Coaches at the Crossroads: Why An Under-The-Pump Coach Is Good For Your Club

Hiring a new coach as a fresh face to help your stagnant playing group shoot up the ladder has never been more in vogue.

Success stories like Craig McRae’s Magpies, Adam Kingsley’s Giants, Michael Voss’ Blues and Ross Lyon’s Saints are great recent examples of what a new and innovative perspective can do for a club.

Both the Gold Coast and Richmond will be hoping this theme rings true for them in 2024.

But what do these recent revelations mean for the coaches that have been around a few years without much success?  Coaching’s a tough enough gig as it is, and the pressure only amplifies when your GM or Club President start raising their eyebrows every time you walk down the hallway.

As we begin to see the light at the end of a very long off-season tunnel, it seems to me there’s a trio of coaches staring down the barrel this season.

They are Freo’s Justin Longmuir, West Coast’s Adam Simpson and the Doggies’ Luke Beveridge.

Ken Hinkley and Port are kind of in their own world (which I am not ready to explore), and Simon Goodwin deserves a mention for very different reasons, but to me, it’s the aforementioned three who need on-field results the most desperately.

So where does this leave their clubs? And more importantly, their playing groups?

Will they rise above the noise and respond for their respective clubs, or shrink under the spotlight like a failed stand-up comic?

It feels like the general consensus from the AFL fandom is that pressure on a coach ultimately seeps through to the players. It’s a burden to bear, and causes unnecessary nerves ahead of a big campaign.

But I’m here to tell you that doesn’t need to be the case. In fact, I think a coach who knows his future is on thin ice is in a great position to avoid falling through … granted they navigate their path with clarity and smarts.

Being a Freo man, allow me to use an example close to my heart.

Justin Longmuir heads into the new season under the eye of a success-starved fan base and executive committee ready to eat. They chowed on appetisers and entrées throughout the false spring of 2022, but after a year of scratchings in 2023 they’re now clamouring for the main course.

Rumours of a Luke Beveridge coup orchestrated by his own staff cloud the senior coach’s once sunny sky, but Longmuir has all the tools at his disposal to avoid a downpour.

This is where having a coach at a crossroads can ultimately work in a club’s favour. They are coaching for their career, and should they wish to keep it, they’ll make the necessary moves that may position their club well for years to come.

Now, what those moves are for each of the three coaches this column centres around are different. For Longmuir, it’s about coaching bravely, making bold selection calls and not waiting until the season has slipped through his fingers.

Beveridge feels quite the opposite, and perhaps needs to temper his experiments and get back to what he knows works for his group. Simpson on the other hand is a harder case, given the dire position of his footy club and how far off it his group seems, the writing may already be on the wall for him.

But despite their differences, all three are in a similar position with a similar ultimatum ahead: Get it right, or go home.

Should they choose the former and make the decisions needed to put their clubs back on track, it will be those fans and executives reaping the rewards. Pessimism will give way to optimism, contract terminations will turn to contract extensions, and the coaches themselves will be out of the hot seat and into a much more comfortable one.

A crossroads can be viewed in one of two ways. Either it’s a 50% chance that you will take the road fraught with danger, slip on a rock and break your leg… or you’ll guess correctly and enjoy a paved road lined with daisies and sunshine.

Which road Longmuir, Simpson and Beveridge will choose to walk remains to be seen.

But for fans of these teams worried about their side’s performance due to absurd coaching pressure, you may make it out unscathed and find yourself back on Easy Street.