Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't bet on the AFL coaching carousel

When it comes to AFL coaching appointments, can we all just agree that the heavyset soprano doesn't let loose until the coach is actually appointed? All the mail we had over the past month concerning potential job opportunities at the highest level has been, in effect, bunk.

With Adelaide, all the mail centred on two high-profile croweaters, Scott Burns and incumbent interim, Mark Bickley. The new coach is a lower-profile (but probably better-qualified) South Australian, Brenton Sanderson.

It was logical that Leon Cameron's name was closely associated with the Western Bulldogs' job - as Doctor Who once said, "Logic merely allows one to be wrong with authority". AFL yeoman Brendan McCartney now unanimously defies logic at Whitten Oval.

All the talk at Melbourne centred around experience, especially that of Rodney Eade, Ross Lyon and Alastair Clarkson. Now, the unheralded Mark Neeld - late of Ocean Grove, the Western Jets and Collingwood - has taken the reins. It seems, like Hafey, Sheedy and Jeans before him, Mark Thompson has beget a legacy of AFL coaches - a connection to the Cattery is now apparently essential in winning a senior job.

Over the past five years, pundits have shown an increasing tendency to get these sort of predictions wrong. The AFL now makes a mockery of any predictive process because the structures each club has instituted provide so much room for the bolter from the field. Both Dean Bailey and Matthew Knights - flawed appointments or not - impressed so much during the interview process against heavily-backed opposition that they were rewarded.

Of course this isn't always true, but the body of evidence supporting it is strengthening. The occasional fait d'accompli like Michael Voss or James Hird ascending to their seemingly-rightful places. Nor was Kevin Sheedy's appointment to his spruiker's role at GWS. But, both his Essendon replacement, Knights, and Gold Coast opposite Guy McKenna, surprised.

Going back to 2007 and including Collingwood's proposed handover of power, there have been nineteen coaching appointments in the AFL. Succession plans had effectively been implemented in three of these (Sydney, Brisbane & Collingwood). The Interim coach has won out in a further three: with Carlton, Port Adelaide and Fremantle in 2007. From the remaining thirteen coaching changes, only Sheedy, Hird and Damien Hardwick won the job they were tipped for.

The favourite rarely gets the biscuits.

Leon Cameron & Rodney Eade, courtesy: realfooty.com.au
But this seems to be a phenomenon which primarily involves younger assistants. It's seemingly much easier to predict the movement of veteran assistants the likes of Dean Laidley, McCartney or Mark Williams (who now effectively occupies the same role he did when he entered the coaching ranks at Port Adelaide).

Perhaps this is because the appointment of assistants tends to be dependent on the coach rather than being essentially a board decision. Because of this, the dots are easier to connect: by virtue of thier preparation for such an exhaustive interview processes, new coaches know their weaknesses and seek to redress such flaws with experience.

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