Regardless of what you make about Carlton’s decision to appoint Michael Voss as the next head coach of the Blues, most, if not all of us can safely say that the way they’ve managed to conduct this whole thing is nothing short of embarrassing.
From the internal review mid-season, to the eventual sacking of David Teague, to the relentless approach to attract Alastair Clarkson as coach, to naming Ross Lyon as a potential Plan-B replacement, to where we are now – who would want to be a Carlton coach?
Look at the last two men who were named as coach of this club.
Brendon Bolton was assigned the job of building Carlton up, basically from scratch, after the calamities of the 2015 season, which saw Mick Malthouse sacked mid-season. Bolton lasted three and half seasons, before being given his marching orders.
Then in came David Teague, who lasted just two seasons – one in a shortened season and the other that had its fair share of Covid interruptions. In addition to this, he had the extra half a season as caretaker coach for Bolton, but even then, it was faced with uncertainties and a lofty expectation from Carlton’s board that the team were expected to contend.
Of course, Carlton’s history is well documented, having tied with Essendon for the most premierships in VFL/AFL history – 16 flags. Their last premiership was in 1995, their last grand final was 1999 and they haven’t made finals altogether since 2013. Even that was a finals series they were admitted into after Essendon forfeited their spot due to the supplements scandal.
Granted, every team should be aspiring to play finals, but for Carlton, nothing has worked since they sacked Brett Ratten at the end of 2012 and continued sacking coaches in the hope of different results. They’ve also offered big money deals to players out of contract, yet many of these players have probably not resided within the best nine or ten players at their former clubs. This is not the way it should be.
Having said all of that, next year there is a big chance for Carlton to do something rather than linger around the bottom six or seven of the competition. This is an opportunity that they MUST take with both hands, given some of the changes they’ve made off-field.
Only a fool would discount what Brian Cook brings as a CEO. Having played a pivotal role in helping solidify a Geelong team that has played more finals games in the past 15 years than I’ve had hot dates, he knows what it takes to build a winner.
Carlton’s coaching appointment of Voss also looms as a great appointment. In fact, between either him or Adam Kingsley, who was reported to be the other candidate the Blues were considering, it felt as if they couldn’t do anything wrong or worse if they had either of them for 2022 and beyond.
With Kingsley, who had been an assistant coach at a number of clubs since his retirement from Port Adelaide at the end of 2006 – most recently at Richmond – this was his chance to really show that he could be the guy to turn the club around.
With Voss, this provided the second chance to really prove to himself and the football community that he belongs as a senior AFL coach. We all know how great of a player he was during his time at Brisbane – however, his coaching exploits at the Lions amounted to very little.
When he was appointed as coach of the Lions ahead of the 2009 season, he was seen as the logical successor to Leigh Matthews. The appointment had somewhat of a romantic feel to it considering that this very same Leigh Matthews had coached Voss to many accolades during his playing career.
However, the reality is that that considering Voss retired in 2006, it was more of a dangerous decision to name someone, whilst a favourite son of the club, that had only been in the coaching caper for a couple of years.
It might be just me, but it seemed it was around the late 2000s, early 2010s the football romance of favourite sons coaching their old club was quite the trend in the AFL.
Brett Ratten played his last game for Carlton in 2003. A three-time club best and fairest winner and part of Carlton’s 1995 premiership team, he came back to the club as an assistant coach in 2007, and eventually named was the caretaker coach that year after the club sacked Denis Pagan. He went on to coach the club to finals campaigns in 2009 and 2010.
Nathan Buckley has arguably been Collingwood’s greatest player of the 2000s and would now rival Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan as the best Collingwood players of the 21st century. He played his last game in 2007, before being named as the eventual successor to Mick Malthouse in a succession plan that as we all know, went into meltdown.
It took some time for the players to genuinely buy into the game plan and become a good team, but there was no doubt that Buckley could coach when it was all said and done. You don’t get to a Grand Final and a kick within another one for no reason.
Another example is James Hird, who came back to coach Essendon in 2011 after retiring from the game in 2007. He spent the time leading up to his appointment working at Fox Sports as an expert commentator and wrote pieces for the Herald Sun as well. I won’t go into the whole supplements scandal, but even before that, he showed that he had the tools to be a good coach in his first season.
With Voss, he showed in 2009, that he could coordinate a side that was capable of finals. After four straight years of Brisbane missing the top eight, they finished sixth with 13 wins and a draw. To top it all off, they overcame a 30-point deficit early in the last quarter to overcome Carlton in an all-time classic elimination final.
Even though they’d bow out a week later in the semis, that year set the precedent set that Voss and the Lions weren’t going to be fooling around much
They had seasoned veterans in Luke Power, Simon Black and Jonathan Brown all in fine touch; Brown kicked 85 goals from his 24 games that year. They unearthed Daniel Rich as an up and coming midfielder as he won the Rising Star award, and Mitch Clark had emerged as their number one ruck in a year that saw him named inside the All-Australian squad of 40.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in the 2009 off-season, Brisbane looked to bolster their rising side by acquiring talent from other clubs. They eventually netted Amon Buchanan from Sydney, Brent Staker from West Coast, Xavier Clarke from St Kilda, Andrew Raines from Richmond, and Brendan Fevola from Carlton in an attempt to fast track the results.
The Fevola selection was a massive gamble given his off-field issues at the time. No one will ever deny the talent that the man had – 99 goals in 2008 speaks for itself quite frankly. However, his off-field misdemeanours were akin to a ticking time bomb. Voss, however, was ready to roll the dice and really commit to the all-or-nothing approach.
