Round 21 – what happens when coaches are replaced in-season

With the form of several clubs in recent weeks leading another round of coach sacking talk, we thought we’d take a bit of a look this week at what happens to clubs who sack coaches mid-season.

There’s been 20 coaches sacked due to performance since 2000. Below is the count for each club. We’ve included cases where someone “has been told they won’t be renewed” and then “resigned” as well, since this amounts to the same thing.

coaches removed

Melbourne have removed three coaches before the end of a season, starting with Neale Daniher in 2007. Actually, they’ve been doing it for longer. 1992 was the last time a Melbourne coach saw out their last season before being replaced (that was John Northey resigning to coach Richmond instead after a disappointing season) so Paul Roos’ handover to Simon Goodwin appears to be a signfiicant shift a the Demons.

Clubs that have removed two coaches mid-season are Adelaide, Carlton, Fremantle, Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs. Notably, James Hird has been removed from the coaching job twice, but the first time was suspension by the AFL after Essendon’s board backed down from sacking him mid-2013, presumably on legal advice.

Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast are the only three non-expansion sides who haven’t pulled the trigger during the season since 2000. Collingwood and Geelong have also had only two senior coaches in this period.

So, what happens after the coaches are removed? Here’s the full list of in-season coaching changes since 2000 in table form:

coaches table 1coaches 2

Note that we’ve included substitute coaches for completeness. These are coaches who temporarily took over from a senior coach due to health or other personal reasons. James Hird was suspended in 2013 by the AFL, not sacked for performance. This group also includes Scott Camporeale’s replacment of Phil Walsh after his tragic death. 

There is some evidence for a caretaker “bounce”. A number of caretaker coaches actually have overseen an improved record by their charges after the switch. Without seeing detailed data on strength-adjusted expected wins in each set of games we can’t be sure it is real.

Only a small group secured a winning record in their caretaker period, which isn’t surprising given that most of these teams were performing poorly. Dean Bailey stands out as a coach whose record was reasonable and whose successor did notably worse – most other teams who were above about a 35% winning record improved under their caretakers. These cases probably illustrate the likeliest situations of genuine “losing the players” or coaching under-performance with what should be competitive playing stocks.

In all, seven of the 20 caretakers were retained as senior coaches – Rohde, Craig, Primus, Roos, Harvey (at Freo), Ratten, Thomas. Their record as caretakers relative to their predecessors are highlighted in darker grey within the chart below:


Of the group of retained caretakers, five of the seven made at least a semifinal during their tenure (Primus and Rohde being the failures there), three made preliminary finals (Craig, Thomas and Roos) and Roos won a flag.

Moving more broadly, the only clubs who have won a flag since sacking any coach mid-season are Hawthorn and Sydney, with Fremantle and St Kilda also making grand finals since their last midseason sacking.

We’d suggest a lesson here – you might jag an extra win or two by sacking a coach mid-season, especially if your playing stocks aren’t abysmal. However longer term success is unlikely from an in-season move unless there is already a clear successor as head coach waiting internally, or an experienced head coach somewhere else to right the ship.

And even then – beware of the successful caretaker. Matthew Primus had the best record of any caretaker who coached more than one game, but his senior tenure all ended in tears for Port Adelaide. You might get a Paul Roos, but you’re more likely to end up with a Matthew Primus. Just like a pack of footy cards.

Magic and Tragic Number Update


Last weekend saw the end to Collingwood’s finals chances, and saw September action guaranteed for four sides (as predicted in this space last week). Now the equation becomes much simpler. Six teams are in contention of the final three spots in the eight. For the (non-greater) West teams, both Coast and -ern Bulldogs, they merely need to win one game, or have any of the three teams outside the eight lose any game.

North needs to win two games to assure their place in the finals. Whilst this is not their only path to finals, it is the one in which they hold their own fate. Port Adelaide vs Melbourne shapes as an elimination game this week, with the loser dropping out of finals contention.

St Kilda faces Sydney, and will go in as significant underdogs to keep their realistic finals hopes alive (percentage makes their effective tragic number 1).

Western Bulldogs should be able to secure their spot in the finals with a win against already eliminated (and capitulating) Collingwood tonight. Finally, a slightly hobbled North face a significant test against a rattled Hawthorn this week, in what is easily the most important match of the round for finals permutations.

Things to watch this week

The Olympics, to be honest. And of course our daily previews of the upcoming medal events.


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