There was a suite of changes in the senior coaching ranks throughout 2022, but the situation at other clubs continues to make for fascinating viewing heading into 2023.
While plenty of players will face challenges throughout the year, no job comes with as much scrutiny as that of a senior coach.
Below, Foxfooty.com.au ranks each current head coach 1-18 on a pressure gauge.
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TOP FIVE COACHES UNDER PRESSURE
Whether they’re coming out of contract or needing to lift, these coaches’ futures will at least be talked about if they start 2023 poorly.
1. Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs)
In the final year of his current deal, Beveridge perhaps occupies a similar sphere as that of Chris Scott prior to 2022’s premiership.
He’s won a flag and done more for the Dogs than the club could ever repay, yet several years on there are doubts over whether he is the man to lead the club to its next flag, having presided over a list that should be right amongst it and yet has not finished in the top four in his tenure.
Granted, they’ve made another grand final since 2016, but there is a stack of talent on the list and they virtually want for nothing. Both 2017 and 2022 saw them decline steeply after making it all the way to the decider, with their spot in the finals this past year only assured after Collingwood defeated Carlton in the final round of the home and away season, which was followed by a stunning capitulation against Fremantle.
Their key defensive stocks were the main issue, but they’ve now brought in Liam Jones who is a ready-made, perfect addition. Rory Lobb is a peculiar inclusion from a structural point of view, but trading for a player who’ll turn 30 before the start of next season suggests a side that believes its time is now.
If the Dogs start 2023 poorly and Beveridge remains unsigned, there will be a heap of external pressure on the 52-year-old.
The Dogs have actively bolstered his support network heading into 2023 after Beveridge admitted it had taken a hit in the Covid years. With that space now addressed and the list primed, Beveridge will be expected to improve vastly on this year’s elimination final loss.
2. Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide)
Hinkley is contracted for 2023, but his position looked tenuous this past season after the side started the season 0-5, having previously hosted two consecutive preliminary finals.
Comments from president David Koch about club figures to “turn it around or watch out” heaped even more pressure on Hinkley before Koch eventually declared he had reassured Hinkley of his position next season.
It has been a very impressive off-season for the side given the additions of both Jason Horne-Francis and Junior Rioli, who could both make an immediate impact. The postscript of this season was that injuries and a slow start to the year almost took the air out of the Power’s campaign before it began.
Barring any significant setbacks, Hinkley will enter 2023 with a fit and firing list and expectations for a surge back up the ladder will be high. Hinkley has had a complicated relationship with some of the Power fanbase at times, with some taking their grievances too far.
Ultimately, Hinkley has coached 213 games across 10 seasons for Port Adelaide. He is a known quantity and it is now purely about output in the final year of his current contract. If he is to remain at the club beyond next year, a significant improvement on 2022 is needed.
3. Chris Fagan (Brisbane Lions)
Fagan has done wonders for the club in his six seasons in charge, but like many coaches at the top of this list the bar is set very high.
Bringing in Josh Dunkley and Jack Gunston along with the impending arrival of ready-made recruit Will Ashcroft will only increase expectations for them. Dayne Zorko will be 34 when the season begins and Daniel Rich will turn 33 midway through it.
With Lachie Neale at his brilliant best, the time is now for the Lions to strike. The Lions should be aiming for a top two finish and a spot in the decider. It’s a very high bar, but this is a very good list that has played very good football over the journey.
Fagan is entering the final year of his current deal like the two coaches above him on this list, so pressure will inevitably come the longer the season progresses without a fresh deal being inked. A new deal is highly unlikely while the investigation into historical allegations against former Hawthorn officials including Fagan is ongoing, so clarity there is critical.
Fagan set to return to the Lions! | 01:12
4. Matthew Nicks (Adelaide Crows)
There have been bumps along the way, but it’s hard to say anything other than ‘so far, so good’ regarding Nicks’ first three years. He’s taken the side from 18th to 15th and then to 14th in 2022.
