In a shocking development on Wednesday afternoon, Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson was sacked by the club, despite having the best win/loss ratio of any former Crows coach, and successfully coaching the team to a preliminary final in 2012. The decision surprised initially, but the truth is the Adelaide Crows are ill-used to failure, and missing finals two years in a row signed the warrant for Sanderson’s tenure to be over, just as it has for other coaches of the club. In his afternoon press conference Sanderson described himself as “disappointed… [I] didn’t see it coming” saying that he and his coaching panel had been deep into preparing for the 2015 pre-season.
Rumours abounded last night that move was a power play triggered by new board member Mark Ricciuto and core players from the leadership group — particularly Dangerfield, Walker and Sloane, who are all out of contract at the end of 2015, and are current business partners of Ricciuto having bought out Simon Goodwin’s share in popular hotel the Alma.
Goodwin’s appointment today as the successor for the senior coach position of Paul Roos at Melbourne puts rest to any end of a larger conspiracy by the Adelaide ‘boys club’ to bring back a mate to the state. But hours before this announcement Rob Chapman, the chairman of Adelaide, put to rest any possibility of Goodwin being the likely candidate, stating the club didn’t have a replacement in mind, and the process begins today. Chapman stated: “I’m not thinking that’s going to be an exceptionally long process, but it will be a detailed process.”
Unfortunately for fans of the Crows, the job description Chapman provided for ideal candidates are ones the previous coach he and the board have just fired in Brenton Sanderson already possessed. Despite pointed questions from the media exactly where the board and Sanderson differed on the direction of the club, or the exact ways in which the popular coach had failed at his job, Chapman skirted offering any real answers, instead falling back on corporate speak about the rigorous nature of the review process. Sanderson was similarly tight lipped in his own press conference, admitting that he had some short comings as a coach, but that unlike the board, he believed they were problems that could be worked on, and that the views of the two parties on the state of the football club were not as separate as Chapman implied. However, Sanderson was gracious. “I respect the board’s decision,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I understand that’s why boards are in place, to make those sort of calls.”
When Sanderson was hired with much optimism at the end of the conclusion of 2011, then-CEO Steven Trigg that the new coach would be surrounded by an experienced team to give Brenton “optimal time to work with players.” Sanderson came from a culture of success at Geelong, having served as an assistant coach there from 2007-2011.
In what felt to many like a political capitulation to those who had wanted caretaker Mark Bickley appointed as senior coach, he was retained as a senior assistant to Sanderson, despite the fact his AFL career had seen him never leave the Crows, and his coaching resume only existed at West Lakes from 2009. Contracted midfield coach Scott Camporeale (hired in early 2011) was retained, and former Crows player Matthew Clarke was elevated from a development role to an assistant. Darren Milburn was brought in by Sanderson to replace Ben Hart as defensive coach. Dean Bailey was hired as the coach of strategy and innovation. In 2012 – the future looked assured, the Crows made it to a preliminary final, and Sanderson had an incredibly successful first year with a list that had floundered the two previously.
After 2012, all utterly beyond Sanderson’s control — it went sideways. The Tippett scandal exploded across the papers, the cCEO was suspended, draft picks were sanctioned and a key position player walked to another club and Adelaide were given no compensation. Compounding this disaster, Dean Bailey was suspended from coaching for his role in the tanking debacle at Melbourne.
The Crows were a different team in 2013. The playing group appeared discontented and fractured, and rarely performed to its potential. Other club members, such as list manager David Noble were shuffled around to cover the loss of Trigg, while Sanderson was left again without Bailey’s assistance. Poor OH&S resulted in an equipment malfunction that left the team without its captain for the entirety of the season. In 2014, Bailey’s tragic illess meant that Sanderson was still left without any assistance, making him one of the most inexperienced coaches, with one of the most inexperienced teams of assistants in the AFL.
Premiership powerhouse Hawthorn’s coach Alastair Clarkson, who has coached since 1999, and been at the Hawks since the end of 2004 currently has five assistant coaches, one of whom in Brett Ratten was a former senior coach himself. John Longmire, with a 12 years of coaching experience, also has five assistant coaches, as do Chris Scott and Ken Hinkley. Even the financially struggling North Melbourne have surrounded Brad Scott with considerable assistance – Leigh Tudor has clearly been a difference to the Kangaroos this season. The coaches of these successful finals teams are all surrounded with far more support and experience than Sanderson was given from 2013 onwards, yet he is the one who has been held accountable by the Adelaide board.
Chapman stated today in his press conference that the responsibility of the club’s success falls to everyone, not merely the coach or the players — but apparently that responsibility does not progress to the board, or to the chairman. Trigg suffered AFL sanctions due to the Tippett contract and salary breach of rules, yet their employment suffered no repercussions at all. Both were part of the decision to extend a contract extension to Sanderson nine months ago — yet again, Chapman accepts no responsibility for that decision, the rationale of which was to apparently remove the pressure of speculation on Sanderson’s future. He stated: “Part of that rationale was to give Brenton the very best chance to succeed. It was to take away the speculation that would have existed given the season we’ve just had.” As opposed to actually providing the fledgling AFL coach with the resources required to create a successful culture.
When asked specifically what areas Sanderson failed on, Chapman’s response was a masterful political negotiation that provided no actual answers of substance, instead he assessed the review process as thorough and condemned the idea that the Adelaide Football club would not accept failure. “I’m on record as saying we don’t accept mediocrity,” he said. Apparently the only mediocrity Chapman will accept is that of himself and his fellow board members and former CEO.
Chapman did however make it clear that no other senior staff (aside from he and the board) are safe in their roles. “We have a contract with Brenton,” he said. “We have many contracts with many of our senior people including assistant coaches, like all clubs, that’s just the instrument, the cost of doing business. So whatever contract, whatever agreement we’ve got with any of our staff, they will always be honoured.” Unfortunately for Adelaide, Sanderson’s contract and the contract of any other coaching staff who are released will contribute to the newly introduced salary cap on coaching department spending that takes place from 2015 onwards.
It was reiterated during the press conference that the Adelaide Football Club have sacked their senior coach and according to Chapman, are now seeking “a premiership coach that can come in, engage our players, put together a leadership program, put together a high performance culture, create that rigorous feedback and lead this team and achieve what we all think it can achieve.”
To any reasonable person, it sounds like the Adelaide Football Club already had the perfect man for the job, but it failed to surround him with the support personnel essential to creating a team who can be capable of success in a modern AFL environment. The Crows have hardly made themselves a destination signing club for an aspiring coach — be aware applicants, your win-loss ratio isn’t as important as your ability to function in a clearly under resourced and under supported football department, while also being at the mercy of a board and chairman beyond judgement and a playing leadership group who failed to perform consistently on-field.