In the end, it would appear that the anti-Pagan forces at Carlton blinked, as the veteran coach was confirmed for the remaining two years of his contract yesterday.

Firing coaches was never meant to be easy, but when you have the backing of the supporters it can become just that. It usually happens gradually, the team will be underperforming, the club president will say he has absolute faith in the coach, and the axe will fall.

The thing about Denis Pagan is that Carlton supporters know he can coach, because two premierships just don’t happen by accident. They also realise that he has the poorest list in the AFL, and no amount of Pagan-style discipline can change that. 

If there was any suggestion that Pagan would go quietly and make it easy for those to replace him, that was dispelled on Tuesday night. He delivered a speech outlining the steps that needed to be taken in the next few seasons (he is contracted until the end of 2008), and although it would have been the perfect time to replace him, all Carlton president Graham Smorgon could say, after a six-hour meeting, was, “we canvassed a whole range of options. The review was all-embracing.”

A concerted push to install assistant coach Barry Mitchell faltered at the final hurdle. He was eagerly waiting in the corner but when his team (Northern Bullants) had a shock loss to Williamstown in the First Qualifying Final on the weekend, after being unbackable favourites, it didn’t do him any favours. Saying he would coach for a bargain price also only made him sound desperate.

As Blues legend Robert Walls said on “On The Couch” earlier this week, if Leigh Matthews was ready to step in, you might tear up Pagan’s contract – with all the associated payout pain – but Barry Mitchell?

Then again, maybe the Carlton Board members were simply scared for their own positions if they had fired a man who is still regarded as one of the League’s most respected coaches, and replaced him with somebody who didn’t improve the side?

As it stands, all Carlton has achieved in its dithering over the issue is to destabilise the coach even more, and confirm his contract in what must be a poisonous, untrusting environment. Should be a fun pre-season.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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