The Adelaide Crows stunned the football world on Wednesday when they sacked coach Brenton Sanderson. Have they made the right move?
Brenton Sanderson lost the playing group.
It’s an odd expression. Every time I hear a coach has lost his players I picture some poor man in a tracksuit bumbling around in the wilderness staring blankly at a compass – but make no mistake, in Adelaide this is as serious as it gets.
The pragmatists will shrug their shoulders and say “that’s footy” and it’s hard to argue against that.
Success is measured by wins and the buck stops with the coach. It’s not always fair but a little bloodletting every now and then placates not only fans but also sponsors. It shows the club is strong. Pro-active.
Or in the words of Adelaide Chairman, Rob Chapman, it shows “we won’t accept mediocrity”.
This sacking was brutal and carried all the hallmarks of a power play in the English Premier League.
It came with very little warning, like a Great White blind-siding a seal. Bang. A quick kill.
Sanderson had two years left on his contract. Only last December it was extended until the end of the 2016 season. Of course he never saw it coming.
So what changed over the course of nine months?
In short, the arrival of Mark Ricciuto, who joined the board three months ago – a formidable force on the field and now, it appears, around the polished mahogany negotiating table as well.
On Adelaide radio this morning Ricciuto confirmed the senior players were a major factor in the board’s decision to rip up Sanderson’s contract. Some of these players criticised Sanderson in post-season interviews.
“I would say if we didn’t make this decision, things could go from bad to worse like they have at other times in the Adelaide Football Club when we have had coaches moved on halfway through a season”, Ricciuto said.
“I know how easily it can unravel.”
Yes, these things do have a habit of unraveling fast but we’ll never know what Sanderson could’ve achieved in a drama-free fourth year as coach.
What we do know is he has the highest winning percentage of any Crows coach – 39 wins and 30 losses at 57 per cent.
In Sanderson’s first year in charge the Crows finished a kick away from the grand final. A fine effort considering he lost Phil Davis and Jack Gunston at the start of his tenure. With Nathan Bock leaving the year before, the spine of his team had disappeared.
He inherited the Kurt Tippett scandal and lost valuable draft picks.
Tex Walker did his knee last year. Dean Bailey’s passing left Sanderson without a trusty right-hand man on the eve of this season while captain Nathan van Berlo spent the year in the coaches’ box after rupturing his Achilles in a freak training accident.
All these factors were out of his control.
Conversely, the Crows finished 11th and 10th in Sanderson’s second and third years. They were in the box seat to finish in the eight this year and blew it. They coughed up too many leads in crucial matches and lost games they should’ve won, none more critical than the Richmond loss in round 21.
That one will haunt him.
Can you blame Sanderson for the turnovers and lack of composure? Or does the responsibility lie with the players? The same players who have agitated for change. As always with these questions time will tell.
So the next coach guessing game begins.
For now though, my thoughts are with Sanderson, who was gracious until the end. Talking to the media today he said he “fell in love” with this group and, although he respected the board’s decision, he didn’t agree with it.
In a sport where grumpy rude men rule supreme, Sanderson’s polite nature will be missed.
It was a bold decision and right now it feels like a harsh one. As a Crows fan I’m not alone in feeling this way. An Adelaide Advertiser poll is running about 70-30 against the decision to sack him.
Sanderson says this team deserves success and he’ll be cheering loudly.
As I will be for him whatever he does next.