Everyone remembers that Brisbane won its first four matches of the season in 2010 as a result, including a come-from-behind victory against eventual preliminary finalists, the Western Bulldogs, which saw the Dogs lead by as much as 30 points deep in the second quarter.
Things were going well. The Brown/Fevola combination was working like a treat, and it was all looking like a matter of how far can they go in 2010… until it wasn’t.
They would go onto win just three more games for the season and were consigned to 13th in 2010. It started what was eventually a long run of very poor seasons, with a bit more focus towards rebuilding the team as opposed to contending again.
In a 17-team competition in 2011, the Lions under Voss would only win four games for the season, finishing 15th. There was a rise in 2012 that would see Brisbane finish 13th but improve on their standing by six wins.
Their strong end to the 2012 season, coupled with their success in the NAB Cup in 2013 meant that there was a sense of expectation for Voss and the Lions to deliver. That all went up in smoke when they were belted by a struggling Western Bulldogs team by 68 points in the opening round of the season.
Voss was told after Brisbane’s 23-point loss to Richmond in August that his contract would not be renewed for 2014 and beyond. It would be this, in conjunction with the impending exits of young Lions, better known as the ‘go-home five’ (Sam Docherty, Elliot Yeo, Jared Polec, Patrick Karnezis and Billy Longer) that would provide key points in setting Brisbane back a few years.
Justin Leppitsch, the eventual successor at Brisbane was never going to stand a chance – coaching is a dog-eat-dog world and if you can’t get wins on the board, you’re out.
As for Voss, he could’ve just as easily have gone back into the media circles, where it’s just a little safer from scrutiny (Yes, just a little). But credit to him, he continued to stick out his coaching career and landed himself a nice little apprenticeship under Ken Hinkley at Port Adelaide at the end of 2014.
Up until last year, Port Adelaide usually hanging around the middle of the AFL ladder, but the thing that may stand out the most as we watch 2022 unfold is how much growth and experience as a coach he gained by learning under Hinkley, who’s been in the coaching caper for a considerable number of years.
This is a fact that cannot be underestimated when he steps back into the senior role next year.
In addition, his role to help develop the players at Port has seen so many of them achieve career-best seasons. Of course, Ollie Wines is the first example that springs to mind, having won the Brownlow Medal this year. But Travis Boak wasn’t averaging 30 disposals per game when Ken Hinkley rolled into town, either.
And I’m sure they aren’t the only ones who have benefited from Voss’ presence. Aliir Aliir had a breakout season this year, the kids are continuing to improve, namely Mitch Georgiades and Zak Butters and others who have maintained a spot in Port’s 22 have all progressed nicely. I think of guys such as Karl Amon and Dan Houston for instance.
At Carlton, this would be exactly the kind of person they’re looking for. They need a fresh face from outside the football club to help fix whatever the Blues have become, and bring the club back to top eight contention.
If you were watching football for the first time this year and saw how Carlton played, you too would probably say that they looked incredibly dysfunctional and needed a serious revamp somewhere.
When Hinkley stepped into the coaching role at Port Adelaide, the playing standards and the culture changed almost immediately and that turned the Power right around from the club from a side that would get hammered frequently into a team that played finals in his first year at the helm.
He won’t be the only one who gets credit for that, but there’s a constant from within the playing group and it is that Hinkley has developed himself into a great people-person coach and that goes a long way toward creating unity in a playing group.
He shows a caring and loving nature to the players, but he also demands and expects a lot in return. There’s a serious art to conducting yourself like this without coming across as someone that no one wants to play for.
It’s part of the blueprint Voss must carry into Carlton next year – hard but fair. On paper, the Blues are a good enough team to be competing for the top eight, but as they say, paper teams don’t hold the cup aloft at the end of the year.
Looking at their spine, they’re set up well – Liam Jones and Jacob Weitering as your key backs, Harry McKay coming off a career-best season up forward, Charlie Curnow is starting to regain fitness again and ruck for the future and a solid ruckman in Marc Pittonet, capable of shouldering the load until Tom De Koning comes of age again.
In the midfield, Patrick Cripps has had injury plague his last two seasons, but under a new coach, he could find his best football again. Sam Walsh was in his third year this season and polled 30 Brownlow votes, that’s completely unheard of and there’s still a young crop of players that should be mounting their case to be in this team yet are still on the cusp.
Also, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what Adam Cerra will do at Carlton next year. Yes, he’s nominated the Blues as his home for next year, so expect it to be done when the trade period is in its final days.
Carlton won eight games this year on the back of a culture that is broken far beyond any of us actually thought it would be, and whilst club President Luke Sayers has been on the record to say that the Blues will once again be aiming for a top-eight berth in 2022, they must also be prepared that it won’t be as easy as they think – they need to see the progression and buy-in to what Voss mandates. Hard, but fair.
They must continue to persist with the likes of Paddy Dow, Matthew Kennedy, Liam Stocker and Lochie O’Brien. They must continue to put games into the likes of Matthew Owies and Brodie Kemp and they must cease finding roles for the likes of Zac Williams and Mitch McGovern to slot into, and demand they find their best football again.
I suppose it doesn’t help that the fact that the Carlton board deciding on a coach was about as slow as watching the Earth orbit around the sun for an entire year in terms of adding pressure for him to perform, but I remain confident that Michael Voss will be more than up for the challenge to make Carlton a respectable force again.
This could be the appointment that starts things up again at Carlton.
It almost needs to be.