All football clubs from time to time have felt the desire to resolve a situation in which a team is under-performing on the field by sacking the senior coach. It is a little rarer however, for such an event to happen in the first half of the season.
One such occurrence in which a club did bite the bullet and make the call to remove the coach before the halfway mark of the year was at the Carlton Football Club in June, 1989.
The Blues were one of the VFL’s true powers at this time, having appeared in every finals series from 1978-1988 and had played off for the premiership in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987, claiming four flags during this time period.
Even in 1988, the Blues – though notably not as strong as in 1987 – still reached a preliminary final and were still seen as one of the locks for a finals place in 1989.
That 1989 season saw Carlton lose its opening round match to Footscray by 10 goals with then unknown forward, John Georgiades kicking eight goals on debut. After this, the shell-shocked Blues lost their next four games to sit 0-5 and bottom of the table after five rounds.
There was some respite with wins over Richmond in round six and Fitzroy in round nine, but it was the loss to the lowly Brisbane Bears in round 10 that was the final straw.
It wasn’t a heavy defeat, in fact the Blues still looked likely to win until a late goal from Bears full forward Warwick Capper saw the Bears home by three points.
After the match, coach Robert Walls made the following comments to the media: “For the greater part of the season the problem with Carlton has been Walls. Then the problem with Carlton was Lofts (Wes, then Carlton’s Chairman of Selectors), but it’s about time the players shouldered a bit of that responsibility.’
‘I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but Walls and Lofts aren’t playing on the ground. We have had three players who have been fair dinkum all season’.
Two days later, Walls was sacked as Carlton’s coach.
So, as interim measure, the Blues appointed one of the club’s favourite sons and 1979 premiership coach in Alex Jesaulenko to take the reins for the remainder of the season.
The first task for Carlton under Jesaulenko was a trip to the SCG to take on the Sydney Swans – quite the coincidence with this weeks events and Carlton’s upcoming opponent.
With Jesaulenko duly appointed the supporters were on-side, as for them the man known lovingly at Carlton as ‘Jezza’ could do no wrong, and in fact initially as stand-in coach, he was seemingly an instant success, with Carlton defeating the Swans first up and then following up with successive home wins over North Melbourne and West Coast.
At this point the move to replace Walls seemed like the golden touch, as Carlton had moved from second last to 10th, however, narrow losses over the next month to Essendon (three points) and Hawthorn (five points) combined with a low-scoring draw to Footscray realistically ended the Blues hopes of a miracle recovery to reach the finals.
Even still, the Blues were only a game and a half out of the five with two games to play.
However, successive interstate trips to Perth and Brisbane saw Carlton lose its last two matches of 1989 convincingly, and a final ladder finish of eighth, with nine wins, 12 losses and a draw the net result for the navy Blues.
Split into two periods, Carlton under Walls in 1989 went 2-8, while under Jesaulenko they were much improved with seven wins and a draw from 12 matches.
This finish to the season was enough for Jezza to reappointed as Blues coach for 1990, but he wasn’t able to maintain the momentum and Carlton finished out of the finals yet again with a mid-table 11-11 record and another eighth placing.
So, what are the main differences with this early season sacking of Carlton’s senior coach?
Well, the 1989 Blues went deep into September the year before, but was a team on the downturn, whereas the 2015 Blues have struggled to make any serious finals inroads of their own bat since 2001.
1989 saw Carlton appoint a premiership hero and club legend as temporary coach, where now we see John Barker, a man best known for his accuracy in front of goal in his few forays forward now in charge of the struggling Blues.
1989 saw the Blues instantly find form with three successive wins. The chances of that happening with upcoming opponents of Sydney, Adelaide and after the bye Port Adelaide are as remote as Mick Malthouse being named as Carlton’s next president.
In short, whether the move to sack Malthouse now was the right call, the chances of the Blues getting a boost with a new man in charge and improving substantially on field, compared to 1989 with the Walls sacking/Jesaulenko appointment are most unlikely.