A tale of two coaches amid the tears and the fears of two footballing families
IN ONE of the AFL season's more bizarre scenarios yesterday, a terminated coach faced the media with the men who sacked him and spoke of life's good fortune.
At at exactly the same time across Melbourne, the million-dollar man expected to replace him conducted another interview and spoke of his traumatised and tearful family.
That's how it was, though, with Brett Ratten and Mick Malthouse. Ratten said he was determined to coach out the season against the advice, it is thought, of his management and the AFL Coaches Association. ''I want to be a career coach,'' he said. ''Why hide? Why run away? You have to be a leader.''
Strangely, Ratten's front at his public execution was a very good advertisement for AFL coaching.
Sitting in between the far more emotional Blues president Stephen Kernahan and club chief executive and long-time Malthouse confidant Greg Swann, Ratten took the new ball and much of the shine and heat from the axemen who were impressively honest about the reality of the situation.
Coaching has been good for Malthouse and vice versa. He has delivered premierships and success to two of the biggest clubs, and the job has made him and his family wealthy. But yesterday his demeanour was of a man re-entering the gallows.
Speaking yet again of the ''pressures on family'', Malthouse said of the job: ''It drags you down … Do I really want to put my head in the noose?''
So, asked 3AW's Neil Mitchell, you haven't decided yet? ''God no!'' Malthouse replied.''
Ratten spent last night at home with family and friends, including former teammates and a bottle or two of red wine.
He hoped it would be more about reminiscing than brooding. He never discussed publicly the toll it had taken on his young brood during yesterday's formalisation of his sacking in which he was stoic to the point of upbeat.
This, even though he has a new wife and young baby who were confronted by reporters several times at home on Tuesday, according to the club. Ratten's older children from his first marriage were reportedly taken out of school yesterday for obvious reasons and were promised a day with their father today.
He told Kernahan, Swann and football boss Andrew McKay on Wednesday that he wanted to leave the Blues on as good a note as possible given that his 13-year-old son could be there in five years as a player.
No one, said the terminated coach, would be prouder of that achievement than Ratten.
The only hint of what Ratten's family was going through was in the revelation that it was the beleaguered coach himself who brought matters to a head. On Monday he asked Swann and Kernahan to bring forward a decision on his future largely because of the pressure on family. Ratten was honest enough to say that even though he knew in his heart he was finished when the final siren sounded at Carrara, he still held a heartbeat of hope.
Ironically, while Ratten's family was dealing with a coach sacking and all the public scrutiny that accompanies these things, it was Malthouse's wife, Nanette, and potentially his two daughters who were in tears as the Carlton drama came to a head.
Malthouse said his wife was ''distraught'' at the fact he was being blamed for Ratten's predicament, and certainly Kernahan and Swann acknowledged yesterday that the availability of the three-time premiership coach had led in part to Ratten's termination.
''I came back from Western Australia yesterday,'' Malthouse told Mitchell, ''and my wife was in tears and so distraught … She's an innocent victim.
''If I went into two other households it would have been the same and it would have been my daughters.''
That interview took place simultaneously with Ratten's. All over town the ramifications of what was taking place were playing out.
Eddie McGuire, speaking at a city function, said Malthouse's comments about his distraught family were exactly the reason the Magpies put a use-by date on his tenure.
The Magpies, said McGuire, feared the physical and mental pressure on Malthouse would prove too much in the coming years.
Clearly, the Malthouse family will require a lot of love should he take the Carlton job, as expected over the coming weeks.