BECOMING coach of the club you were a star player at comes with risk.
You risk your aura. When you left the club you were the hero, the man who could do it all, who could turn a game on its head and the lead your teammates to victory.
Now you’re just that bloke who gets shouty in press conferences and makes it onto crappy lists on an even crappier website.
You also risk being the high school jock who never left. You know the one. The kid who peaked in high school and now hangs around with the 16-year-olds after school telling stories about the four goals they kicked in a half against Mortlake High that one time (it could have been five but Venny was open in the goal square and hadn’t kicked one yet).
No one wants that.
Granted, it sometimes pays off. People like John Worsfold and Paul Roos only enhanced their reputations when they took over their former clubs as coach.
But mostly, it tends to all turn to shit.
JUSTIN LEPPITSCH – (44 games – 11 won – 33 lost – 0 drawn at 25% winning rate)
THE thing about Leppa is that you could see what he was trying to do.
Like communism though, the plan was good but the execution was left wanting.
The champion Brisbane full-back wanted his team to be Geelong ’07, but ended up looking more like Fitzroy ’96.
In the end, it’s difficult to pull together a fast and attacking gameplan when you haven’t got the soldiers to pull the trigger. And that mostly comes down to his predecessor…
MICHAEL VOSS – (109-43-65-1 at 39.91%)
IT is difficult to point the finger of blame at Vossy for the Lions’ woes though.
For one, he stepped into the boots of Leigh Matthews, one of the greatest coaches in history.
And two, he and his staff failed to ask one simple question of their recruits before drafting them: “Are you going to piss off home when your contract is up?”
Voss lost entire draft years to FOMO, as players were drawn into the temptation of playing in front of more than 20,000 and living just minutes from their families.
Don’t blame them. You’d do the same if you had the chance.
JAMES HIRD – (77-40-36-1 at 51.94%)
THE only coach on this list with a winning percentage higher than 50% and the only one who did real and lasting damage to his reputation and his club.
The Golden Boy was as clean as they came during his footy career. Talented, brave, articulate and widely liked even by those outside the club, if he had stayed out of coaching he’d hold that reputation to this day.
It’s funny what one dodgy little illegal supplements scheme can do though.
TONY SHAW – (88-30-58-0 at 34.09%)
THE similarities between Tony Shaw and Michael Voss are striking.
Both were captains of drought-breaking premiership teams.
Both started coaching less than three years after retiring.
Both followed in the footsteps of Leigh Matthews, who had been their coach during their premiership years.
And both were complete and utter failures as senior coaches.
Our best guess is that Matthews had an uncanny ability to get out before everything went to crap, not only managing to avoid the inevitable shit fight of rebuilding team lists, but keeping his reputation as one of the greatest coaches in history intact along the way.
KEVIN BARTLETT – (88-27-61-0 at 30.68%)
IT’S always sad when a family falls out, and that’s what happened when Tigers legend Bartlett was sacked as coach in 1991.
KB exiled himself from Punt Road for the better part of 16 years before burying the hatchet – most likely wrenched from his own back – by attending an official club function at the end of 2007.
One of just four players to have notched the magical 400-game mark, Bartlett admitted in his book KB: A Life in Football that he had let the feud go on too long.
His stance, though, came from a perception that the Tigers board had not given him the chance to make his case before they booted him, failing to even grant him a meeting before showing him the door.
“It was a silent protest. I wanted to show the club that it could no longer treat people as it had done and that if it wanted to dispense of its coaches in the future in a similar fashion, there might be consequences,” he said.
And while Bartlett’s winning percentage doesn’t look great, it’s worth noting just one Tigers coach – Jeff Gieschen – since 1984 has a record higher than 50%.
GRAHAM FARMER – (66-24-42-0 at 36.36%)
AS is the case with many of these coaches, Farmer’s stint as coach was shaded by arguments and disunity with the club board.
One of the greatest ruckmen to play the game, Farmer became Geelong coach in 1973 after a reasonably successful stint at the helm of West Perth.
His moment in the sun didn’t last long, and he was booted in 1975.
It was, however, the first time an Indigenous person had been a coach of a team at the highest level.
We believe Barry Cable is the only other Indigenous man to have coached at VFL/AFL level, but if we’re wrong, please feel free to correct us at our Facebook page.
RON BARASSI – (111-34-77-0 at 30.63%)
NOW this is harsh. We know.
Ron’s a footy legend. Ron won four premierships as a coach with Carlton and North Melbourne. Ron was a six-time premiership player with Melbourne. Ron just is footy.
But Ron’s record as coach of the Demons from 1981 to 1985 is pretty awful. In fact, his entire coaching career from then until he finished up with Sydney in 1995 is riddled with winning percentages of less than 50%, going as low as 4.6% in 1981 and 6.7% in 1993.
Ron, however, was the anti-Leigh Matthews. He took bad teams, coached them through their low years, and left when it was time for someone else to put the final coat on.
His time at Melbourne – as legend has it – was mostly spent building the under-19’s squad and introducing the Irish experiment. And the proof was in the finals pudding. The Demons made the top four each year from 1987 to 1991.
At Sydney, Ron coached the Swans to one win in 1993, four in 1994, eight in 1995, and then in 1996 – with Rodney Eade at the helm – they made the grand final for the first time in 60+ years.
Ron was the architect. Everyone who followed was the chippy.
MATTHEW PRIMUS – (47-13-34-0 at 27.66%)
THE grandson of the man this website is named after, Matthew Primus didn’t come close to reaching the heights of the great Reg Hickey.
The official captain of Port Adelaide in their 2004 premiership year – although he barely played due to a knee injury – Primus snared the top job at the Power midway through 2010 after Mark Williams stood down.
Scoring five wins out of seven games as caretaker coach, he would go on to win just three games the next season, and five in the season after that to prove that hiring from outside the club is a pretty solid policy to follow.
DARREL BALDOCK – (62-18-44-0 at 29.03%)
ANOTHER one we feel sort of bad about putting on this list.
Baldock’s stats are pretty awful, but so was the club he inherited.
St Kilda’s only premiership captain managed to lift the Saints off the bottom of the ladder in his first season, before he suffered a minor stroke. Whether that had an impact on his following two seasons at the club is up for conjecture, but St Kilda’s rise up the ladder stalled and Baldock stood down as coach at the end of 1989.
BERNIE QUINLAN – (19-2-17-0 at 10.53%)
WRONG place, wrong time.
The Lions were on their last gasp when Fitzroy champion Quinlan took over as coach in 1995. Financially ruined and with a playing list that would struggle to win a game in the Warrnambool District League twos, the club would only last one more season before the league pillage that would see their brand taken to Brisbane.
Quinlan’s 10.53% winning record wasn’t even the worst for the Lions in that era, with Michael Nunan on 7.14%, and Alan McConnell failing to register a win in his 11 games at the helm.