It has been a gradual build, but one suspects the pressure will ramp up this year for a more discernible jump. It’s still an incredibly young group, but Izak Rankine looks like another ready-made star to come in a year after the Crows brought Jordan Dawson across from the Swans, while Taylor Walker is one of the best forwards in the competition when fit.
How well Rory Sloane performs on his return from injury remains to be seen, but in any case there is enough veteran talent sprinkled in among the emerging youngsters to necessitate a rise up the ladder in 2023.
It’s not finals or bust, but another 14th-placed finish will be far from a pass mark. Many will be expecting the likes of Josh Worrell, Riley Thilthorpe and Fisher McAsey to take the next step in their development. There’s been no real signs of discontent within the club and Nicks is contracted until 2024, but next season is when the fruits of Nicks’ labour should start to show.
Crows clinch thriller against Cats | 00:57
5. Adam Simpson (West Coast Eagles)
It’s bizarre how quickly expectations fell through the floor for the Eagles after a finals appearance in 2021, but here we are.
Questions surrounding Adam Simpson’s future understandably grew throughout 2022 as the Eagles stumbled to one of the worst seasons in their history, but it seems as though the board has instead doubled down on him being the man to lead them forward in what is looking more and more like a full-scale rebuild.
Simpson himself says he’s “as invested as I’ve ever been” and is contracted until the end of 2024, but as his tenure ticks over into a 10th year there will naturally be discussions about whether a new face is needed to steer a group that will rapidly begin to blood new talent. Another season like this year’s will not be acceptable. It’s probably a case of ‘fool me once’ after this season.
So much went wrong for the Eagles and they should be looking to avoid the bottom four while they still have the likes of Luke Shuey, Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn to help lead the club on-field. Another year near the bottom of the ladder will lead to louder questions being asked, since an extension would be taking him towards a stint of a decade and a half – an eternity in coaching terms.
THE PRESSURE LIFTS…
The below coaches still have expectations to meet, but it’d be a shock if any of them left their roles for on-field reasons in 2023.
6. Justin Longmuir (Fremantle)
Longmuir got the Dockers into the finals and they completed a stunning turnaround against the Western Bulldogs before being handily beaten by Collingwood. Losing Rory Lobb is a blow, but Luke Jackson is a huge recruit and could form a formidable tag team with Sean Darcy.
The challenge is to up the ante offensively and look more of a threat than they did for large parts of the second half of the season. From a list standpoint they are on an upward trend despite the loss of David Mundy, particularly if the likes of Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters can get back to somewhere near their best.
It was a clear pass for Longmuir in 2022 with the finals run, but there’s more room to grow and that growth will be expected in 2023. He’s contracted until the end of 2024.
7. Stuart Dew (Gold Coast Suns)
The pressure has eased significantly on Dew after an encouraging season and the fact the looming presence of Alastair Clarkson is no longer there. Still, there will now be an expectation for the Suns to climb up the ladder once more and try seal the first finals spot in the club’s history.
The core group there is performing well and they’ll be buoyed by the return of Ben King from an ACL injury. There’s a lot of improvement still in the Suns and actually following through with it is the challenge.
Dew penned a contract extension in the middle of the year to take him through until the end of 2024. It was a long-awaited show of faith from the Suns, but the expectation will still be to improve. Fail to do so and the questions will start to come yet again for a side that has struggled for much of its existence to break through.
Suns keep finals hopes alive | 01:00
8. Damien Hardwick (Richmond)
It’s hard to know what Damien Hardwick has left to prove, but he seems up for the challenge and will get another huge crack at premiership glory given the additions of Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper to the side in 2023.
The Tigers have bolstered their midfield stocks which were in desperate need of just that and they look like being a formidable force next season after some very tight losses this year. Expectations should be relatively high next year given those two recruits, not to mention the prospect of a fit and refreshed Dustin Martin and a more stable back six after injuries wreaked havoc throughout this season.
Hardwick is contracted until the end of 2024, but is the longest continuous senior coach in the AFL right now. No one could begrudge him for seeking a fresh challenge. Should the Tigers miss finals in 2023 then more questions will start to be asked, so there’s some pressure on the side to perform next year. With the best 22 they have, however, finals shouldn’t be a problem.
