The Buckley call: How do you judge a coach 10 years in?

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Collingwood have been here before, most notably in 2017 when they conducted a club-wide review, reappointed Nathan Buckley as coach and changed multiple roles around him.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley.Credit:Getty Images

Although clubs rarely reappoint coaches in their 10th season without a premiership at the club, the Magpies broke the mould in 2009 when then-president Eddie McGuire stuck with Mick Malthouse despite a poor start to the season, orchestrating a coaching handover as they appointed him for two more seasons in 2010 and 2011.

McGuire has gone, as has Geoff Walsh, the football manager who took on the hard task for the Magpies in 2009 and 2017 and got it right. The competition has changed since 2009, with 18 clubs, free agency, a tight soft cap, even fiercer scrutiny, and demands that make basing decisions on whether people can coach only on premiership wins ill-conceived.

So how do Magpie football manager Graham Wright, CEO Mark Anderson and the board make a decision on someone who will have been in the chair for 10 years and has a winning record of 54 per cent?

The first question is to the coach, who has already indicated he wants to continue.

Then the players’ views become critical as without their support a long-term coach is in trouble.

Apart from the lacklustre effort against the Gold Coast there has been no evidence or suggestion from those inside the club that Buckley didn’t have the locker room.

The next vital step for the Magpies is to establish an understanding of where they are as a club and what it might take to get back to premiership contention.

That will require an examination of how the club got to where it is, what effect some of the hard decisions have had on the environment and how their execution might affect Buckley and other’s ability to perform their role in the future, essentially, a football department review.

They know he can coach but is he the best man to take a new collection of players forward for the next three, four or five years? That remains part of what will be observed over the next two months.

The decision-makers then need to recognise that coaching is just one part of a football program – one hit by soft-cap cuts – with list management, strength and conditioning, player availability, welfare, sports science, football analysis and leadership all vital to the scoreboard.

Industry sources say it is partly accurate to assume in the end it comes down to wins and losses but it is not the whole picture when deciding whether to extend a coach, with one source saying there are a range of metrics that sit below results with injuries and list changes clearly relevant to Collingwood’s 2021.

Then the coach will be assessed on a range of measures including how he coaches and delegates that role through others, the assistants’ performance and how they are managed, how well he represents the club in the external environment (generally a big tick for Buckley, particularly at a club such as Collingwood that can become a circus quickly because of the amount of coverage they receive).

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Most important is how the coach engages his team and develops it.

Two of his assistants Robert Harvey (joined Collingwood in 2012) and Brenton Sanderson (at the Magpies since 2016) have ridden much of the journey with Buckley, while Hayden Skipworth and development coaches Damien Carroll and Scott Selwood have been more recent arrivals, surviving the cuts that hit everyone so hard.

Whether that mix complements Buckley to make the team better is certain be part of any assessment as to whether he remains the right man to take the club forward.

One industry source said it was vital all the decisions were based on evidence so there was alignment between the board, the CEO, the football manager and the coach, if Buckley continued, because without that no coach had any hope of success.

The other question one club CEO raised was whether there was, once all the evidence had been collected, a better alternative than Buckley. He had no doubt Buckley could coach and said he would be certain to be in demand at other clubs if his time ended at Collingwood.

The Magpies could be a tough place for a first-time coach to land, particularly with board instability possible, but a known quantity might not create the calmness Collingwood so clearly desires.

In all it will take time so despite the emotion surrounding the club, cool, clinical decisions are necessary, with adherence to the timeline established a good first step.

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