By Craig Bellamy, The Australian
One thing that has really struck me this year about both the NRL and AFL seasons is the number of coaches under pressure after a couple of losses.
It is a subject that comes up every week and we’re only at the start of the year. We are not three or four games from the finals, when teams are down and out and can’t make Finals.
The speculation is usually a product of a story, a sensational story, in the mainstream media. That then brings more opinion on social media, and I’d call some of those opinions a bit on the hysterical side, which is often the case of some media stories.
In Melbourne, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has actually described the spotlight recently on him and his club as quite hysterical. And you wonder why that would be. This is a club that has won three premierships in a row; appeared in four grand finals in a row and it’s not ancient history. It happened between 2012 and 2015. Last year they went deep into the Finals.
But because they’ve had a 0-3 start this year there have been media commentators and journalists questioning Alastair’s ability. I not only call it hysterical but very, very unfair.
Me, as a coach, feel this pressure on coaches is unwarranted and something I’ve never seen happen this early in a season before. Clarkson is a really good example of that because don’t forget he also won a premiership in 2008 so that’s four premierships, beaten in another grand final and been in the semi-finals nearly every year he’s coached.
Yet after three games people question his coaching ability which is absolutely ridiculous.
I feel the same way about my NRL colleague Des Hasler, who I’ve coached against in three grand finals. There was the same sort of hysterical reaction to his time at Canterbury after they lost three of their first four games. At the Bulldogs he’s been there five years, made the finals each time and been in two grand finals.
So to me it seems unrealistic that his credentials should be questioned with almost a lack of respect for what he’s achieved. And don’t forget his two premierships at Manly.
Current Manly coach Trent Barrett was also put under pressure after a 0-2 start. Again, I’m not sure if some of this stuff gets made up or there really are ‘sources’ at clubs who want to stir the pot a little.
It just seems unbelievable. Back to Victoria this week and Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley is under fire, after the Magpies loss to Essendon on Anzac Day. That game is massive in the AFL – some people think it’s the second most important game in the year after the grand final. So after just five rounds another coach is placed under extreme pressure.
There can often be a flow-on effect to the club and sometimes that can come in the form of the board or CEO hearing the comments and feeling the need to act a certain way.
We saw Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor sacked by the board after just three rounds.
I realise players are put under an enormous microscope at times, but it’s no different for coaches in the current climate. It’s the same for both when it comes to contracts – they are not worth the paper they are written on if the pressure builds to boiling point or the wins don’t come.
A lot has got to do with the insatiable need for content by the media, especially now with so many TV talk shows around both codes. There are so many ex-players who add their opinion and that is often given more weight because of their standing in the sport.
Coaching is a fickle profession it seems, and it makes me wonder who will be in front of the shotgun next week.
It can be a volatile environment and it concerns me there may be talented young coaches on the rise, who might be put off by all of this. I don’t think it has to be like this. It just needs everyone to be a bit more realistic and understanding.
I’m sure many of those criticising don’t realise how that can affect not just the club, players, but the coach’s family. They might have kids at school and parents and partners out there in the workforce or community.
With all due respect that happened to me in the early stages of the 2010 season, when Storm had its salary cap breaches revealed.
I was under the pump and being investigated and a couple of journalists went on the Footy Show the night the salary cap breaches were revealed and said, ‘Bellamy will be gone by the end of the weekend.’ Well that wasn’t true, it didn’t happen. But some people took those comments as ‘he’s guilty’ and took that out on members of my family, which was utterly and totally wrong.
At the end of the investigation I was proven to have done nothing wrong but that didn’t help the female members of my family, who were abused and bullied by some big tough males in the community.
Sometimes the stories aren’t true. The speculation is off the mark.
As coaches we know the pressure will come at some stage during a season, and that’s fair enough. But it’s not fair if you are a daughter, son, wife, father or mother of a coach. They do not deserve to be abused, harassed or bullied. I thought that is a no-no in our communities now.
Craig Bellamy is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.