Survey Monkey away from being professional sport’s greatest laughing stock.

  3. I reckon there is a real serious point you raise JTH behind all the poking sticks at the wounded Blue bear that we are all enjoying.
    Part of it is something ER and I bantered about a few weeks back re marketing departments – the overriding search for relevance and self importance – when actually you should be at the back of the bus serving sandwiches.
    Big organisations like AFL Clubs get into trouble when everyone thinks they are responsible for everything (particularly CEO’s and Presidents). For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious and WRONG.
    JTH’s piece got me thinking about the best run club of the last decade – Geelong in their heyday.
    President – The wise old kings with a cosh in their back pocket. Frank Costa and Col Christie. Everything that needed to be said or done was behind closed doors.
    CEO – Brian Cook. Meke sure you hire the best people for each role and let them do their job. Be financially viable and stay on the right side of politics and the law (AFL and other).
    Coaching – Bomber Thompson. Look after on-field players and game strategy. Develop a left field Chauncey Gardiner persona so you can be the media and supporter front man everyone loves, while no one understands a thing you say. Results are all that matter.
    Footy Dept – Neil Balme. A successful coach and player and skilful people manager. Handle the list and all the off field dramas. An off-field coach to keep the on-field coach’s role limited and clear.
    Recruiting Manager – Stephen Wells. R&D – product pipeline for 2-5 years time.
    Finding the right people to fill those roles is hard enough. The hardest part is letting them do their jobs wihout placing unrealistic expectations and timelines.
    Hawthorn did a brilliant job of protecting Clarkson in 2005 and 2006 so he could plant, plough and prune for 2007 onwards. His trades and recruiting in those years was the blueprint for the CLMX – but it didn’t need a self-justifying sign on the door and a media blitz to get done.

  4. …….and another thing, when the Saints and Pies ran onto the ground on Friday night they had fireworks ala the rugby league. Pre-game entertainment before the fruits of the recruiting excellence were revealed. The game itself was ordinary after quarter time, but that’s irrelevant.

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    Mick needs to move on and let a younger bloke have a go- lest he wants to be remembered as a bitter, twisted, selfish old man.

  6. Barb Jamieson says

    It’s obvious that the reason the knives are out for Mick, and that is ,points on the board.
    I don’t know the man personally, but what I know of him , in my opinion , is that he’s a decent bloke, and he does have the respect of his team, and that he can coach. He’s one of the older coaches , who has had the benefit of being around for awhile , but a coach who has evolved with the game .
    So, his list is not that bad , he can coach , and his players seem to have no issues with him . To me , he is a tactician , so that makes one wonder why the club is not winning games .
    With the many layers of management and coaching , getting the right mix is not easy , and maybe it’s the old story of ” one rotten apple in the barrel” , one wrong person in the wrong position, and if Carlton are fair dinkum about being a top four team , they need to looking at every aspect of the Carlton Football Club , and not be too quick to make it the Mick factor

  7. I reckon you’re dead right, JTH.
    It’s a revealing insight into management priority, isn’t it?
    It’s fair that whenever any decision needs to be made, that pros and cons need to be assessed. And some decisions are bigger than others (or are seen to be bigger) , and so KPIs are born. To aid decision makers. But yes, the KPIs, in whatever field, are only ever I-for-indicators. They’re not the whole story. They never are.

    A preoccupation with KPIs is a sign that management is interested in its own reflection. Image is trumping substance.

    As I posted under JB’s “PowerPoint” piece earlier, this club position has stark parallels with political positions of recent years. Pandering to focus groups, KPIs, and short-term image promotion undermines long-term strategic goals (which usually involve some short-term pain). People see through this. And we know it stinks.
    So we get active.
    Agitate for change.

    The vocal populace/ voters/ members, armed now with twitter feeds and pliable media platforms, have thrown out almost every sitting government since social media became a thing. So incumbents get toey. And fidget even more with short-term propaganda while the place burns.

    We all want someone to show us the way. So who will have sufficient conviction/ coherence of message/ charisma/ reservoirs of support, in order to survive a long-term re-build?
    I think centres of excellence are a long way off the mark.
    Much closer is K Hinkley’s storied toilet paper “line in the sand” (unsure of veracity or source – so this is now rumour – but recall a story of how empty toilet rolls were being left hanging in cubicles at Port because no individual took sufficient responsibility to change a toilet roll for (him)self. I understand this lead to a quiet word on responsibility and humility, thereby setting a club on a philosophical and principled path, rather than one of KPI-chasing).
    And I get the impression that M Malthouse is of a similar ilk.
    The back of the bus, PB.
    That’s a spot the decision-makers at Carlton seem to have missed.

  8. Interesting discussion.

    Of the many unknowns to the outsider re Mick Malthouse, one is his role as a contemporary communicator.

    I would be interested to know how he relates to the youngsters now. Does his narrative stand up? No doubt he would still understand young footballers but how would they take to his message?

    How would a Malcolm Blight, David Parkin, Tommy Hafey, Allan Jeans, even Leigh Matthews, go now?

    Younger people analyse games differently – it’s an intriguing language that’s used. We won because we were +45 on contested possessions and +17 on inside 50s.

    That seems to me to be no explanation.

  9. John Butler says

    JTH, That’s an excellent question. One of many Carlton paid no heed to prior to hiring Mick.

    I think some of that stats/process driven analysis you quote is just aping the analysis they hear in a lot of media sources now. But there’s no doubt younger people have some very different perspectives and presumptions than we had growing up. Has Mick’s message changed sufficiently for the times?

    If you were Mick, how would you tell? Has he surrounded himself with the people who’d let him know?

    Mick’s operating within a broader club environment. There’s no doubt that Carlton’s thinking and communication has been woefully off the pace. That has to impact on any message a coach is trying to deliver.

    As “Centres for List Management Excellence” indicates, this is still predominantly about the club, not Mick.

  10. I’d suggest whether or not Mick had lost touch with the game or younger generation was a moot point at the time he was hired. A flag and a 42-1-7 win loss record over his final 2 seasons at Collingwood would have suggested he was still at the top of his game in every way.

    But in the intervening period I’d suggest a world of bitterness enveloped Mick and with a list that is another kettle of fish and a game plan that was superseded by the beginning of the 2011 finals series, such questions naturally arise.

    Ultimately he hasn’t got the cattle at the Blues and I believe he took on the job for the wrong reasons, ergo ego, $$$, Jock’s record and the desperate desire to stick it to Ed. That he’s suffering buyer’s remorse and the sands in the hour glass are running out seems to spew out at the aftermatch love-ins with Stevo et al.

    Put simply, Mick was the right man at the wrong time. But certainly from Carlton’s perspective I can appreciate it made perfect sense at the time.

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