Nathan Buckley’s re-appointment at Collingwood is not unexpected but it is extraordinary.
Seldom has a club studied their continued under-performance and concluded that blame resided beyond the senior coach. Geelong’s well-placed faith in Mark Thompson is a notable exception.
Even Buckley admitted that mid-year he doubted, with history as his guide, he could be re-appointed. But then he was.
Buckley’s reappointment as senior coach for a seventh and eighth season after five progressively worse years, then a sixth year half a win better than the one before, comes after a ‘forensic’ review that concluded that sacking the coach would be an exercise in scapegoating.
“We have made hard decisions, the easiest decision in the last couple of days would have been to sack the coach, the hard decision is to look within and work within and work through as a whole club,” President Eddie McGuire said.
The conclusion to be drawn from that is that other people, or other factors, had more say in what went wrong at Collingwood than the senior coach.
What change at the club looks like now is difficult to know. Other figures will change around the club – the CEO has already gone – but the next changes will not just be about personnel.
“Change doesn’t necessarily mean sack this person sack that person, it could be and it will be, different structuring, resource an area better that we haven’t resourced before,” said football director Geoff Walsh who authored the review into the football department.
“What sort of change there will be it will be varied in a number of areas but it does not mean necessarily we are clearing the decks – far from it.”
He added: “(Buckley) is not perfect he knows that, we know that, but the really strong encouraging thing for me again was Nathan’s willingness to engage in that feedback himself.”
McGuire admitted that he and the board did cast an inquisitive rather than a longing eye about at potential alternative coaches and concluded they should stop flirting and remain faithful to the one they were with.
The review correctly noted that Buckley had been overseen by five different football directors in six years. Buckley was not responsible for that ??? but someone was.
Will the board strongly assess why this occurred and why the environment around the coach was allowed to be so transient? Graeme Allen’s short term appointment for instance was made in the knowledge of a possible and looming suspension.
McGuire raised Mick Malthouse’s decision not to stay on in an overseer role with Buckley and then Rodney Eade’s decision to leave to coach the Suns as examples of unexpected hurdles. Malthouse did leave six years ago, Eade three years ago, there was time to get it right.
Given the review noted that mistakes had been made and changes were needed the question now is what are those changes?
It is expected list manager Derek Hine will be asked to remain though an overhaul of the department seems likely. Hine has been criticised for the state of the list but recognition must also be made of the fact he built most of the 2010 premiership side and drafted players like Mason Cox and Jarrod Witts from outside the regular pathways.
Investment will be made in some areas. For instance Buckley will now get a director of coaching or strategy to change the voices around him.
“We haven’t gone down that path before but certainly I know we will investigate ideas like that that can bring better, fresher, newer, ideas to the table. I am confident the senior coach won’t operate in a vacuum,” he said.
Buckley said that as a matter of urgency he and Walsh would speak with the out of contract football staff about their futures. Scott Burns has already left to join Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn.
Craig Macrae was highly rated in player development at Collingwood and since his move to Richmond the Tigers young players have blossomed. The investment in that department at Collingwood, especially with such a young list, is expected to increase.
Buckley said the club had brought on its restructure and had expected to bounce sooner than they had but he was sure they had now bottomed out. He and the Magpies will hope he is right.