Another coach has been sent packing this week with South Sydney parting ways with Michael Maguire. It comes as a bit of a surprise for a coach to go from premiership winner one year and out of a job just three years later. But the Rabbitohs have missed the finals the last couple of seasons and there comes a point where that is no longer acceptable. The club and coach felt a change was in the best interest of both parties.
One thing we knew about Maguire when he started at the Rabbitohs was that he trained them very hard. They put together a very strong roster and had a lot of motivation to end a very long drought at a club with a proud premiership history. Maguire achieved what he was brought into the club to do, when the Rabbitohs lifted the trophy in 2014. After that his roster started to splinter and things got tough. It appears that the Maguire approach to tackling their decline was to make them work even harder, and it seems that the players were no longer responding to that.
I doubt any club would sack a coach without first consulting the players. Souths are going to have to pay out the last two years of Maguire's contract, so it was a terrible business decision to give him a three-year contract extension last year. When you have over $9 million worth of playing talent and they are generally not happy with or responding to the coach, it becomes a tough call for the club.
Players have a lot more power than they used to in my day. The only player to really engage in conversation with the coach used to be the captain. We signed contracts and we honoured those contracts, we played to the best of our ability to make our current club a success and to prolong our careers for as long as we could. It is becoming increasingly common for players on big money contracts to complain that they are not happy with the coach. The end result is either the coach is moved on or the player is given an early release from his contract and the club moves on to the next big talent to come along.
Clubs need to have some very experienced football people running the show to avoid crumbling from the inside. I think Phil Gould at Penrith is a good example of an old head in a key position. Ex-coaches make great football managers, because they know what goes on in the sheds between the players and the coach. CEOs who might know how to run a business, don't necessarily make the best football decisions. Knowing when a coach is actually losing the players or when the players are just in need of a kick in the backside, is key to hiring and firing a coach.
I don't think you can say that any coach has a limited shelf life at any club. Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bennett and Shane Flanagan are all coaches that have been in their jobs for a decent amount of time. For a coach to be successful, they have to get their rostering right, they have to improve the players under their control and they have to be able to adapt to an ever-changing game.
A coach's career depends on success, but that doesn't always necessarily mean winning football games and premierships. When asked recently who I would give the 2017 coach of the year award to, I said Craig Bellamy, with Nathan Brown a close second. That's the coach of the minor premiers winning just head of the coach who lead his team to another wooden spoon. It is a coach's job to turn people into better people and footballers into better footballers. I believe you can see that happening at the Knights under Brown, who has a young and developing team completely buying into what he is trying to achieve on and off the field.
Brown has the luxury of rebuilding a club that has gone through some very lean times of late. What he is doing though is building a strong club culture at the Knights. Culture is a word that has been used a lot this year, mostly when describing why a team is struggling.
I think a club's culture starts and finishes with the coach. If the club is falling apart, the coach has to take the blame.
Despite all the coaches that have lost their jobs this year, I don't think it is over yet. We are yet to see what the Bulldogs are going to do with Des Hasler. Hasler's failures on the field this season have only been matched by the mess he has made with the club's salary cap and player retention. Like Maguire he has recently signed a contract extension, so that poor decision is playing a big part in the club's next decision. It's a tough career coaching, it doesn't look like getting any easier.