Player comparisons will forever exist in the AFL and the players subject to such meticulous public debate just have to endure the indecency or the compliment.
Wayne Carey and Gary Ablett Sr; Geelong and St. Kilda; Buddy Franklin and Richard Tambling…
Yet we sometimes forget the men who steer the ship – the coaches.
Richmond’s Damien Hardwick and North Melbourne’s Brad Scott both entered senior coaching at the same time, at similar battling clubs.
They are “players coaches”. That is, Hardwick and Scott believe that the league is first and foremost a players’ league. Both will aggressively defend their troops and deflect any premature or deserved personal praise directly to their players.
Examples of this affinity between coach and player are common. In 2012, Scott stoically defended midfielder Jack Ziebell’s head-high collision against Carlton’s Aaron Joseph by calling his youngster’s four-game suspension an indictment on the game. Dimma recently slammed social media rumourmongers as “Un-Australian” for claiming Dustin Martin was on the verge of being sacked by the Tigers.
In return, Scott and Hardwick’s players are willing to sacrifice their bodies on the field, knowing their coaches are willing to cop fire and ash for them off it.
But that’s about the only similarity in coaching style Scott and Hardwick share.
Scott is the typical modern coach who swears by sport science. Boomer Harvey and company might look rather curious when they walk in clusters during the quarter-time breaks while the opposition stands still in huddles but there is clearly a method to Scott’s perceived madness.
On the other hand, Hardwick does not have a sport science background, and while a strong communicator, he has an obvious no-nonsense. old school edge, which for Richmond sufferers, is refreshing.
Yet, how do we measure coaching success? How can the public or even club insiders judge who the superior coach may be? North Melbourne once considered Hardwick for the senior coaching position, and Richmond rated Scott highly as well for its coaching vacancy at the end of 2009.
By pure win / loss ratio, Scott (52.2 winning percentage) has enjoyed more success than Hardwick (36.4), plus Scott led North back to the finals last season for the first time since 2008. Although, as all coaches reiterate, you can only coach as well as the talent you possess.
Who’s to say that Dimma’s ability to rejuvenate warhorse Shane Tuck, transform Jake King from a club footballer into a crucial cog in the Tiger machine and create roles for rejects in Bachar Houli and Shaun Grigg, isn’t more worthy of acclaim than a Scott-led North Melbourne finals team?
If we look back to each coach’s beginnings with their respective sides, Scott inherited a mediocre list studded with quality veterans like Boomer Harvey, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito. Scott also had to rebuild quickly while uncertainty lingered about the club’s geographical location.
Hardwick inherited the ultimate basket case. Richmond’s finances and facilities were below pro-sport standard and on the field the club was devoid of leadership after retirements and “quiet nudges out the door” of veteran players. Richmond’s list was stale on every level. Underperforming talent like Jay Schulz, and players who simply weren’t up to the grade like Jordan McMahon, were allowed to linger too long.
Both lists underwent noticeable reconfiguration at the end of 2009. However, the Tigers arguably experienced a more extreme list makeover than the Kangaroos. Dimma culled aggressively and by the end of 2011, 55 percent of 2009’s squad had been given the heave-ho.
Even before Hardwick’s first match as senior coach, the Tigers lost 1078 games experience as five veterans pulled stumps on their careers. By comparison, North Melbourne during the same period lost a modest 461 games experience from the departure of two key veterans, Shannon Watt and Adam Simpson.
Ultimately, performance to expectation is how a coach’s tenure and legacy will be judged.
After three years of foundation work both Richmond and North Melbourne will feel they now have the quality core and sufficient depth in their lists to rise to the top.
In season 2013, Hardwick and Scott will face a new, sterner test of their coaching pedigrees: keeping pace with their clubs’ surging expectations.
The real comparisons between the two fourth-year coaches can start now.