As the unemployment rate hits 5.2%, with a bullet, we can predict with some certainty that the growing ranks of the jobless will soon be bolstered by a handful of AFL coaches.
Seven coaches come out of contract this season — surely some sort of record — underlining the precarious and cut-throat nature of the profession. Already, before a ball has been bounced in the new home-and-away season, feverish speculation has surrounded the future of Mick Malthouse at Collingwood, who is seen as the coach most likely to feel the guillotine’s sharp blade.
But that has only deflected attention from the man who should have most to fear from any axing, and that’s the Richmond boss, Terry Wallace.
For, if Wallace’s Tigers do not make the grand final this season — and there is not much evidence to suggest they will — he will become the longest-serving coach in VFL/AFL history who has not managed to get any of his teams into a grand final.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Bill Stephen, the former Essendon and Fitzroy coach in the 1970s and ’80s, heads that list on 258 games. In second place is Wallace on 236 matches; that’s 10-and-a-half seasons without a grand final appearance. The upcoming 22-game season will see him finish on level terms with Stephen in this category that no coach wants to feature.
(Way back in third and fourth place are Jack Hale, who coached 174 games at South Melbourne and Hawthorn in the 1940s and ’50s, and Alex Hall, who had an extraordinary 155-game career at the helm of St Kilda, Melbourne, Richmond and Hawthorn between 1906 and 1925.)
So the point is this: of all the modern-day coaches — where career success is measured in premierships (or grand finals, at the very least) — Wallace has had a charmed run.
There is no doubt he can coach, as he showed in getting Footscray super-competitive in the late 1990s, and finally breathing some life into Richmond after four years in charge.
But, even allowing for the Dogs’ close-run thing in 1997, he hasn’t got close to delivering the prize that really matters, a premiership.
What has aided his career, and his survival in the toughest of job markets, is the ability to sell himself. More than any of his peers, Wallace has understood what it means to be a coach in the modern, multimedia age, where it is simply not good enough to coach a side on the weekend and be a media-unfriendly recluse during the week. Wallace has courted the media from day one and the media, in turn, has looked after him, largely turning a blind eye to his failures.
When he first arrived at Richmond, Wallace instituted a weekly “Tuesdays with Terry” briefing with journalists. He gave of his time freely — even agreeing to be interviewed on TV at one stage during a match. Old-time coaches, most of whom had won premierships, were miffed at this upstart and his unabashed self-promotion.
But the time for talking a good game is at an end for Wallace, and one or two others. Now’s the time for Richmond to start playing a good game — and plenty of them.