9. Michael Voss (Carlton)
The Blues said heading into this season that finals was the pass mark. They didn’t hit that mark, but it’s hard to come much closer than what Carlton did in 2022. Michael Voss’ side played an identifiable brand of football and persisted through the season despite a ridiculous injury toll that seemed to mount by the week.
They should’ve been playing in September but the reality is they had lapses when they couldn’t afford to, particularly in the final two rounds. Despite this, it was a very impressive return to the senior coaching ranks for Michael Voss, who looks to have galvanised the players and get the best out of them.
Needless to say, finals is the logical next step under Voss and the side wants for very little from a list perspective, having made a shrewd trade for Blake Acres to bolster their wing stocks. Keeping the defence in check and adding more layers to an at times crash-and-bash style of play will be on Voss’ agenda.
Having been so close yet so far this year, a surge up the ladder could well come in 2023. At the very least, finals are needed for the Blues in 2023. The past troubles and turmoil at Carlton make no senior coach a sure thing for the long-term, but there can’t be much more faith than what the Blues are showing in Voss so far.
AFL backs Fagan and Clarkson return | 01:40
10. Simon Goodwin (Melbourne)
The Dees weren’t horrible in 2022, but by most metrics they underperformed given the expectation heading into the season coming off a drought-breaking premiership. A straight sets exit is well below what most would’ve expected from a team that was conquering all before them.
The window is still wide open for the Dees, but fixing their forward connection is the key challenge for Simon Goodwin. The decision to recruit Brodie Grundy has left some pundits wondering how he will play alongside Max Gawn, but Goodwin himself told AFL 360 the side wouldn’t have gone after him if he didn’t think it was workable.
The effectiveness of whatever plan Goodwin has will go a long way towards the side’s fortunes in 2023. He’s contracted until the end of 2024. If the Dees stumble out of the gate in 2023 and then don’t fire a shot come finals, things become interesting.
11. John Longmire (Sydney Swans)
Longmire has barely put a foot wrong across his coaching tenure at the Swans and he’s put the club in a position where they are well and truly in the mix for silverware. They fell well short in the Grand Final, but expectations should be high once again as the young crop get another pre-season under their belt.
The key now will be to strike while the likes of Lance Franklin and Dane Rampe are still holding down key position posts. The only reason Longmire is as high as he is on this list is because it’s hard to figure out who else should be ahead of him. He has got the side into a brilliant spot with a great mix of experience and youth, now it’s just about capitalising on it.
Worst howler in Aussie Rules history? | 00:24
12. Adam Kingsley (Greater Western Sydney)
Kingsley could argue he’s too high on this list, but the fact he’s an untried senior coach means there’s always a slight asterisk until we actually see him in the role. Still, he has a huge amount of goodwill from the Giants given they have embarked on a mini-reset of sorts under his initial watch.
Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper and Bobby Hill leaving the club means they aren’t going to be any better from a pure talent perspective next year, but the malaise that settled in throughout 2022 should at least be broken with a more consistent side. They’ve lost a lot of established talent, but the list Kingsley has is still a fair bit higher than one that would accept a finish of 16th on the ladder.
Kingsley will have to prove himself as a senior coach but not many would be doubting him given his lengthy apprenticeship and the impressive performance of Craig McRae in his first year.
13. Brad Scott (Essendon)
Scott and Ross Lyon both come into a side that has undergone significant upheaval, but few can match the upheaval at Bomberland in 2022.
When 2023 gets underway, the Bombers will have a new senior coach, a new CEO and a new president compared to the start of 2022. It is an enormous amount of change and Scott himself appears to be laying the groundwork for a gradual build rather than an immediate surge back up the ladder.
Still, there will be fans who believe the list is far more capable than what it showed in 2022 and Scott will be expected to at least steady the ship next year. At the very least, the faithful will be hoping the blowouts and lack of defensive integrity that plagued this season will be a thing of the past as Scott makes his mark.
