“That’s bullshit! You book someone to appear on your show and you then cancel just because the team lost? Not good enough!” Said then Western Bulldogs coach Terry Wallace to this TV producer in the late ‘90’s.
And he was 100% right.
The nature of the Sunday Footy Show is that you put some plans for probable guests in place during the week, but if someone bobs up on Saturday afternoon and kicks 10 goals you obviously try to get him for the following morning.
We had one of those weekends where “everyone” accepted, so then executive producer Steve Perkin told me to let the Western Bulldogs media manager know that Terry wouldn’t be required to come in.
In those days, 15 of the 16 coaches would have thought “thank gawd!” and gone about whatever their business of the day was.
Not Wallace. He had made a commitment — a diary business appointment entry if you like — to appear on the show win, lose or draw, and was happy to tell me so when I next spoke to him.
And for mine, it’s an example that his enduring legacy to AFL football was cutting through all the cr-p that coaches and clubs would go on with when it came to their dealings with the media and their post-game reactions.
His first full and subsequently great year of coaching — 1997 — coincided with Triple M’s first year of covering AFL football, and as the match day reporter, I was given what was then considered unbelievable access to the coach pre-game.
Wallace made himself available to talk to us for a 5-10 minute live pre-game chat whenever we were covering a Bulldog’s match. He simply considered it some “down time” when the player’s were going through their personal pre-game rituals, and if him talking up his team pre-game helped his fans gain an insight into their team, well and good and equally, post-game his availability depended on how busy he was, not on whether his side won or lost.
At the time he was heavily criticised for it, “old school” types such as then Carlton president John Elliott claiming it was a distraction for the team leader, but in reality all it did was blow the myth that coaches spent two hours screaming blood-curdling motivational clichés at their charges, prior to them running out for battle.
But as Eddie McGuire pointed out at the time when it was fashionable for coaches to look like screaming banshees in every camera cutaway of them hollering at the phone, how would shareholders of BHP feel if they saw a CEO acting like that when under pressure? Why was it considered a good thing for the boss of the on-field business of a football club to be ranting and raving like a lunatic?
Within a decade, Sydney coach Paul Roos’s version of “going off the handle” late in a tight grand final would be to gently tap his water bottle lid against his upper lip.
Fortunately for the media and ultimately the game, Wallace’s Western Bulldogs had a great year in 1997 and were unluckily beaten in the preliminary final. As such, more and more coaches starting “selling their club” as often as possible and now put pre-game media interviews into their diaries.
The broader picture is that with them now effectively “head coaches” in the American sense — with their own team of coaches as well as players under their charge — simply being a good coach is no longer considered good enough.
Rightfully clubs realise that under these circumstances, these highly paid positions are required to be genuine figureheads, with hands-on involvement with the media, sponsors and supporter groups a very important aspect of their work.
Ultimately, Terry’s strength in selling himself as well as his club became a burden that was held against him.
The same media who would dampen the inside of his pocket-linings through being so open and accessible when things were going great, were just as quick to label him a “salesman” when the losses at Richmond started to mount.
Thus in the last two years of his tenure, a coach with a brilliant grasp of the media was seen, heard and read a whole lot less than he should have been, as it was seen to be “good politics” to try to fly under the radar a bit more.
All it did was take a strength away from him, proving the folly of not being yourself.
Even today’s post-resignation wrap stories criticised him for using yesterday’s press conference as a job application. Of course those doing the criticising would never have put themselves in front of their organisation would they?
While Wallace is probably gone from the AFL coaching scene for good, his media style will go on forever more, and his ability to put himself front and centre should be seen as an asset not a liability.
Because as Paul Keating once said, in the journey of life always back self-interest because at least you know it’s trying.
“Racetrack” Ralphy Horowitz is a former producer at The Footy Show, Sunday Footy Show, SEN & 3AW.