Ross Lyon has roared back into AFL senior coaching contention following the open vacancy at St Kilda, which brutally sacked Brett Ratten last week.
What makes the possibility of a Lyon-Saints second marriage more remarkable is how messy the initial divorce between the two parties was 11 years ago.
Lyon is expected to be canvassed as a candidate to replace Ratten and is reportedly prepared to take the Saints’ call.
Watch every match of the AFLW Season LIVE on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Both St Kilda chief executive Simon Lethlean and president Andrew Bassat on Friday insisted a replacement for Ratten hadn’t already been lined up.
Bassat, however, said the Saints have “a very clear view about what we need”, promising members “we’ll get the right coach for this club”. He added the club didn’t have “the winning culture or ruthless commitment to football excellence that we need”.
And Lyon is as ruthless a coach as they come.
Brett Ratten set to leave St Kilda | 01:30
The 55-year-old is St Kilda’s second-most successful coach, having taken the club to three Grand Finals – including a replay – in 2009 and 2010 before abruptly and dramatically leaving the Saints in late 2011 to join Fremantle.
Lyon’s move to the Dockers remains one of the biggest bombshell coaching appointments in AFL history.
What made Fremantle’s appointment of Lyon so unexpected was how few people knew about the Dockers’ approach and subsequent courting of the gun coach in late 2011. Lyon’s manager at the time, Craig Kelly, didn’t even know about the Dockers’ direct approach to Lyon, who dealt privately with then-club chief executive Steve Rosich during the early stages.
Earlier in the year, Kelly had taken over from Damien Smith as Lyon’s manager. In one of his first meetings with Lyon, Kelly pointed out there was a clause in Lyon’s Saints contract – which expired at the end of 2012 – that said he could exit by giving notice. That contract clause was then leaked to the media, which is when Fremantle not only became aware of Lyon’s situation but also interested in poaching him.
In a Triple M interview in August this year, Lyon lifted the lid on how quickly it fell apart at the end of his Saints tenure off the field – and the sneaky process, which included the discovery the get-out clause in his Saints contract, that led to him sensationally replacing then Dockers coach Mark Harvey, who was also under the umbrella of Kelly’s management company.
‘THANKS BUT NO THANKS’: FREMANTLE’S FIRST APPROACH
“I‘d committed in my head to St Kilda without an offer. There was a lot of noise about Melbourne approaching me,” Lyon told Triple M.
“Steve Rosich reached out and said: ‘I’m in town, want to meet?’ I said ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m coaching St Kilda’, but he said ‘I just want to come to your house’. So he came to the house. He went through it and I’m going ‘this is big’. I said ‘you’ve had a lot of injuries, ‘Harvs’ is going alright’. He goes ‘it’d be no surprise’ and all that. I dropped him back at the Rialto and said: ‘Thanks, mate, but no thanks.’
“Then we (St Kilda) went on and we lost the first final … We still hadn’t come to terms. We were going to the players’ break-up and Rosich rang. I said I was going out for a drink and he said ‘I’m coming to town’ and I said: ‘Look, don’t worry about it, mate. I’m fine, I’m not interested.’
‘THIS IS BULLSH**’: BEGINNING OF THE END
“So then negotiations with St Kilda were just breaking down. I had a meeting with Craig Kelly – and Melbourne in the background were coming through Paul Roos and Garry Lyon. But I asked ‘Ned’ (Kelly) and he said: ‘No they’ve got no interest, no one’s got any interest’ – and we knew that wasn’t quite the truth, me and my wife.
“(Kelly) said: ‘Look, don’t worry about it, do the 12 months and then we’ll look to try and get you to GWS or something like that.’ I went ‘yep, no problem’ and walked out – and my wife said: ‘This is bullsh**’. I said: ‘Look, relax, it’s all good, that’s what I’m going to do.’
“So there was all this noise on the radio about Melbourne and the club being under pressure. I drove down (to St Kilda) and said to (club chief executive) Michael (Nettlefold) – and this is the bit not many people may know and hopefully Michael remembers this – ‘ Look, I’m not going to accept what you’ve put there … but I’m going to do my 12 months.
“And he said: ‘Ross, I don’t think we can do that’. (I said) ‘What do you mean? I’ll have a think about it overnight and you have a think about it overnight. And if we can’t come to footing, we’ll say I’m out.’
‘I FLIPPED OUT’: FREO GATHERS MOMENTUM
“That night, there were some articles in the Herald Sun and The Age – because basically I’d made myself vulnerable because I’d committed – and then there was this: ‘Ross is being greedy, Ross has been offered $800,000’ – there’d been nothing to the point.
“I flipped out. I rang Craig Kelly in the morning and said: ‘They can’t be trusted, I’ve had enough, I’m out. I would rather dig ditches.’ He goes: ‘Settle down, settle down, settle down.’
“So I went into my lawyer and said: ‘Mate, I’m done here’ – and on the way in, that’s when an offer came in interestingly enough … from St Kilda, which I didn’t even look at. I said: ‘This is what’s happened, I’ve had a gutful, I’ve done the right thing, I feel like I’ve been turned on, so I’m sort of in my head done.’
“I said there’s an interstate club that’s interested. He said: ‘Are you sure? Are they tyre-kickers?’ I said ‘I don’t know, here’s the number’. Steve (Rosich) took the call … he spoke to (then president) Steve Harris and (then football boss) Craig Bond – no one else knew – and then they said ‘we’ll come back to you with an offer at 6am tomorrow morning’.
“They came back with the offer. They said no negotiations, I said I didn’t want any, it was fully guaranteed. And then the St Kilda offer came in, but mentally I was out because of what had occurred. That’s the exact truth.
‘MATE I’M DONE’: THE ABRUPT EXIT
“The process was they wanted to do it at the same time (amid Fremantle’s interest) and I felt a bit uncomfortable, but they didn’t want to risk whatever. I rang Michael Nettlefold and said ‘I’m coming down to see you’. They had a board meeting (to approve Lyon’s three-year contract extension) and he said: ‘What’s it about?’ And I said ‘it’s not good’. So I walked down – I had a letter – and said ‘I’m exercising my option’. He goes ‘sit down, we can talk about this’. I said: ‘Mate, I’m done’ – and I walked out and that was it.
“That’s the full story.”
Lyon then led the Dockers to four consecutive finals series – including the 2013 Grand Final – before a tough final four seasons that saw him win just 29 of 87 games and, ultimately, sacked.