Realistically, the Bombers can’t afford to lose faith in Scott given the way in which they exited Ben Rutten and declared a clean slate for 2023 and beyond.
14. Ross Lyon (St Kilda)
The Saints hierarchy are rapt they got Lyon to return to the club and he is understandably very secure about his immediate future given the commitment made by those above. The only reason Lyon isn’t further down this list is because those in power at St Kilda appear to have trouble themselves in pinpointing exactly where this list is at in terms of a premiership tilt.
As long as there’s still some ambiguity about direction there, a sliver of uncertainty will remain. Adding to Lyon’s spot on this list is the fact that we don’t know how seamless his return to coaching will be from a tactical standpoint.
One would back Lyon in to adapt and tweak his defensive-heavy game style, but seeing it in practice will be key. Regardless of where he is on this list, Lyon should be as safe as houses in year one barring any major regression on this season, which was already disappointing enough to prompt significant change.
Ross ready to rebuild the Saints | 02:42
15. Craig McRae (Collingwood)
Most of the AFL world has fallen in love with McRae in his outstanding debut season as senior coach. Whichever way you look at it, coming from a second-last finish in 2021 to a narrow preliminary final loss in 2022 is a monumental improvement.
A lot has been made of the close wins this season. The historical stats certainly suggest it was an outlier year, but even if for argument’s sake they split those tight wins next season, the Pies likely finish either in the bottom half of the top eight or miss out on September entirely.
If we’re talking probability, Collingwood won’t finish as high as they did this year. Collingwood fans would surely concede that a drop could come next season, but that will hardly do McRae any harm as long as their style of play remains consistent and the bottom doesn’t fall out entirely. McRae has brought an enormous amount to the Pies in year one and is one of the safest coaches in the competition because of what he’s already achieved.
16. Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn)
Mitchell has been given the board’s backing to make sweeping cuts to the playing list, which he did during this off-season and trade period, with Luke Breust now the only player remaining over 30 years of age.
The likelihood is the Hawks finish in the bottom two next year given the extent of the changes, but if it gets more development into the next wave of talent quicker then Mitchell and company are happy to wear the inevitable bumps in 2023. Also, powerbrokers at Hawthorn can scarcely afford to lose faith in Mitchell anytime soon given they sacked arguably the best coach of the modern era to appoint him.
Expectations from fans next season will hardly be lofty and the messaging has been clear at the club, so there won’t suddenly be an uprising against Mitchell when the wins are hard to come by next season.
Roos keep top 4 hopes alive! | 01:15
17. Alastair Clarkson (North Melbourne)
Should Clarkson be cleared of any wrongdoing amid historical allegations of racism during his time at Hawthorn, the four-time premiership coach will have enormous job security and could arguably be safer than even the reigning premiership coach.
There was criticism of president Sonja Hood for not having a ‘Plan B’ during the pursuit of Clarkson, but it speaks to how single-minded the club was that Clarkson was the man to rebuild a Kangaroos side that has had historically bad showings in recent seasons.
Not many can be entrusted to clean up the onfield mess at Arden Street and Clarkson will have enormous goodwill from the higher ups to start his tenure at the club – his initial contract of five years indicates the Roos are in for the long haul with Clarkson.
18. Chris Scott (Geelong Cats)
Scott entered 2022 under pressure given the constant expectation to deliver a second flag under his tenure, but finally scaling the mountain means that pressure has evaporated completely.
Whatever the case from hereon in, Scott will be remembered as a huge success for having delivered two flags and persisting through so many near-misses. Scott himself admitted he asked the playing group’s leaders ahead of 2022 whether they wanted him to remain at the helm. They backed him in and he delivered in spades.
He’s contracted until the end of 2024 and the Cats have brought in three former top-20 picks along with pick No.7 in this year’s draft. It looks as though the Cats have completely avoided any type of rebuild and they’re every chance to finish at the pointy end next season. Barring a stunning collapse, there’s unlikely to be much pressure at all for the reigning premiership coach.