Carlton coach Brendon Bolton after the Round 17 AFL match against St Kilda. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith
Carlton coach Brendon Bolton after the Round 17 AFL match against St Kilda. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

AFL coaching carousel hits pause

A WIN-loss ratio of 50 per cent was once enough to get an unlucky coach sacked.

The Crows elected to part ways with Brenton Sanderson when his winning rate dropped from more than 60 per cent to exactly 50. Carlton replaced favourite son Brett Ratten when his win rate dropped to 50 per cent.

Rodney Eade's winning percentage stood at 53 when the Swans replaced him with Paul Roos.

But lower expectations, tall rebuild stories and a relatively unproven AFL boardroom fad is set to result in a rare AFL off-season in which every current coach will keep his job.

Amazingly, it will be just the fourth time in more than 100 years of AFL/VFL, and the first AFL season in more than a decade there will be no end-of-season coach changes.

Carlton coach Brendon Bolton had a win rate of just nine per cent this season. His success rate in three seasons with the Blues now stands at 22 per cent.

But Bolton has survived because Carlton is selling its "bottom-out and rebuild through youth" plan as its avenue to success. And fans are buying the five-year "journey" idea, even though no modern-era club has actually ever bottomed out, rebuilt with kids, and won a flag.

In fact, in this day and age where high-quality free agents won't go anywhere near the wooden-spoon contending clubs, bottoming out to win a premiership is a fairytale that not even Walt Disney would buy.

St Kilda coach Alan Richardson during the quarter time break in the round 22 clash with Hawthorn. Picture: Getty Images
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson during the quarter time break in the round 22 clash with Hawthorn. Picture: Getty Images

St Kilda coach Alan Richardson had a win rate of just 18 per cent this year, his fifth season.

It's the exact same win rate he had in his first season, 2014, when the Saints won the spoon with just four wins and promised a new era was about to begin.

But thanks to Damien Hardwick's premiership success in his eighth season at Richmond last year, and Collingwood's improvement under Nathan Buckley in his seventh season this year, keeping your embattled coach and putting new assistants around him has become the trendy thing to do.

It's a fad that has replaced the previous one of acting quick to sack a failing coach before too many seasons are lost, too many fans have become disenchanted, too many sponsors have bailed out and too many young careers have been irreparably damaged.

The Bulldogs won the 2016 premiership in just their second season under Luke Beveridge, after Beveridge swiftly replaced Brendan McCartney, whose three-season win rate as coach was just 30 per cent.

The Demons were even quicker to replace Mark Neeld with a Roos and Simon Goodwin succession plan, after Neeld's two-season senior coaching success rate stood at just 15 per cent.

And just like the resurgent Melbourne, the Lions currently don't regret swiftly removing Justin Leppitsch at the end of the 2016 season, when his coaching win rate dropped to 13 per cent. His replacement Chris Fagan may only have improved the Lions win rate to 23 per cent in two seasons at the helm, but the Lions' board was so excited by that growth, it handed Fagan a contract extension this week.

And it was done partly because this very rare year, with no coach movement for the first time in the 18-team AFL era, won't become a trend.

Cats coach Chris Scott speaks to the players at the break during the round 23 match against Gold Coast. Picture: Getty Images
Cats coach Chris Scott speaks to the players at the break during the round 23 match against Gold Coast. Picture: Getty Images

Geelong CEO Brian Cook admitted it this week when he announced that the Cats had locked in Chris Scott until the end of 2022.

"We think there is going to be lots of coaches come out of their contracts in the next 18 months," he said.

Cook expects a return to coach change normality next year, when a few of the time-honoured, world-sport coach-replacements trends will return.

Like replacing an ageing, previously successful but now failing coach, with a vibrant young new-age guy. Or replacing the young vibrant coach who has failed dismally, with an older, experienced, previously successful guy.

Or the trend of just changing a coach because a change is better than an acceptance of mediocrity.



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