It’s a topic of conversation that rears its head before every season, and with just nine days to go before Carlton and Richmond do battle at the MCG next Thursday night to kick off 2017, the security of some coaches’ jobs are again a hot topic.
Following the JLT Community Series, most fans are buoyant about their side’s chances at making a finals push or even a premiership tilt, but for some, the talk around their club is centered on the coach and his future.
Damien Hardwick, Nathan Buckley and Ken Hinkley are three men who will be feeling the heat early, with most believing Richmond, Collingwood and Port Adelaide must impress in 2017 for those guys to keep their jobs.
So with three heads firmly on the chopping block, which coach will get the axe first in 2017?
Damien Hardwick – Richmond coach since 2010 (W74, L81, D2)
The Richmond coach will enter 2017 as coach of the Tigers for the eighth straight season, and Hardwick has just three finals appearances and zero finals wins to show for it.
After three finals appearances in a row, the Tigers won just eight games in 2016 and finished 13th on the ladder, as their poor season had people calling for Hardwick’s demise.
It was a lack of a game plan in 2016 that seemed to annoyed Tigers fans the most, as Richmond had no conviction with the ball going forward.
The Tigers have fantastic players across every position on the field (Jack Riewoldt, Dustin Martin and Alex Rance), but their bottom six players in their 22 each week still remains a a big weakness of theirs.
If Richmond don’t start strongly this season, there’s a chance Hardwick could get the chop around the bye period or just after.
Nathan Buckley – Collingwood coach since 2012 (W61, L53)
The Pies made the preliminary final in 2012 under Buckley, but have only managed one more finals appearance since then, and have finished in 11th, 12th and 12th in the past three seasons.
Buckley said in August last season that “there’s no way” he would be getting a contract extension should Collingwood miss out on the finals once again, meaning the mentality for the coach looks like it’s going to be finals or bust.
Collingwood has a classy midfield department led by captain Scott Pendlebury, but their troubles lay down back especially as they lack a commanding key defender.
The season could go downhill quickly for Collingwood if they don’t get their act together to start the campaign, meaning Buckley could join Hardwick in planning for an early holiday.
Ken Hinkley – Port Adelaide coach since 2013 (W51, L41)
The Power were on everybody’s lips back in 2014, as Port Adelaide were just one kick away from a grand final berth, but were instead bundled out by Hawthorn in the preliminary final.
Heading into 2015 Ken Hinkley’s men were all the rage, with many predicting their aggressive and fast play to see them push for a premiership.
It wasn’t to be however, and after finishing in 9th and 10th over the past two seasons, the Power must get back in track in 2017 of Hinkley’s time at the club could be over.
The biggest problem for Port Adelaide this season will be the quality of their list, as many side’s strengthen during last season’s free agency and trade periods, while the Power more or less stayed the same.
Yes, the list is close to the side that made it to the final four in 2014, but it’s also the same side that missed out on the finals over the past two seasons, and if they continue on their downward trend, there’s not much hope for Hinkley beyond this season.
Verdict: Nathan Buckley
You could make a case for any of these three guys to be the first coach to be sacked in 2017, and to be honest, chances are at least two of them depart throughout the season and possibly all three do.
In terms of which man is out of a job first, the Pies are still suffering some injury clouds as we near the season opener and their draw seems to be much harder than Richmond’s or Port Adelaide’s, so we’ll have to select Nathan Buckley to be the first coach sacked in 2017.