Monday, September 19, 2011

Ross Lyon is the new Terry Wallace

Ross Lyon's sudden move to Fremantle only days after re-affirming his commitment to St. Kilda brings back memories of Terry Wallace's 2002 decision to resign from the Western Bulldogs.

Both coaches had accomplished remarkable feats with limited squads. Wallace got an underpaid. feisty mob into two Preliminary finals; Lyon's Saints pushed powerful Collingwood and Geelong units in Grand Finals before struggling with injury and form. Both coaches had concerns about their clubs' finances, competitively and when it came to remuneration. Both resigned from their positions feeling they had taken their clubs as far as they could, and wore accusations of a mercenary attitude.

There is some truth, albeit hyperbolic, to such mercenary statements. In 2002, it was popularly acknowledged that Terry Wallace wanted a combination of more money and the chance to coach a "big" club. With Lyon, it appears that financial stability was all he sought. With only a few notable exceptions, coaching is a short-term profession and Lyon (probably correctly) felt it behoved him to ensure his stability as best he could. (The Age's Caroline Wilson also cites Lyon's frustration with the St. Kilda club culture. So he takes on Fremantle? Can you say "Out of the frying pan"?)

Due to the vagaries of his contract, Lyon was apparently free to negotiate. To do so, however, without the knowledge of St. Kilda and his now-former management group shows a reluctance from both he and the Dockers to conduct dealings in broad daylight. This isn't proof of wrongdoing, but triggers alarms when it eventually it comes to light.

It's often said that you don't fear plain sight when you have nothing to hide and Lyon especially had reasons to play his cards close. No matter how safely hidden in the thickets of the law he may be, he will bear the weight of accusation under the first law of the blogosphere: not only must one do right, but one must be seen to do right.

Accountants and lawyers will speak of "Legal, Illegal and Not Illegal" as three choices in the negotiation of almost any contract. Of those three options, only the former is usually conducted in broad daylight, without fear or examination or consequence. By embracing the shadows, the new team at Freo shines the inquisitive light inward, upon itself, even more.

It's thought the Dockers first approached their new man at the end of the home-and-away season. For this deal come as such a shock - to clubs and league - in the microscopically-examined world of the AFL means discussions were carried out in extreme secrecy. While Lyon apparently feels no remorse for his decision, given his time again, he would perhaps choose a different method of negotiating.

St. Kilda and the AFL are certain to ask if Freo's actions constitute "tapping up", especially if rumours of a pre-finals approach have basis in fact. Harking back to 2002, Wallace resigned one match before the end of the season saying he could take the Bulldogs no further. The assumption was that his head was turned by half-promises and whispers from Sydney. The same can now be said of Lyon, his reported million-plus-per, and revelations that he had suffered from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis.

It's almost certain that both Lyon and his new bosses will escape sanction, probably because they have broken no laws. The coach will be remunerated extremely well - but will now have to come to grips with a Fremantle side known on both sides of the Nullarbor as, well, unfocused.

Wallace was thought of as a coaching progressive before he moved to Freo's Melbourne equivalent, the Tigers. Partly because of the way in which he left Whitten Oval, he was never quite looked on the same way again - seven years' goodwill reduced to pure inspection of failing results.

He discovered that when leaving a club under a cloud to take a high-paying job elsewhere, you are judged on results alone. Lyon will also discover this fiscal principle - businessmen expect to get what they pay for. This means, for better or worse, he will never be looked on the same way again.

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